The Ceremony: Pet Sounds in Review
Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston – vox.
The Wrecking Crew: famous session musicians whose careers were built on playing on this album
If there is one album that should be required to all fans of music, if only once, it should be Pet Sounds. This album changed so much for music that little else compares, except for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
If Pet Sounds needs to be described to a layperson with no knowledge of the band itself, Beach Boys, it needs to be explained as a Technicolor smorgasbord of beautiful words, sounds and visions.
The majority of the creative output cut to tape is that of Brian Wilson, who is easily the visionary of the Beach Boys. Given its ambition and scope for its time, his pet project was met with so much surprise and consternation from his family (bandmates) that their ability to have faith in it was strained. It is for this reason that Pet Sounds, in certain circles, is considered a Brian Wilson solo album with the Beach Boys tag.
But fear not, readers. While a large portion of the instrumentation was handled by session musicians, every Beach Boy member is present on the album. If you feel inclined, seek out the box set entitled the Pet Sounds Sessions for a rare look into the creative process behind making the album. Never before has a group been so forthcoming with the master tapes of its work.
The words are relegated to satisfy your woman emotionally. However, the music received the most attention over time. Brian featured instruments rarely heard in a popular context in many of the songs (French horns and bass harmonicas), and used words hardly combined (God Only Knows — not often you see a deity in a secular song title!)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice heralds one of the finest introductions to any album with its arpeggiated electric twelve-string mandolin curtain opener.
You Still Believe in Me is a proper reminder of the Beach Boys’ sound with its lush harmonies. That’s Not Me is entirely self-doubting and reluctant to commit to its audience. Let’s Go Away For A While could be simply written off as a Burt Bacharach backing track. However, it doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of the material presented here.
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) may put you to sleep. I’m Waiting for the Day gives us the bounciest cut on the album. Sloop John B may be the most characteristic of the Beach Boys sound, catchy, but perhaps out of place. God Only Knows is sweeter than any prayer that could be made to a lover.
I Know There’s an Answer has been accused of being about L.S.D., and musically, I’d have to agree (given its shared breezy feeling with Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women 12 & 35). Here Today warns about the consequences of romance and taking a relationship seriously. I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times unusually rebels against 1960s freedom and seeks maturity over childlike naiveté.
Just a warning, the title track has no relation to actual pet sounds.
Caroline, No was Brian Wilson’s first hit single as a solo artist, recalling the earlier comment about Pet Sounds being a ‘Brian Wilson solo album’.
The Hits: God Only Knows. It’s such a shame that Carl Wilson didn’t have a few more turns on lead vocals (officially, at least. Pet Sounds Sessions offers a little more Carl). His voice works so well on this one that I couldn’t imagine Brian taking up Carl’s mantle here.
The Pits: Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder). Brian’s brilliant falsetto can’t save this one from sounding pretty dull compared to the other lush tracks on the album.
Now You Know: Like what you heard with Pet Sounds? Seek out Smile, the ill-fated follow up to Pet Sounds, recently released after 43 years of mystery and mystique. Smile continued the large, epic instrumental prowess of Pet Sounds, only this time with more expansive lyrical subject matter and more ambitious intentions.
Due to Brian Wilson’s mental collapse It was discontinued after a year of promising results. Much like Pet Sounds, it was also met with relative indifference by his bandmates and served as a catalyst for the failure of the project. It has been released since early November of this year to great fanfare.