Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, an album that at the time was considered a failure for the band, only going gold and not generating any huge singles. For Brian Wilson, the band’s de factor leader and songwriting genius, Pet Sounds was a labour of love, brought on by his desire to top the Beatles when it came to putting together an album of “all good songs’. Working with lyricist Tony Asher for the majority of the record, along with some help from bandmate Mike Love, Brian managed to do just that. Pet Sounds flows from beginning to end immaculately. It’s in many ways one of the first concept albums, as it deals with growing up and dealing with love – of being in love and wanting to be loved.
For the album’s creation, Brian worked with the famed Los Angeles studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew whose members included drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carole Kaye. Though he was just in his early 20s, these studios veterans listened to Brian give his orders and guidance during the recording process. They knew he had a vision, and even at such a young age he was able to make that vision a reality.
One of Brian’s perfect gifts was knowing which of his bandmates voices fit a given song – while he handled the lead vocal on the majority of the album, Pet Sounds greatest moment, God Only Knows, features brother Carl up front. And while its easy for fans to hate on Mike Love for his attitude regarding Brian’s desire to get away from the hit making formula that had made the Beach Boys the biggest band from North America in the world, there’s no question that Mike gives it his all on songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice, That’s Not Me, Here Today and I Know There’s An Answer. Mike helps bring Brian’s songs of teenage angst to life, just as he did the surfing and car songs from the band’s early days.
I’ve seen Pet Sounds performed live by Brian Wilson twice, the second time when I was only one in his rehearsal space when I travelled to California to interview him upon the release of his album Smile back in 2004. There were roadies and techs milling about, but I was the only civilian and couldn’t believe I was watching the maestro perform his classic masterpiece in front of me (only minutes after he’d run through Smile as well).
There’s no question in my mind, and in the mind of so many rock fans, that Pet Sounds has stood the test of time. Everywhere you look online today you’ll find websites and blogs celebrating its legacy, and it makes sense. This is art as beautiful as a Mozart symphony or a painting by Michaelangelo, and 50 years later it sounds as good, if not better than it ever has.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older? Well, we are, it is, and it will live on. Here’s to another 50 years of Pet Sounds!