Monday, May 16, 2011

Released 45 Years Ago Today: Pet Sounds By The Beach Boys

I regard 1966 as something of a watershed year in 20th century music, across the genres. The sheer number of legendary figures from rock, blues, soul, old-school country, jazz (and those musicians who bravely cut across the genres) still at the top of their game in 1966 and recording great albums boggles the mind.

Smack dab in the middle of this feverish period of creative experimentation, on May 16, 1966, Pet Sounds, the acknowledged piece-de-resistance of Brian Wilson And The Beach Boys, was officially released by Capitol Records.

While the average teenage record consumer of the time may well have not known what to make of Pet Sounds, the music community - and especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney - knew that Brian's "orchestral pop" had set a new and most ambitious bar line.

Although Pet Sounds now stands comfortably atop this blogger's short list of absolute favorite pop albums, I must confess that the intricacy, beauty and creativity of the vocal and instrumental arrangements by maestro Brian Wilson were pretty much lost on me in my guitar hero and prog rock-obsessed youth. Perhaps influenced by the rampant over-exposure and saturation of The Beach Boys' numerous Top 40 hits, I didn't "get" Pet Sounds (and such later Beach Boys masterpieces as Sunflower) at the time for a good reason: I didn't actually sit down and listen to the album in its entirety until many years later.

It took repeated listenings to Brian Wilson's music, decades later, sparked by an inspirational viewing of Don Was' 1995 documentary I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, to convince me.

This blogger/music lover's mind was seriously blown by the following YouTube clips about the making of Pet Sounds, which illuminate Brian Wilson's role as producer-arranger-conductor-mastermind.

In 2011, I am still listening to Pet Sounds and finding sonic nuances I had never perceived before.

I still love all that amazing mid-1960's music, from the ever-tuneful Beatles and Beach Boys to the soulful blues and propulsive hard bop, right through to the audacious avantgardists (Zappa, Beefheart, Ayler, Ornette), but will always have a soft spot for the following favorite songs from Pet Sounds:

Brian Wilson produced the "Good Vibrations" single later in 1966 and had planned his "and now for something completely different" followup, SMILE, which departed even from The Beach Boys pop hitmaking formula than Pet Sounds.

With apologies to Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Zombies and The Small Faces for the sin of omission, my brief "desert island" list of pop masterpieces that never fail to be satisfying listening, preferably with headphones and without any interruptions, includes:

Of 1950's pop, the recordings that rival the aforementioned psychedelic era chestnuts for profound, sublime artistry - and I never tire of listening to these, either - would be the ultra-atmospheric Frank Sinatra studio masterpieces (Songs For Swingin' Lovers, In The Wee Small Hours, Only The Lonely), many featuring the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. And those ravishingly beautiful albums will be grist for another blog entry.

To Brian, the boys and intrepid Hollywood Studio aces The Wrecking Crew, thanks a million for the music and the memories.


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