Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” 50 years and a NEW review

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What other “Heavy Metal” website has the BALLS to review a Beach Boys Album? Just US that’s who! You don’t like it, tough shit, you just don’t like music. Actually, if you gave the album a listen with an open mind and researched the history of the groundbreaking record, you wouldn’t argue that fact that “Pet Sounds” has its place in Rock History….

Fifty years isn’t really a long time in the grand scheme of things really. Maybe your parents are 50, maybe you’re 50 and looking at it that way, not long at all. In the world of music however, it’s more than ancient. May 16, 1966 was the day that the world got just a little bit sadder, yet somehow brighter.

England had The Beatles, The Stones, and soon The Who, all dangerous in the eyes of America. America had The Beach Boys, underneath the pressed shirts, tightly pleated stove pipe pants was a danger that would be greater than all those bands put together. Fast cars, good times, were what The Beach Boys were all about, genius wasn’t often an adjective for the band of sweet looking and even sweeter sounding “brothers”. Usually when a band is about to hit a fork in the road with their music, a “greatest hits” package is released marking an unsaid end to an era. More times than not a band releases a very UN-commercial and critically panned album before their hits are immortalized. The boys of California were no different. “Pet Sounds” was released and a short 8 months later, “The Best of The Beach Boys” was released by their record label. Rarely does a band attain the success they had previously and become a nostalgia act for daze gone by. There was never anything The Beach Boys, especially Brian Wilson EVER did that could be considered “normal”. THIS release would be no different.

While most of the “Boys” were on tour, major song writer and arranger, Brian Wilson took some time off to orchestrate arguably one of THE most influential albums EVER. While Wilson wrote most of The Beach Boys greatest and remembered songs along with some of the other members (NOT EXCLUDING the GREAT Mike Love wink, wink, nudge, nudge), this was a band on vinyl, but a genius behind the board.

No great secret that Beach Boy albums were often recorded with studio musicians; taking nothing from the bands musicianship, but that is just the way it was back then. Labels were “packagers” of bands, they were “idol makers” and the Beach Boys were part of the process. Don’t kid yourself kiddies, so were all the GREATS we love, Beatles, Stones, etc. It’s a cold hard fact of life, even the 80’s greatest weren’t really the band you saw on the covers of some of the most esteemed releases back then.

Brian assembled some of the best of the best studio musicians including a full blown orchestra to capture what he was hearing in that beautiful mind of his. “The Wrecking Crew” was up for the challenge, Tony Asher put the words to a good majority of the music that have become staples in Beach Boy shows and our lives. Cue up barking dogs, coke cans, bicycle bells, layers of vocal harmonies, keys that have not been used or successful in rock music before, crazy musical requests (yeah maybe a “horse” would have been a good call too) and lessons learned from Phil Spector and over a year plus later, “Pet Sounds” would be presented to the band.

After a Beach Boys tour overseas without Brian, the return came to an almost completed record. Mike Love was nowhere NEAR pleased to find what he felt nothing more than a Brian Wilson vanity project. The band themselves were worried about the lack of surfing, cars and girls. The label? Well they must have sided with the band AND Love because the first single, “Caroline, No” was a “Brian Wilson” only release. What they ALL missed was the big picture, it was time to grow up with their audience. Like most fans of bands, the fans while growing older still wanted their youth and “Pet Sounds” lacked youth. Unless of course drug usage could be considered youthful, the LSD is strong with this album. How else do you translate lyrics like “they trip through the day and waste all their thoughts at night” from the song, “I Know There’s an Answer”? If you can’t find the tripping in the tunes, a little history lesson on the recording of this album will show you the light. Even “Sloop John B” has the lyric, “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” seemingly a blatant drug reference. It would take a few years, but the bad trip was one that could be considered “greatest and influential” trips ever, as well.

A little fast forwarding if you will…Bruce Johnston took the completed album and played if for a certain Lennon and McCartney before the world would hear. They asked to hear it a second time, almost immediately “Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band” would be born. As the great George Martin has been quoted as saying, “Without ‘Pet Sounds” there would be no “Sgt. Pepper”. Now in the same breath, if there was no “Rubber Soul” there may have never been a “Pet Sounds” either.

The lead track on “Pet Sounds” is “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” originally written by Brian and Tony Asher, BUT Mike Love was also credited after a 1994 legal argument. Love stated emphatically that he added lyrics to the song at the time and stood by his conviction for several decades, ultimately getting his personal retribution. It was also the catalyst for years of separation between Brian and him, who knows what we missed because of these arguments? The song itself was a bit like what the boys were going through, the “frustrations of youth, what you can’t have, what you really want and you have to wait for it.” The song would reach #8 in the U.S. with the song “God Only Knows” as it’s “B-side”.

Wilson while not only writing the song again with Asher, also took the lead vocals on the second track, “You Still Believe in Me.” The song of childhood, originally titled, “In My Childhood” and later changed was looked at by Wilson in the making of the song as a little boys’ choir type of song. The recording of this song included bicycle horn and bell, also was immortalized with one of the greatest Beach Boy lore…the plucking of piano keys for the song. The song is a beautiful romantic little chestnut with it’s ode to being a tiny child. It could also be a very telling psychological reading of Brian Wilson’s mental make-up. There is a fine line between genius and insanity, Wilson is that line. While unappreciated by the masses at the time, “You Still Believe in Me” is a song that still stands today.

The third track on the album, “That’s Not Me” is a true trip in itself, as this Wilson/Asher composition takes a look at the self-doubt Wilson had been cursed with all his life. You can feel the psychedelic 60’s revolution begins with this song. Though Mike Love turned this into HIS song as well as Brian’s, Love isn’t just “selling” this song, he’s living and breathing the words as well as feeling the song. Denial all you want, but facts are hard to argue. One of the least “orchestrated” songs musically, but one of the most powerful vocally on the album.

Fourth track, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)” is another ode to a failing romance. Be it between a man and woman or a person and their life. One thing you WON’T find on this track is a “guitar” which for all intent and purpose is a pretty key element in most ballads at the time. This is a beautifully composed and executed masterpiece. This is also one of a trio of tracks that is straight up Brian Wilson only, though tape does show that backing vocals were actually recorded, but never really known if they were used for this song. Perhaps this was Brian’s attempt NOT to be a “solo” artist, but the “sole” responsible person to take the heat for a “new” Beach Boys to be set on to the world of fans he knew they’d lose.

The fifth track is a Wilson composed and written song, with Mike Love; “I’m Waiting for the Day”. Again, I can see the feelings of Mike Love from the critics and reviewers who put his contribution to not only this song, but plenty of other Beach Boy tunes as being somewhat minuscule. A quick search of the song will show that “a small lyric adjustment by Mike Love” is what got him a writing credit. There is pettiness to be credited all around for sure, but critics can be real assholes. If you listen to the song with an open mind, you can actually hear some Mike Love’isms throughout.

Track 6 is the first of two instrumentals on the album. “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” is Brian Wilson’s “favorite” instrumental piece, artistically that he’s written. Wilson said in an interview a year after the release about the song, “”I applied a certain set of dynamics through the arrangement and the mixing and got a full musical extension of what I’d planned during the earliest stages of the theme. I think the chord changes are very special. I used a lot of musicians on the track; twelve violins, piano, four saxes, oboe, vibes, a guitar with a Coke bottle on the strings for a semi-steel guitar effect. Also, I used two basses and percussion. The total effect is ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’, which is something everyone in the world must have said at some time or another. Nice thought; most of us don’t go away, but it’s still a nice thought. The track was supposed to be the backing for a vocal, but I decided to leave it alone. It stands up well alone.” This track was actually the B-Side for “Good Vibrations”. The piece is almost perfect with its nod to classical composers if they would have written in the 60’s. This piece still for the time it was recorded doesn’t sound as dated as one would think.

Closing out side one is “Sloop John B”. Though this song is a tradition folk song from the Bahamas titled “The John B. Sails” written somewhere in the early 1900’s, it was Wilson that put his Beach Boy DNA all over the arrangement both musically and vocally that would take this song to Number 3. It was also the FIRST single released BEFORE “Pet Sounds” and still is a staple in every Beach Boy show. Even though The Kingston Trio were the first modern rockstars to redo this song, it was the folkie in the band, Al Jardine who suggested to Brian Wilson that they should make this a Beach Boy song. Success! It’s also the ONLY NON-Wilson penned song on the album, not to mention doesn’t really flow with the “Pet Sounds” concept album theory with its lyrics. It does keep the drug reference flow trippin’ for the boys however.

Side Two opens with “God Only Knows” and what a better start could there be? A truly complex musical structure. On paper you’d scratch your head, but in the head of Wilson it somehow made sense; in the hearts of millions of people it made sense and is a song of beauty with a very dark subject. Brian has gone on record that he HATED the opening line of “I may not always love you” because it was just too negative. He finally succumbed after hearing Asher’s subsequent lyrics. This was brother Carl Wilson’s song to sing and was Paul McCartney’s favorite song of all time. The musical arrangement was done with everything from a French horn, accordions, sleigh bell, harpsichord, to violas and cellos heard throughout the piece in counterpoint. Once again going against pop music theory, the song was complex in its structure and went against the rules as to how to write a pop song. The song went to Number 36 in the U.S. and as high as Number 2 in the U.K. Everyone from Neil Diamond and Glen Campbell to The Flaming Lips and Taylor Swift have covered this beautiful tale of a spiritual journey of love and life.

The second track on side to is truly and LSD inspired song, “I Know There’s an Answer”. The song written by Wilson, Love and the band’s road manager, Terry Sachen. Long rumored that initially the song titled, “Let Go of Your Ego” was written more by Love to address the band’s new leader and primary song writer, Brian Wilson. Taken from an interview, “ “The subject of the revised song is the self-centeredness of people and how the singer hesitates to tell them… the way that they live could be better.” Though the vocals were shared by Wilson, Love and Jardine on the choruses, you can hear the not so subtle stabs at Brian from his cousin Mike. This was definitely the beginning of the end for an harmony outside of recording sessions.

Track 3 on the second side is “Here Today” with Mike Love on vocals. It’s a song of love being here today then gone tomorrow; a cautionary tale of heartbreak being right around the corner. This was actually the last song readied for “Pet Sounds”. Some of the arrangements and productions were actually taken from earlier versions of “Good Vibrations”. Also in the ORIGINAL release Brian Wilson can be heard saying, “Top, please” as a que to the engineer to rewind the tape to re-record vocals. Also a short exchange between Bruce Johnson and a photographer in the studio could be heard during the initial instrumental break. The conversation the two were having? Cameras, what else?

“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is the 4th track and also said to be the most unintentional autobiographical lyrics addressing Brian’s insecurities and low self-esteem. A song of self-alienation from society and depression., something the band would see ravage Brian Wilson a few years later. This was just the tip of the iceberg, the blurred line of genius and insanity would become even plainer for The Beach Boys in the next decade plus to come. For all the craziness instrument wise used on this album it was actually the first recorded music piece to use the Electro-Theremin, let alone the first time in rock and roll. The song was supposed to be a Dennis Wilson vocal showcase, but the guy who “thought he was so far advanced that he’d have to leave the other’s behind” Brian Wilson took the lead, justly so with its lyrical connotations.

Track five and the title track, “Pet Sounds” is the last of the instrumentals on the album. Sound familiar? It may, Wilson actually composed this song with the intention of it being used in “You Only Live Twice”…a James Bond film. The song was originally titled, “Run James, Run” and in retrospect after all these years would certainly have been perfect for Bond, James Bond. Wilson was the lone Beach Boy to perform on this exotic track. The odd sounding percussion? That was drummer Ritchie Frost playing to empty cans of Coke. It’s the real thing Baby!
The album closes with “Caroline No”, which as we now know was released in March of ’66 under Brian Wilson’s name only, not The Beach Boys. It was released on “Pet Sounds” perhaps due to Brian’s use of a dog whistle. He was again the ONLY member of the Beach Boys to appear on this track. The song has been long rumored to be about a high school crush or obsession of unrequited love that Wilson had for his classmate Carol Mountain. Seems about right since the song was originally written and titled, “Carol I Know”. This song also had the evil hand of devil Dad Murray Wilson who sped the recording up half step. Taking his Dad’s suggestion Brian said the sped up version gave the song a sweeter sound. Brain never went against Murray and hearing both, the subtle slow down sounds better to me.

I guess you could consider “Pet Sounds” the Beach Boys version of “Sgt. Peppers” before Sgt. Peppers. I would say this is their “Rubber Soul” and until recently they never had their ‘Sgt. Pepper’ until the world got the hear the REAL Brian Wilson version of “Smile”. Had every bitter emotion and psychological attack never entered the mind of Brian Wilson maybe we would have gotten “Smile” by The Beach Boys, then again, if it DIDN’T happen we may never have gotten “Pet Sounds” or “Good Vibrations”.

I loved The Stones, I loved the Who and I thought the genius and growth of The Beatles could never have been rivaled by ANYONE, except The Beach Boys. It took a while to be “cool” loving the Beach Boys, but it took a while for “Pet Sounds” to be the classic it is too. Somethings just weren’t made for their times…

If you want to enjoy a NEW updated celebration of “Pet Sounds”, The Beach Boys and Capitol / UMC Celebrate Iconic Album’s Golden Anniversary with Special Commemorative Edition. Available now for pre-order, Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Edition) will be released worldwide on June 10 in several configurations, including a 4CD/Blu-ray Audio collector’s edition presented in a hardbound book, featuring the remastered original album in stereo and mono, plus hi res stereo, mono, instrumental, and 5.1 surround mixes, session outtakes, alternate mixes, and previously unreleased live recordings; a 2CD and digital deluxe edition pairing the remastered album in stereo and mono with highlights from the collectors edition’s additional tracks; and remastered, 180-gram LP editions of the album in mono and stereo with faithfully replicated original artwork. You can PRE-ORDER right here…

There are several formats to pick INCLUDING 180g VINYL!!

Sweet Lou. Hetzer

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