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Discivering Wilson's Pet,
This review is from: Pet Sounds (Audio CD)
I'm a Beatles connoisseur. A die-hard. I've walked across Abbey Road (with a cigarette in hand, though it was too brisk to go barefoot), quaffed pints in the Reeperbahn, and could point out fifty "Paul is Dead" clues. I've burned through a bookshelf of biographies about the band and I noticed that the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds is continually mentioned whenever the end of the Beatles' touring days and the start of their `studio years' is discussed. With its 40th anniversary looming I started to wonder about Pet Sounds.
I always dismissed the Beach Boys as a half-baked band who parlayed a bunch of sunny tunes into a bubblegum legacy. While Brian Wilson could be considered the group's only gifted musician, but the boys could definitely sing. Gorgeous harmonies filled their 45s, but their words were always about things which were alien to me like surfin' and California sunshine. So, why the hubbub surrounding Pet Sounds? "No one is educated musically until they've heard Pet Sounds...It is a total classic record that is unbeatable in many ways", Paul McCartney proclaimed. Wow. Powerful, yet not as bold as what Beatles Producer George Martin said: `Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't have happened... Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds." What the hell made Beatle Paul, Sir George Martin, and countless other music luminaries bow to 1966's Pet Sounds? I was about to find out.
The other night I dug out my copy of Pet Sounds, which I half-heartedly listened to a few years ago before tossing it to the back of my collection, and I listened to it...and listened again. My original lukewarm judgment of the album mirrored the American record buyers of 1966 when LP peaked at #10 and failed to go gold. I spent the evening playing and replaying the album. A hearty auditory diet of Pet Sounds followed for the next few days. It became the soundtrack of my driving, my meals, and even my showering and shaving. The songs grew on me like a suntan-and I became more and more engulfed in its richness and splendor with each listen. As Pet Sounds connected with me through my earphones, I thought about how striking the sounds were and how naive I was to have dismissed them years ago....
After suffering two nervous breakdowns, twenty-three year old Brian Wilson stayed home in L.A. while the Beach Boys (with Glen Campbell filling in for Wilson) continued to tour in autumn of 1965. He suddenly had time to work on his new project- a project that was to show his newfangled musical vision- but was unsure of his direction until the Beatles' Rubber Soul became the catalyst for his new mission. "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." Fueled by barbiturates and good vibrations, Brian Wilson diligently worked through January and early February 1966 with lyricist Tony Asher penning songs with lyrical themes which evoke both the passion of newly born love affairs and the disillusionment of futile romances. Brian looked beyond the conventional guitars and keyboards when he hired and recorded some of the industry's best session musicians to play the backing tracks for the new material. Breathy saxophones, rolling accordions, piping flutes, Baroque harpsichords, pounding tympanis, regal English and French horns, and even some melodious oddities like Coca-Cola bottles, bicycle bells, and a ghostly sounding theremin are all interwoven into the album's rich fabric. When his band mates returned from their three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii, they laid down the immaculate vocals that blanket the record.
The result is an astonishing and harmonious orgy of sound. Wilson painted a dense and melodic landscape whose hills far out number its valleys. Pet Sounds is a gem from the opening blissful guitar plucks of the youthful anthem Wouldn't it be Nice to the crestfallen sounds of the barking dogs and passing train of the dirge Caroline, No. Brian's buttery voice on You Still Believe in Me and Don't Talk (Put your Head on my Shoulder) sends shivers down my spine. The heavenly God Only Knows, with its wintry sleigh bells and clip-clop percussion, melting vocals and marriage of horns and strings, make this an album highlight. Brian hands younger brother Carl the lead and the band recorded one of the loveliest and most divine songs ever heard on a pop album. " It's a favorite of mine...very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me," McCartney said of the song. The song's unorthodox opening line of "If I should ever leave you," is the cherry on top of the sundae for me. Perfection.
Pet Sounds is the crest of Brian Wilson's wave. He was able to use inspiration from across the pond and thread it into a richly textured and intricate piece of stunning pop. It was his vision, his baby, his masterstroke. His soul breathes through the vinyl.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 23, 2009 1:08:59 AM PST
The opening line is "I may not always love you" but its said with an unsteady voice like he's saying something that could never be true which is why he follows it up with "but as long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it, I'll make you so sure about it, God only knows what I'd be without you."
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 26, 2009 4:36:48 PM PDT
M. McCarthy says:
Also the correct second verse line is, " If you should ever leave me, life would still go on, believe me."
Posted on Jun 25, 2010 3:12:24 AM PDT
J. Crouch says:
The reviewer makes a point that cannot be over stressed. There are a large fraction of albums out there that don't go over so well on the first, second, or even after several listens. I can remember albums that everyone seemed to think were terrible, or at least not so hot when first received, but are now enshrined amongst the top records of all time. The point is, though, that more demanding albums take time to pick up, and as things start to layer on, the light bulb goes off, and you've got it. Occasionally I've had this work the other way as well. Ive had albums that I liked on first hearing, turn out to be pretty mediocre after a few spins. Anyway, the more effort, the more reward.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2010 2:48:56 AM PDT
Great review, with personal insights and deep research, with lots of Beatles' references. Wilson and the Beatles were definitely listening to each other in the spirit of competition, mutual enjoyment, and unashamed admiration and willingness to give credit where due (a trait younger musicians today are in need of). Thanks for a great review.
Posted on Mar 25, 2011 3:30:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 26, 2011 11:37:01 AM PDT
As an audiophile who enjoys surround sounds, I believe this excellently mastered DVD-Audio version is the best-remixed Beach Boys' album. For LPCM or DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 fans, you will hear, on almost every song, crystal clear, beautifully harmonized vocals emanating from the surround center-channel speaker. I just wish the Great Brian Wilson would remaster in DVD-Audio format albums of their Greatest Hits and/or their Classics.
Posted on Jul 8, 2011 8:56:52 PM PDT
J. L LaRegina says:
Great reviews and some good comments.
Brian Wilson's towering talent speaks for itself but I would not say he was the only gifted Beach Boy. Bruce Johnston and the late Dennis Wilson contributed some fine songs to the band's albums.
Posted on Nov 17, 2011 2:59:45 PM PST
Avalon Don says:
Pet Sounds is great. I think though Today is just as good. - "Kiss Me Baby".
Posted on Mar 17, 2012 6:23:54 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 31, 2014 1:36:58 PM PDT]
Posted on Aug 17, 2012 1:44:26 AM PDT
This review really echoes my own experience. I wasn't even aware of Pet Sounds but so many fellow Beatles fans seemed to love it so I checked it out. I thought it was just okay but I kept at it and after about 5 times through it became that album that I listened to every chance I got. That was a year and a half ago but I still love it.
Posted on Aug 24, 2012 5:39:20 PM PDT
What a gorgeous and insightful review. I too, love the Beatles, and am a huge fan of the Abbey Road album, but also love Let it be, Get Back sessions, and of course The Beatles, (The White Album), Sgt Pepper's, Revolver, Etc. Etc. Etc. But after reading your review I have to go and put on Pet Sounds (right now). I've already listened to Smile sessions earlier today. Thanks Matthew.