The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)

Pet Sounds is the 11th studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys, released May 16, 1966 on Capitol Records. It initially met with a lukewarm critical and commercial response in the United States, peaking at number 10 on Billboard Top LPs chart, lower than the band’s preceding albums. In the United Kingdom, the album was favorably received by critics and peaked at number 2 in the UK Top 40 Albums Chart, remaining in the top ten for six months. Promoted there as “the most progressive pop album ever”, Pet Sounds attracted recognition for its ambitious recording and sophisticated music. It is considered to be among the most influential albums in music history.

The album was produced, arranged, and almost entirely composed by Brian Wilson with guest lyricist Tony Asher. It was recorded largely between January and April 1966, a year after Wilson quit touring with his bandmates. His goal was to create “the greatest rock album ever made”—a cohesive work with no filler tracks. It is sometimes considered a Wilson solo album and a refinement of the themes and ideas he introduced with The Beach Boys Today! (1965). Lead single “Caroline, No” was issued as his official solo debut. It was followed by two singles credited to the group: “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (backed with “God Only Knows”).

Wilson’s Wall of Sound-based orchestrations mixed conventional rock set-ups with elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, found sounds, and instruments never before associated with rock, such as bicycle bells, French horn, flutes, Electro-Theremin, string sections, and beverage cans. The album consists mainly of introspective songs like “I Know There’s an Answer”, a critique of LSD users, and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”, the first use of a theremin-like instrument on a rock record. Its unprecedented total production cost exceeded $70,000 (equivalent to $550,000 in 2019). In October, the leftover song “Good Vibrations” followed as a single and became a worldwide hit. In 1997, a “making-of” version of Pet Sounds was overseen by Wilson and released as The Pet Sounds Sessions, containing the album’s first true stereo mix.

Pet Sounds is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the field of music production, introducing non-standard harmonies and timbres and incorporating elements of pop, jazz, exotica, classical, and the avant-garde. The album could not be replicated live and was the first time a group departed from the usual small-ensemble electric rock band format for a whole LP. Combined with its innovative music, which was perceived as a wholly self-conscious artistic statement (or “concept”), the record furthered the cultural legitimization of popular music and was influential in the development of psychedelic music and progressive/art rock. Since 2003, Rolling Stone has consistently ranked Pet Sounds second on lists of the greatest albums of all time. In 2004, it was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It has been certified platinum by the RIAA, indicating over one million units sold.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, Mike Love Brian Wilson and Mike Love 2:25
2. “You Still Believe in Me” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 2:31
3. “That’s Not Me” Wilson, Asher Love with B. Wilson 2:28
4. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 2:53
5. “I’m Waiting for the Day” Wilson, Love B. Wilson 3:05
6. “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” Wilson instrumental 2:18
7. “Sloop John B” traditional, arranged by Wilson B. Wilson and Love 2:58
Total length: 18:38

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocal(s) Length
1. “God Only Knows” Wilson, Asher Carl Wilson with B. Wilson and Bruce Johnston 2:51
2. “I Know There’s an Answer” Wilson, Terry Sachen, Love Love and Al Jardine with B. Wilson 3:09
3. “Here Today” Wilson, Asher Love 2:54
4. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 3:12
5. “Pet Sounds” Wilson instrumental 2:22
6. “Caroline, No” Wilson, Asher B. Wilson 2:51
Total length: 17:19

Review: The best Beach Boys album, and one of the best of the 1960s. The group here reached a whole new level in terms of both composition and production, layering tracks upon tracks of vocals and instruments to create a richly symphonic sound. Conventional keyboards and guitars were combined with exotic touches of orchestrated strings, bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Theremin, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans, barking dogs, and more. It wouldn’t have been a classic without great songs, and this has some of the group’s most stunning melodies, as well as lyrical themes which evoke both the intensity of newly born love affairs and the disappointment of failed romance (add in some general statements about loss of innocence and modern-day confusion as well). The spiritual quality of the material is enhanced by some of the most gorgeous upper-register male vocals (especially by Brian and Carl Wilson) ever heard on a rock record. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” “Caroline No,” and “Sloop John B” (the last of which wasn’t originally intended to go on the album) are the well-known hits, but equally worthy are such cuts as “You Still Believe in Me,” “Don’t Talk,” “I Know There’s an Answer,” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” It’s often said that this is more of a Brian Wilson album than a Beach Boys recording (session musicians played most of the parts), but it should be noted that the harmonies are pure Beach Boys (and some of their best). Massively influential upon its release (although it was a relatively low seller compared to their previous LPs), it immediately vaulted the band into the top level of rock innovators among the intelligentsia, especially in Britain, where it was a much bigger hit. — Richie Unterberger

Schill Score: 9/10

Listen to Album on Spotify

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