Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Albums for Life: 21: The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds

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.
Paul McCartney

In an attempt to make this list as personal as possible I've tried to steer clear of the obvious 'recognised' classics. However, this oft lauded album is kind of relevant after the last post. The similarity to Talk Talk's 'Spirit of Eden' is tenuous but relevant to me. Both albums are more about sound than form and, as I've mentioned before, changed the way I listened to music; made me look beyond the songs towards the sonic possibilities of music. That has led me to some albums that I wouldn't have normally let in the back door; Miles Davis's 'In A Silent Way' has just wiped its feet and is sitting down with me for a coffee and a Hobnob...
With Pet Sounds Brian Wilson ditched the easy surfer sounds in an attempt at creating something new. Egged on by The Beatles' experiments in sound and recording that informed Rubber Soulan envious Wilson wanted to throw down an American marker; a challenge to the Fab Four's pioneering spirit.
"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."
In an attempt to create a unique baroque 'n' roll  he layered harmonised vocals and overdubbed conventional instruments with more unusual ones to make a sound unique; unrecognizable. Wilson's box of tricks included bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Theremin, dog whistles trains, Hawaiian string instruments, Coca Cola cans and barking dogs.
Some might say 'barking' was the operative word.

Wilson had recently met a young jingle writer Tony Asher and approached him for collaboration.
"The general tenor of the lyrics was always his," Asher later recalled, "and the actual choice of words was usually mine. I was really just his interpreter."
Beyond the harmonies The Beach Boys themselves were used sparingly, the majority of the musicality was provided by that famous session collective 'The Wrecking Crew'. Brian Wilson oversaw the whole project, a frenzied Prospero writing, arranging and producing. The new Ampex 8 track tape machines meant that he could play the studio as an instrument; layering sound upon sound to create his own, otherworldly wall of sound. He then rendered the final mixes down to mono believing that was a more reliable version of his vision, fearful of the vagaries of modern stereos. It also suited his own circumstances: he was beaten by his father Murry as a child and was rendered deaf in his right ear...

Listening to the record is still an event; there could be no reproducing these arrangements live. Although often cited as the first concept album the only real concept is one of sound. But the sound would not have resonated so sweetly without the songs. And what songs; Wilson's genius was that he could present something as both elaborate and child like; you could connect and engage on so many levels with 'You Still Believe in Me' and the sublime 'God Only Knows'. It's amazing to think that 'Good Vibrations' was left off the album, a judgement call made easily by Brian as he felt that it wasn't quite ready. If he had replaced the lame, formulaic opener 'Sloop John B' with 'Good Vibrations' the album would have been nigh on perfect.
It's ironic that 'I Know There's an Answer' was originally entitled 'Hang on to Your Ego', as part of the album's appeal is in the almost willful anonymity of the performances; no-one is shouting 'look at me'. That faceless beauty adds to 'Pet Sounds' graceful charms. There's an elegiac elegance as it unwinds; you don't feel the passing of time; just a warm melancholic embrace from the speakers who, if they could speak, would surely be saying "this is frickin' mono?"


  1. I've tried I've really tried but I still just don't get this. I know I'm in the vast vast minority. I think this is a classic example of me preferring the pale imitations rather than the real thing.

  2. If you don't love the original it might be worth giving the stereo version a go David.
    Less in your face/direct, more hifi.
    It does come with a millstone of expectation which is why I was reluctant to choose it and other hoary old classics. I just love it though. It was recorded in innocent times and has a sweet aura of benevolence about it that I find irresistible...

  3. I'm glad you're making acceptions to the "no classics" stipulation. They're tight hand-cuffs to wear...

    I've read far too much about the BeachBoys over the years. As I said before about Brian... the most squandered musical genius of all time. A crying shame.

    Adding Sloop John B last minute was a massive blunder. I'm sure you know that Brian was furious, but Capitol execs strong-armed mercilessly. Although I'm sure Mike Love surely would've agreed... the c***.

    Good Vibes on Pet Sounds? Seems a bad fit to me as well. Although I agree with you that it's not truly a concept album, Good Vibes just doesn't suit the introspective tone of the album. A cut like "Til I Die" (written much later) would've been perfect...

    A Noel Gallagher interview is always a hoot, isn't it? Here he begs to disagree about significance of the BeachMen and takes shots at everyone including Macca: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQkcVNn-lIE

    1. I've been reading that Love was claiming all kinds of credit for the album; from the album's title to a lot of the writing and creative direction.
      I thought that Sloops position was intended as a storm before the clam type thing... Good Vibrations would have fitted that better. I didn't realize that it was a record company blunder.

    2. "a storm before the clam"...
      Into the Kool-aid a bit early?

    3. Piggin spell check TT; although I'm sure that I could justify it just for the halibut...

    4. Did you kipper straight face?

    5. Speak up TT, I'm a bit hard of herring...

    6. Actually, you're giving me a haddock... Codawful puns.

    7. Sorry TT, humor always been a lobstercal for me. I'm not a flippernt sole; there needs to be a porpoise for everything...

  4. This has to accept a point beyond zero on my list but a lot of that is down to the fact that it doesn't need any bigging up. A great album.

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