“Pet Sounds” 40th Anniversary
Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: Album Reviews, Music.
I fall into a different type of category in terms of Beach Boys listener, I’m a second generation semi-fan. My mom enjoys the band, casually, but my dad hates The Beach Boys with a passion. In some respect, I did too for the longest period of time while my tastes were maturing, horizons broadening, roots growing, and so on and so forth.
It is an interesting note that Brian Wilson’s commentary, in the supplemental DVD included in the upcoming release of the 40th Anniversary edition of Pet Sounds, likens the album to Sgt. Pepper’s, and more importantly Rubber Soul. When hearing Rubber Soul, he immediately went to his piano and began writing, attempting to recreate The Beatles’ forward thinking musical visualization and in doing so, he created Pet Sounds. For me those comments pertain to the closeness that I felt the band’s relationship for so many years, which ultimately lead me to staying as far away as possible from both The Beach Boys and The Beatles.
As previously touched on, my generation is the generation that knows the band through our parents and the media alone. One of my first memories of the band was the watered down touring company formerly known as The Beach Boys which played “Kokomo” with Uncle Jesse on Full House. It wasn’t until reading endless accounts of how amazing the band once was, how world shattering Pet Sounds was and how, in reality, “Kokomo” wasn’t a perfect image of the band’s music that I took the time to listen to The Beach Boys. It was only after hearing all these wonderful sentiments that I even bothered listening to Pet Sounds, after all, it was old and couldn’t possibly be timeless. But again, The Beatles were there.
I fell in love, watching A Hard Days Night and feeling the energy and simplicity that the band captured with its music. And Pet Sounds immediately seemed a distant memory.
But now, a few years later, I am given the opportunity to revisit the band, a band that I may have never truly met. I come into this experience knowing but a few things about the band, “Kokomo” sucks, Pet Sounds was inspired by Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson’s follow-up SMiLE was released to critical acclaim some 37 years late and my father hates the band. What do you know about the band? Are you willing to experience Pet Sounds for possibly the 30th time, or maybe honestly for the first?
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is a unique experience when understanding its beauty, especially so after countless times hearing it only within the context of classic pop radio. Taking into account the critical aspect of this round’s listening session, the lyrics to the song, no matter how many “oldies” stations it may occupy at any given time, stand as an outlaw love song when taking them into the context of my own life; “wouldn’t it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong?” The song’s sugary sweet overtones mask a theme revolving around two lost lovers, who have been completely blinded to the world outside of their, now shared, existence. Brother, I’ve been there.
“The more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it.” When you’re trapped in that paralleled existence, however you may wish to accept the term trapped, so much time is spent dreaming and memorizing thoughts of a time that has yet to come, and that time seems absolutely perfect in your mind. If we could all live the life we dream of in our minds, wouldn’t that be nice?
It was mentioned during the podcast that before Pet Sounds was released in the UK, McCartney and Lennon heard the album and that its impact can be heard throughout The Beatles’ masterpiece Revolver; further acknowledging both the artistic influence and competitiveness that the two groups had during this period. That to me is something special in itself. Which bands are there today that lead the pack, so to speak, and work almost in spite of each other to create brilliant music? Now I’m not naming names (yes I am) but The Killers aren’t exactly challenging Pete Doherty to make better music, are they? It’s probably the harmonies and contrast throughout the song are what I find strangest, and possibly most influential, especially in the terms of how they’ve aged and what the song has become associated with for me over time.
There’s a scene in one of the Naked Gun movies where Leslie Nielsen and Precilla Presley run through a falling-in-love montage, backed by Hermans Hermits “I’m Into Something Good.” A similar scene is what I envision when I hear this song due to it’s overly background vocals, accordion base and dueling guitar harmonies all run amongst Wilson’s airy vocals. But I must say that I had never taken the time to understand the lyrics, and when learning that Wilson was close to my age during the production of the album I now have a feeling of camaraderie with whomever it was that Wilson was at the time.
“You Still Believe Me” is a track that understands the dream that was at the heart of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” though the dream has evolved into some disappointing reality. As things turn out far different than planned in the reality of Wilson’s character, it becomes crushing to know the concluding reality that the lovers will never be able to lie themselves into a false idea of things being perfect again. But there is the thought of forgiveness and the statement that every time we wake up the day is new, and all is supposedly forgotten, but what a let down, the ultimate contrast to the easy going sounds of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Oh, and the break at 2:10, right before the song kicks back in guiding the strangely perfect bicycle horn is brilliant. Just saying.
What is beautiful about Pet Sounds becomes absolutely evident as “That’s Not Me” passes by and gives way to two of the most amazing songs on the album, “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows.”
Pitchfork’s Dominique Leone recently celebrated “God Only Knows” as the greatest song of the 1960s, topping the list of 200 as something that cannot really be understood. The podcast supports this thought as no one within the band can really attest to the inspiration for the song. It just sort of happened. There are mystical overtones to it but what is beautiful lies within its intricacies. Leone notes “‘God Only Knows’ is so ideally conceptualized and realized, critics can’t help but support it. Somehow, even that can’t turn it into an art exhibit; its humanity resists the attempt.”
It is art, but somewhere in the midst of something higher, more powerful than what can be conceived by you nor I, is the point that it was composed by a group of young surfers. Your neighbors’ kids next door just made the greatest album in the history of American popular music. Like the songs that precede it, “God Only Knows” is a complete departure from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in that it begins to question the realities of life, through tone and lyric. When asked, even Brian Wilson can’t explain where the song came from, and even if he could I’m not sure it would make sense to any of us anyways.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]