I can’t stop listening to Pet Sounds

About a week ago someone mentioned the classic Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” and I thought to myself: Oh yeah, I have been meaning to get my hands on a copy of that. So a few clicks and $9.50 later I had downloaded a copy.

I think I’ve listened to the entire album about 25 times since then. I just can’t get enough of the hypnoticky goodness of Pet Sounds.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the Pet Sounds wiki:

Pet Sounds is the eleventh studio album by the American rock band The Beach Boys, released May 16, 1966, on Capitol Records. It has been widely ranked as one of the most influential records ever released in popular music and has been ranked at number #1 in several music magazines’ lists of greatest albums of all time, including New Musical Express, The Times and Mojo Magazine. In 2003, it was ranked #2 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

The real catalyst for Pet Sounds was the U.S. version of The Beatles’ new LP Rubber Soul, which was released that December in time for the Christmas market. (The British version of Rubber Soul was edited prior to its release in the U.S.A. to emphasize its folk sounds.)

Wilson later recalled his first impressions of the groundbreaking album:

“I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs … that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, “That’s it. I really am challenged to do a great album.””

Although not a big seller for the band originally, Pet Sounds has been influential since the day it was released. Rapturously received in Britain, it was lauded in the music press and championed by many top pop stars. The Beatles, for example, have said that Pet Sounds was a major influence on their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Paul McCartney has repeatedly named it as one of his favorite albums (with “God Only Knows” as his favorite song) – completing a circle begun by The Beatles’ influence on Wilson. McCartney stated that:

“It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life … I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album … I love the orchestra, the arrangements … it may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of the century … but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways … I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John [Lennon] so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence … it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines … and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. “God Only Knows” is a big favourite of mine … very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On “You Still Believe in Me”, I love that melody – that kills me … that’s my favourite, I think … it’s so beautiful right at the end … comes surging back in these multi-coloured harmonies … sends shivers up my spine.”

Other artists have also cited Pet Sounds as one of the all time classic albums. Eric Clapton stated that “I consider Pet Sounds to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that’s ever knocked me out and rolled it all into one.”

Elton John has said of the album, “For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty.”

Beatles producer George Martin stated that “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”

Bob Dylan has said of Brian Wilson’s talents, “That ear – I mean, Jesus, he’s got to will that to the Smithsonian.”

The thing about this album is that it works best as a whole. There are some recognizable singles, but taking them out of the whole does them a disservice I think. Playing singles from this album is sort of like playing one movement from a great symphony — it can work but it doesn’t give you the whole picture.

The album is only about 37 minutes long so it is not a chore to listen to the whole thing. And because of the hypnoticky goodness I have found it works better than most albums as background music to other work I’m doing. (Thus my dozens of listens in just a week).

If you already own a copy of Pet Sounds I recommend you fire it up again for old times sake. If you don’t own a copy I recommend you follow my lead and get around to getting a copy. (I bought mine a Amazon.) And for the rest of you, you can listen here. Give it a little time to marinate before you rush to judgment though. This is an album that grows on you and then won’t let go of you.

18 thoughts on “I can’t stop listening to Pet Sounds

  1. Last spring I was at Amoeba Records in Hollywood (awesome place to waste a day) and saw a remastered LP version of it and had to pick it up. It’s a great Saturday record for some reason, when the family is just hanging around the house.

    I remember watching one of the those VH1 countdown shows a few years ago, best pop/rock albums of all time or something like that, and I think it was #2, right behind Revolver. But what really got me was the diversity of artists talking about how it was one of their favorite albums. I remember Joey Ramone just fawning over it, and that made me decide to give it a real listen for the first time and I’ve been in love w/ it ever since. I’m not even that huge of a Ramone’s fan, it was just something in the way he described it that made me want to give it a try.

  2. I’m an old guy and Pet Sounds has always been a favorite. I got my first copy of it on an LP when it was reissued in 1972 as part of a double album with “Carl and the Passions: So Tough,” a then current Beach Boys release. The liner notes say that it was released in mono “just the way Brian cut it.”

    Of course, the competition with the Beatles to best “Sgt. Pepper” caused the implosion of Brian and the long mysterious and failed sequel, “Smile,” more pressure than the somewhat fragile Brian could bear.

  3. JFD,

    If you haven’t had a chance to listen, Wilson released his own version of SMILE a few years back and it is an excellent album (unlike the first release).

  4. Interestingly, I was surprised to read that “Good Vibrations” is not on this album. I have always assumed that it was and in fact I had a cassete tape of the album that I played in the 80s until it wore out and I swear that “Good Vibrations” was on it. Thematically and chronologically, I think that song fits on the album and should rightly be there. Apparently, Brian Wilson disagrees, or at least he did in 1966.

  5. Gilgamesh: Yeah, I have “Smile.” It does make one wistful for what might have been.

    MCQ: “Good Vibrations” was the BB first single after “Pet Sounds.” It was released also on “Smiley Smile,” their next album, which also contains one of my favorite BB tunes, “Heroes and Villains.”

  6. I remember listening to this for the first time when I was 18 and being completely smitten. However, splitting the tracks up from one another can result in a refreshing insertion into a randomised playlist.

    MCQ, Good vibrations is very different to me and fits more closely with ‘Smile’ as an album but it is still distant from that as well. In reality, I think that, Good Vibrations’ most important function is as a foil between the two projects. It really is a stand-alone peice of brilliance.

  7. Pet Sounds is a great, great album. I bought the remastered mono back when it was released in the 90s, when it was all over the news. (Even Doonesbury spent a week’s worth of strips extolling its virtues.)

    Regarding the back-and-forth influence between the Beatles and Brian Wilson: McCartney in particular closely followed the Beach Boy’s output. Even before Pet Sounds was released, the Beatles recorded an homage to the Beach Boys that Paul wrote: “Paperback Writer,” which was released as a single about the same time that Pet Sounds came out.

    The animal noises that formed the bridge between “Good Morning Good Morning” and “A Day in the Life” on Sgt. Pepper was a specific tip o’ the hat to the Pet Sounds album. McCartney continued the love on the While Album with “Back in the USSR,” an homage to both the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry. Also, he stated that the song “Back Seat of My Car” on his solo Ram album was also a nod to Brian Wilson’s vocal arrangements.

  8. “God Only Knows” is a brilliant pop song. I love the way each of the verses is structured as a coy, almost apologetic nod to undying love.

    I think it’s really interesting how the Beach Boys have always been more respected in England than here in the states. They were still hugely popular here, but don’t seem to get quite the love from contemporary U.S. musicians that they did from English musicians.

  9. I used to listen to Pet Sounds so much during my teenage years, that when I was on my mission, if my Mom heard anything from Pet Sounds, she’d immediately start to cry (or so she tells me).

    In fact, so obsessed was I at the time (late 90s) with SMiLE that somewhere I have CD-Rs with every track listing permutation I could come up with.

    Ah, the days before responsibilities.

  10. For all my life, the only beach boys albums I’ve every listened to were “greatest hits” and “best of”. The first concert I ever went to was the beach boys, when I was 10 (I remember because it was rained out, and so I usually don’t count it.)

    This post makes me want to go watch a bunch of documentaries, or something.

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