Pet Sounds

The Beach Boys

Capitol Records, 1966

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Raise your hand if you did something or held an opinion in your youth that wasn't that smart. I'm willing to bet most, if not all of us have. Case in point: my former underappreciation of the Beach Boys masterpiece Pet Sounds.

When I first purchased this album about one and a half years ago, I gave it plenty of listens, and if someone had asked me what I thought of it, the response would have been a "meh." I loved the singles, and it was clear that Pet Sounds was important, but it wasn't at the top of my favorite records. Flash forward to the present, and the past few weeks. Don't ask what did it; maybe I'm just older, maybe the uniqueness of this album finally registered, but let it be said that I love Pet Sounds. (Let it be said also that this review is of the original album mixed in mono. A discussion of the stereo version of the album will be included in my review of The Pet Sounds Sessions.)

The legend of Pet Sounds is vast, too vast to be completely recounted here. Suffice it to say; it is considered one of the most influential, as well as one of the greatest records of all time. This LP launched Brian Wilson into the stratosphere; following Pet Sounds he would release the brilliant single "Good Vibrations," and record the unreleased-for-37-years SMiLE. So what made Pet Sounds so different? Quite simply, no one in the music industry had done what Brian Wilson did in 1966. The unique recording style, the combinations of sounds, the deeply personal lyrics; all these factors have contributed to the success of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Pet Sounds throughout the years. Today, roughly 40 years on, this is still a production masterpiece.

From the opening, heavenly plucks from a guitar, to the sounds of dogs barking and a train pulling off, Pet Sounds dazzles with its originality. The chord changes are startling on first listen, but quickly win one over. The complex, underlying track that cements each song provides plenty of opportunity to hear things you don't normally hear on a rock album. Accordions pared with multiple saxophones ("Wouldn't It Be Nice), a well-placed toot of a bicycle horn ("You Still Believe In Me"), the first major use of the theremin in popular music ("I Just Wasn't Made For These Times"), and the list goes on and on.

Vocally, Pet Sounds is a stunner. This is no surprise to any fan of the Beach Boys, who had some of the most gorgeous harmonies ever recorded. The pathos that exudes from the boys makes your heart break, or maybe bring a smile to your face. The point is, this album touches you in ways that music may not have touched you before. It's impossible to listen to songs such as "Caroline No," or the closing a capella tag to "God Only Knows" and not get a little bit emotional.

It would seem pointless to highlight only a few tracks off this album, but ever since I started listening to music, there are two Beach Boys songs that never cease to move me. They would be "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and "God Only Knows." One is the seldom heard desire to be just a little bit older, the other a pure expression of love and feeling. I'm approaching Brian Wilson's age when he recorded Pet Sounds, and I can sympathize with what is being sung. A simple life, is there anything wrong with wanting that?

I suppose if a weak link in the Pet Sounds chain was to be found, it would reside in the lyrics department. Technically speaking, these aren't the most creative words that ever flowed from vinyl. Overall, they are quite simple, not even close to approaching the abstractness and complexity of those found on SMiLE. Don't get me wrong, there are some very interesting bits to be found. "Here Today" takes a completely different approach than the rest of the album -- it's quite negative in tone, essentially stating that love is, "here and gone so fast." It's a fascinating dichotomy in context with the rest if Pet Sounds. However, the purpose of this album according to Brian Wilson is to make one "feel." Pet Sounds does just that.

I still don't know what moved me to put Pet Sounds in the stereo the other day. Until then, it was just another CD doomed to obscurity on my shelf. However, as I write this today, I'm incredibly glad that I gave Pet Sounds another shot. It's more than just an album; it's an experience, one that everyone who loves music should take.

Rating: A

User Rating: A



© 2005 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.