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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (IAS #13)

Today's IAS entry is:

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds


  1. "it is usually only when one becomes deeply engrossed in the intricacies of pop/rock music evolution that the genius of Brian Wilson starts getting equal respect with the double-headed genius of Lennon/McCartney."
    Then I'm an exception; I don't care much about those intricacies. Good Vibrations alone is good enough to give Brian Wilson that equal respect. There is no way anybody but him could write that song or something similar, including that famous duo.
    So I suspect that Wilson's ambition to compete with The Beatles actually was an obstacle for his artistic development. There is a precedent: the same happened to Prokofiev, who tried to compete with Stravinsky for the pole position in the avant garde movement of the Interbellum.

  2. Another excellent take on an album that has gone in my eyes from being terribly overrated to one of the top 5 albums ever recorded. One thing I do find particularly interesting, though, is your final statement that " I would also guess that, as the world moves further and further in the direction of global cynicism, it will become more and more difficult for people to empathize with Brian's starry-eyed idealism". In many ways I think the opposite is true for many of us: its the very starry-eyed idealism that is such a breath of fresh air, no a lifeline, to those of us who crave this sort of thing when so much pop culture is cynical and bleak (I mean, have you seen Batman V Superman?). I don't think it's an accident that it has been placing as high as it has recently in all those "Best of" lists that you so rightly deride but are still pretty interesting.

  3. In 1966 everyone I knew bought 45RPM singles and greatest hits albums. We were all top 40 radio. We did also buy Beatle albums and Beach Boy albums. Pet Sounds was on my list but I never did buy a copy. The music industry was changing. Everything about music was changing. Strange looking albums by strangely named bands. I think if the Beach Boy's had followed up Pet Sounds with a strong album of what they do best they could have survived. Good Vibrations was a start in that direction but Hero's and Villains didn't work as a single. They got buried under a pile of Frisco bands. It took years for me to get back to Pet Sounds and when I finally did I was disappointed. I like it ok now but I like Smile now too.

  4. Pet Sounds sounds quite boring to me. I have been trying to get this album for years, given its status and all. Unsuccessfully. You mentioned monotony, but I also don't like the thinly vocals sound and melodies are not that great.
    This comes from the person who considers I Get Around one of the best pop songs ever, so no The Beach Boys prejudice from me. I just don't get this album. And I like Frank Black's Hang On To Your Ego better than the original.

    1. You say the melodies are not that great; I honestly don't understand this when, from technical, emotional and innovative (for a pop song at the time) standpoint they are objectively some of the finest melodies ever written. Untrivial, featuring all sorts of unexpected and delightful leaps and repetitions in odd places, classical motifs such as the round at the end of God Only Knows... I'd like to hear why you believe that they're not that great. Of course, to each his own, and perhaps they just do not resonate, but I find that quite baffling!

    2. Well, maybe it's me, but I can hum The Beatles tunes in the car, waiting in line, taking a shower. The same applies to many other contemporary 60s artists and albums. I never hum tunes from Pet Sounds. I don't enjoy the melodies and overall whiny atmosphere of the record.
      Again, I like many tunes by The Beach Boys recorded before and after Pet Sounds. My evaluation is not objective, quite the contrary.

    3. I think the melodies are so integrated into the bigger picture of the arrangements that it's hard to get "caught" by them. This album is probably the least "earwormy" of any Beach Boys album. The music sucks you in, rather than the other way around. You just have to be in that place.

  5. I had the CD reissue you mentioned, which was one of the first I ever bought, purely on hype from VH-1 or radio. I liked it, but I approached it from a scholastic, "brain" perspective--with liner notes in hand. Brian always said it was a spiritual album, but I never really got it until many years later, when I switched from the brain to the Brian angle.

    I could never understand "You Still Believe" or "Don't Talk" because I was always comparing it to Brian and Marilyn, or whoever Tony Sachen was with, i.e., human relationships. Then it dawned on me: It's a dialogue between Brian and God. Brian is confessing his shortcomings on YSBIM: "I know perfectly well
    I'm not where I should be" and "I can't help how I act when you're not here with me." He believes in God, but is overwhelmed that God believes in him, even when he is unfaithful. Don't Talk is God talking back: "I can here so much in your sighs...don't talk put your head on My shoulder." Okay, okay, it's a bit weird, but Brian's using human metaphors to describe a spiritual relationship. And it's not Christian Pop or Gospel Music by any stretch. But it makes more sense to me, because this language is too heavy for mere physical or even emotional love.

    And of course, his whole "teenage symphonies to God" thing can certainly be over-estimated. You can definitely hear the drugs talking in a lot of this, obviously not in a She Said She Said way, but that woozy riff on Don't Talk sure sounds druggy to me. And Let's Go Away is just too dense to be banged out with a clean mind. But even that doesn't diminish the beauty of the record. Its confessional nature is really what carries it in the end. Brian's really trying to open his skull, a messed-up but beautiful place that can't be assimilated as easily as I Get Around or California Girls. Thanks for reawakening this record (once again).

  6. Fun fact- The Beach Boys and My Bloody Valentine are the only two bands to have albums in both the top 100 and bottom 100 on RYM.... Though in the case of MBV the bottom 100 offender is a mash-up the actual band had nothing to do with. The Beach Boys can therefor stake a claim as being the band with the widest quality spectrum in rock history.

  7. "Not coincidentally, each of the two sides of the album opens up on a deceptive note (...) ʻSloop John B.ʼ, which was not even one of Brian's original ideas (it was brought to his attention by Al Jardine, a big fan of the Kingston Trio), opens the second side..."

    Interesting theory - the only trouble is, Sloop John B is actually the last song on Side 1. Side 2 opens with GOK.