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The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds [Album Review]

April 19, 2012

Wouldn’t It Be Nice / You Still Believe In Me / That’s Not Me / Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) / I’m Waiting For The Day / Let’s Go Away For Awhile / Sloop John B/ God Only Knows/ I Know There’s An Answer / Here Today / I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times / Pet Sounds / Caroline No

This is a record that embraces adult themes of love and spirit. It embraces you the listener – inviting you into its world of love, beating hearts, lost relationships and resting a head upon the shoulder of a loved one. Its an album with impeccable state of the art production. Well, by twenty first century standards the production is no longer state of the art, but given the studios in which Brian, Mike, Al, Carl, Bruce and Dennis worked with at the time– this is the state of the art, unsurpassed even today. Brian didn’t use studio trickery in so much as he simply knew how to different varieties and combinations which he could create using a studio. He knew where to place a microphone and which microphone to use. Well, all good record engineers do know these things of course. Brian wasn’t unusual in that respect. What was unusual is how all of his choices were just ‘right’. And, bear in mind, Brian wasn’t really a producer or an engineer. He’d not taken any college courses in sound re-production or record production. Everything was learnt cutting those simple early Beach Boys records, watching trusted lieutenant Chuck Britz in the control room and beating off the overbearing advances and attempted domineering of his father.

Right maybe i should talk about the actual record…. I’ll get round to it in a second. The impact of ‘Pet Sounds’ deserves some discussion first. Upon release, people within the music industry – the actual musicians, producers etc recognized Brian had put his heart and soul into ‘Pet Sounds’ and that it was indeed something very special. They fell in love with the record and people such as Glen Campbell, producer Terry Melcher even John Cale of The Velvet Underground are responsible partly for ‘Pet Sounds’ never being forgotten. The fans of ‘Pet Sounds’ spread the word, spread the message around everywhere. Capitol Records famously were lukewarm about the whole thing and quickly released the first of many greatest hits packages and generally treated ‘Pet Sounds’ without any respect whatsoever. Hence it ‘only’ charted top ten in the US, ‘only’ spawned two top ten singles, but  it managed to become  a huge hit within England where Brian and The Beach Boys still have a very loyal and loving fan-base right through to today.

From this record i believe personally that Brain was talking about his doubts many which are common for people  to share, I’ve had doubts about religion and also showing  different periods of discovery . This isn’t a religious record as such but Brian and Carl reputedly held prayer sessions concerning the success of the album and one song, ‘God Only Knows’ in particular. Before all of that however we have ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. Two and a half minutes in length, the lyrics written by advertising man Tony Asher and directed by Brian are a step away from previous Beach Boys material and different. Basically ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ if we were older, if we were in love, if we were married. It’s a fantasy and the fantasy is supported by those wonderful Beach Boys harmonies of course(which they are so obviously famed for) Musically the most notable aspect of the song is the section where it slows down, the track is stripped back and the singing just soars upwards to the heavens. After that, the song pretty much just ends. It hardly matters as you are still awestruck by what’s just happened. Everything in the right place – an up-tempo, impossibly sophisticated pop song. The next three songs are something of a sandwich. We have ‘That’s Not Me’ a simple song on the face of it that is transformed purely by the playing and production, the sound of the bass guitar like a heart beat. Together with the drums it’s a sound used especially well on ‘Don’t Talk…’ Its actually used to follow a particular lyric and reinforces the idea of ‘Pet Sounds’ as a loving emotional album able to present the emotion of love out to the listener, rather than just stories and songs about love. ‘You Still Believe In Me’ was reworked from an earlier song called ‘In My Childhood’. Its all double lead vocals from Brian ( on the mono version of the album at least ) and he showcases his heartbreaking falsetto very well.

You may be thinking at this point, ‘this Pet Sounds’ doesn’t sound very, um, Rock n Roll!’. You’d be right. This is hardly Rock and Roll, this isn’t early Beach Boys influence Chuck Berry. Brian’s Idol Phil Spector, now, you can hear his influence. The same musicians that Phil recorded with were used during the ‘Pet Sounds’ sessions after all. The nearest we do get to rock music as such is ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’ and ‘Sloop John B’. Sloop features exciting piano, rock rhythms and impossibly simple sounding yet complicated melodies that send me giddy from top to bottom. ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’ again is a fairly simply song, but simple isn’t bad. Its only actually simple in sound. The melody and chord changes, the production and mixing are far from simple. Every effort was made to get the right sounds, Brian’s ‘Pet Sounds’ – hence the albums title.

‘God Only Knows’ is of course one of the most beautiful records ever made and probably the most popular of the album. Oh, but of course! Well, I say that myself and I believe that myself. Many other people believe it to be true and Brian has been playing the entire ‘Pet Sounds’ album during recent solo concerts. ‘God Only Knows’ was sung by Carl, chosen by Brian after he rejected himself for the lead and deciding something wasn’t quite perfect. Remarkably, it was only brother Carls second ever lead on a Beach Boys record. He’d provide many important and great lead vocals the years after 1966, but never really would match that first ( well, second ) love of his ‘God Only Knows’ vocal work. ‘I Know There’s An Answer’ has lyrics that were re-written by Mike after he expressed doubts concerning Brian’s original ‘Ego’ lyrics. The importance of the musical tracks on ‘Pet Sounds’ – the fact that they turn a great record into a masterpiece genius record is emphasised by ‘I Know There’s An Answer’. The new lyrics are slightly clumsy, slightly corny. Fortunately the musical backing is one of the most exotic on the entire record, full of strange noises and held together by wonderfully melodic bass-playing.

I’m  suppose i  better finish this review now. I haven’t even mentioned ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’, the two instrumentals and the beautiful solo Brian ‘Caroline No’. The instrumentals provide variety and a change from many of the comparison tracks from the era. The title track is ridiculously joyously silly and really should raise a smile – ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’ matches its title in its musical description of places to achieve a state of joy and relaxation. ‘Caroline No’ fades out with the sounds of a train going past behind dogs barking. Pet Sounds, indeed. We are all fortunate Brian shared these sounds with us all. One of the greatest albums ever made, as simple as that. No, it’s not rock and roll….not really. It renders categorization difficult, actually. Just forget everything I’ve said. As the song goes, ‘listen, listen, listen….’

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