Classic Album: The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The early 60’s had been filled with images of sun drenched beaches, the perfect wave, prettygirls and car cruises for the Beach Boys, but in 1966, the harmony group was to change the sound of pop forever.

Illness, drugs and differences split members of the band and while the Beach Boys toured with their well loved and polished surf sound, the heart and soul of the group, Brian Wilson, remained on home turf writing what was to become one of the most inspirational albums of all time.

It was hearing the Beatles’ own 1966 classic album, ‘Rubber Soul’, that spurred Brian into the challenge of writing the perfect album - one that drew on all his own influences, using the latest recording technology, the finest musicians, a concoction of varying time signatures and the thickest and gloopiest of vocal harmonies.

‘Pet Sounds’, the 12th Beach Boys album, was Brian’s baby that he nurtured while at his most creative - all at the age of 24. It was still rooted in his love for 50’s vocal groups, the Four Freshman harmonies with a hint of Chuck Berry, but it was to be more of an intelligent album. It was the last thing the fans, the record label and even the returning Beach Boys were expecting. It was fresh, it broke boundaries and it saw every instrument as an integral part of forming Brian’s desired outcome; a concept album which spoke of the fears of growing up and falling in love.

“I made each track a sound experience of its own. I was obsessed with explaining, musically, how I felt inside,” Brian said in the sleeve notes of the stereo mix release in the UK ten years ago. “I was in a loving mood for a few months and it found its way to recorded tape. I experimented with sounds that would make the listener feel loved.”
The love that was created by the album was equal to the love poured into it by Brian; every second deeply thought out yet giving the musicians the freedom to add to it, making it gel beautifully. The parts that now epitomise the Wilson/Beach Boys sound from the soft French horn on ‘God Only Knows’, theremin, harp, bass harmonica and vibraphone to plucked piano strings, bicycle bells, dogs barking, trains, heart beats, takes the listener on a journey of emotion. This was mirrored by the lyrics, penned in two months by a collaboration between Brian and advertising jingle writer Tony Asher.

The only track on the original album not part of this intense rollercoaster ride of feeling was ‘Sloop John B’ - a traditional West Indian folk song suggested for the album by Beach Boy Al Jardine and recorded months before the rest of ‘Pet Sounds’. It is still considered as the one song that maybe doesn’t fit as snugly on the album as the others. Tony helped Brian turn the sounds into pictures, even rewriting some of the lyrics already completed - the bicycle bell and horn remain on ‘You Still Believe In Me’ from its first life as ‘My Childhood’, but the effects were too deeply embedded to remove.

Although he had never written song lyrics before, Tony brought an innocence and simplicity to the complex musical masterpiece. He was the man who put the word ‘God’ in a commercial song for the first time in ‘God Only Knows’, sweetly sung by Brian’s brother, Carl; he wrote ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’, reflecting Brian’s own feelings that he wasn’t fitting in with society; and ‘Caroline No’, Brian’s favourite, a tale about the loss of innocence, which was actually about a blonde cheerleader who had cut her hair.

But it is the music that speaks volumes on ‘Pet Sounds’, recorded using the very latest 8-track equipment, the finest quality microphones, which were surrounded by the Beach Boys singers on the return of their three-week tour of Asia, blind to what had been happening in their absence, and the talents of such renowned musicians as Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Jim Horn - 79 collaborators in total. The genius production, heavily influenced by Phil Spector’s wall of sound, lifted the album above the heads of other singer/ songwriter/producers. Brian double tracked instruments and vocals, re-recorded and rerecorded, and took complete control of every part of the process, even calling up a session musician on the spur of the moment if he had a flash of inspiration. But he would also let his creative juices flow, often coming into the studio in Los Angeles with an uncompleted song.

The outcome, released in mono in May 1966, was remarkable, especially considering Brian was almost completely deaf in one ear since childhood. ‘Pet Sounds’ was inspired and has become an inspiration for many a musician. Paul McCartney became such a Brian fan, he won a starring role on ‘Smile’ as chief vegetable cruncher and said there would be no ‘Sgt Pepper’ without ‘Pet Sounds’. ‘Pet Sounds’ only reached number 39 in the US charts, but hit number 2 in the UK. It failed to sell enough copies to reach gold status on release and only went gold and platinum in 2000.
To celebrate 40 years since its release, a limited edition CD and vinyl of ‘Pet Sounds’ has been released with a DVD of previously unseen footage and unheard tracks, bonus tracks, including the early version of ‘I Know There's An Answer’, ‘Hang On To Your Ego’, which was dropped for being too LSD-inspired, and a behind-the-scenes documentary, as well as a previously unseen colour promotional film for ‘Good Vibrations’.

WORDS BY GEMMA HAMPSON

Pet Sounds/ Fact File
Released: 16th May 1966 in mono/first stereo mix released in 1997
Recorded: 12th July 1965 and 1 November 1965-13 April 1966.
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Label: Capitol Records

Lead vocals mainly by Brian Wilson, apart from ‘That’s Not Me’, Brian Wilson and Mike Love; ‘Sloop John B’, Brian Wilson and Mike Love; ‘God Only Knows’, Carl Wilson; ‘I Know There’s An Answer’,
Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson; ‘Here Today’, Mike Love.

Track Listing:
All songs by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, except where noted.
01. Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Wilson, Asher, Mike Love)
02. You Still Believe in Me
03. That’s Not Me
04. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
05. I’m Waiting For The Day (Wilson, Love)
06. Let’s Go Away For Awhile (Wilson)
07. Sloop John B (Trad. arr. Wilson)
08. God Only Knows
09. I Know There’s an Answer
(Wilson, Terry Sachen, Love)
10. Here Today
11. I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
12. Pet Sounds (Wilson)
13. Caroline, No

1966: IN THE NEWS
The first Star Trek episode, ‘The Man Trap’, is broadcast on 8th September. The plot concerns a creature that sucks salt from human bodies.
The Food and Drug Administration declares the Pill safe for human use.
Singer/Songwriter and genius of Grace, Jeff Buckley, was born 17th November, 1966. He drowned on 29th May, 1997.
Alfie, starring Michael Caine, was released.
Johnny Kidd of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, died in a car accident on 7 Oct, 1966.

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