Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys

Released May 16, 1966 this barely broke the top 10 Billboard in the US but soared to the top of the UK charts and stayed there for months. It was hailed as the most progressive pop album ever at the time and is now considered to be one the most influential albums of all time. It is sometimes considered a Brian Wilson solo album and the lead single “Caroline, No” is officially his solo debut.

Jason: There are about 90 different versions of Pet Sounds but of the original did you listen to the mono or the stereo version?

Brad: Stereo…I guess. It is the original version on Apple Music. For our purposes I usually stick to the original version of every album.

Jason: The mono was actually the original. Brian Wilson purposely created it in mono so he could create a “wall of sound” but the remaster is in stereo, which he sanctioned. I listened to both versions a few times and with the mono you really do this flat, impactful sound that is kind of imposing. The stereo has more depth because you can make out some of the subtler sounds like the weird clown car horn honking at the end of “You Still Believe In Me”.

Brad: Okay. I never compared the two before. Also, I should probably get better quality headphones.

Jason: To me the mono sounds like you are on the other side of the sound booth whereas the stereo sounds like you are in the middle of it. The difference is really evident at the beginning of “I’m Waiting for the Day”. Do you like The Beach Boys in general?

Brad: I do. When I was a kid, we used to listen to the Beach Boys a lot. We had the 8-track of their greatest hits called Endless Summer (which does not include any of the Pet Sounds songs). But I also felt a little burned out on them as I got into my teens. I didn’t start appreciating them again until the early 2000s. How about you?

Jason: My dad liked them but my mom never did. So I’d hear them every so often but mostly when they are on the radio. Some of their earlier surfing songs everyone knew but I mostly became aware of them because of Kokomo in 1989ish. I remember I loved that song at the time. That isn’t indicative of their usual sound, though to be fair, neither is Pet Sounds. This album is very experimental. It’s like a concept album.

Brad: Yeah, this was a departure from their surf sound. This is almost considered to be a Brian Wilson solo album. There was minimal involvement from the other band members.

Jason: Yet it’s considered their masterpiece. Brian seems like one of those creative geniuses in spite of or because of his mental illnesses.

Brad: Yes, he definitely is a creative genius. I love that he was inspired to create this album from listening to The Beatles “Rubber Soul” album. He wanted to create a cohesive album instead of a collection of singles. Then after it was released, The Beatles were so inspired by “Pet Sounds” that they created “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album which is also considered to be a masterpiece. There is something magical about that.

Jason: Definitely! This album is pretty amazing because I sort of like it but I also find it a little distressing . I can’t put my finger on it but it’s like…an opera or a symphony. The entire album is telling a story and some of the songs are a little disturbing. Not in their lyrics so much but in the way they are performed. Like “You Still Believe In Me”, it’s so forlorn and it’s almost a mournful harmonic wailing. Same with “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”. I have a hard time listening to that. It’s really unsettling.

Brad: This time around when listening to the album “You Still Believe In Me” really left an impression on me too. I think it might be one of my favorites. 

Jason: I really like “Sloop John B”, which is an old Bahamian folk song. I also like “Pet Sounds” which is an instrumental but there are a few that I wouldn’t just sit and listen too. As a complete album, yes. As a single no. But that was his intention. Did you know that the “Pet Sounds” instrumental was intended to be a James Bond theme?

Brad: I’ve always loved “Sloop John B” and no I didn’t know that about “Pet Sounds”. I could see it being in a film but not sure it would have worked as a Bond Theme. 

Jason: It might work as a Tarantino directed Bond Film.

Brad: I have to admit, the one song that I love but also bugs me a little is “I Know There’s an Answer”. The original unreleased version (eventually released in 1990) was called “Hang On To Your Ego” but Mike Love didn’t like the lyrics and made Brian change the title to “I Know There’s An Answer”. Mike eventually got a co-writing credit for that. I first heard that version because Frank Black (Black Francis of the Pixies) covered it in the early 90s. I love that version and love those lyrics. I didn’t listen to Pet Sounds until after that so every time I hear it, I sing “Hang On To Your Ego” instead.

Jason: Oooh! I like this Frank Black version. This album inspired a lot of current musicians and they get covered a lot. Do you think that Vampire Weekend is slightly influenced by them? I get that feeling a bit from their original “white bread” look and their sound.

Brad: Maybe? I often hear Paul Simon’s influence on Vampire Weekend. But they might be inspired by both.  I saw Brian Wilson perform this entire album a couple years ago at the Pitchfork Festival. It was great to be in his presence and I thought his band was really great. John & Joan Cusack even came out to do backup vocals. However, it was kind of uncomfortable to watch Brian. Not sure if he is still performing because he wants to or because he has to for the money or maybe some other pressures? I saw that he recently cancelled a tour due to mental health issues and I fully support that. I hope he is being cared for by the people around him.

Jason: Yes it’s more important that he does things when he wants to not when a label, or whomever, is making him. 

Brad: Brian’s legacy will definitely live on whether he continues to tour or not. What grade do you give Pet Sounds?

Jason: This tough for me because I really appreciate the genius of it but I also find some of it unsettling, as I mentioned earlier. Also, if I give it a low grade our friend Nora will murder me. I am going with a B+.

Brad: That’s fair. I’m giving it an A-

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