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 Soul, an envious Wilson wanted to throw down an American marker; a challenge to the Fab Four's pioneering spirit.
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?"