Forty years later, 'Pet Sounds' still a masterpiece

On Aug. 29, 2006, Pet Sounds was reborn as Pet Sounds: 40th Anniversary. Considered a relative ?failure? at the time of its original release on May 16, 1966, Pet Sounds now regularly lands in ?Best Albums of All Time? lists, and is seen as Brian Wilson’s masterwork.

Wilson had been working on tracks that ended up on Pet Sounds throughout 1965. But work didn?t begin in earnest until he?d received inspiration from The Beatles? Rubber Soul. ?It was such a great album,? he told Goldmine. ?It?s a collection of folk songs, almost. [Wilson listened to the U.S. version, more folk-oriented than its U.K. counterpart] It?s very special.? ?Norwegian Wood,? ?Michelle,? and ?Girl? were his favorite tracks, in addition to the group?s vocal performances. ?Their voices inspired me a lot,? said Wilson ?Just the sound of their voices.? His admiration turned into determination to make an album equally as good ? if not better.PetSounds.jpg

Wilson?s next decision was to work with a new lyricist. ?I enjoyed working with a lyricist because we could bounce off each other, you know?? Wilson said. ?That was the reason I wanted to do [songwriting] with collaborators.? He tapped Tony Asher, a copywriter at an ad agency, whom he?d met in ?65. Asher proved his worth immediately on the first song the two worked on; after hearing ?You Still Believe in Me,? Asher came back the next day with the lyrics complete. ?I said, ?Boy, I?m hot with him,?? Wilson recalled. ?He brought personal you/me kind of lyrics [to the project]. I liked the personalized thing, and the social statement kind of idea, the Bob Dylan kind of thing. It was really great.?

Asher wrote lyrics for the majority of the album?s songs, the exceptions being two instrumentals, ?I?m Waiting for the Day? (co-written with Mike Love), ?I Know There?s An Answer? (co-written with Love and Terry Sachen), and the traditional folk song ?Sloop John B? (Love also gets a co-writer credit for ?Wouldn?t It Be Nice?). Recording sessions began on Jan. 18, 1966, and continued through April 13. The backing tracks were produced before the other Beach Boys were brought in to sing, Wilson drawing on the cream of L.A.?s session musicians. ?It was a little intimidating at first,? he admitted, ?but then I got used to it. I really liked the way they played. They did exactly what I told them to do.?

On Feb. 9, The Beach Boys began recording their vocals. It?s been said by those working with the group ? including Brian Wilson ? that the other Beach Boys were initially put off by the material. These days, Wilson downplays the dischord, simply saying, ?They loved singing for me,? adding that ?God Only Knows? was a particular favorite of the group?s. He and Mike Love put the album?s song order together in ?about an hour,? finding there was a binding theme in the tracks recorded, which outlined the rise and fall of a relationship. ?Good Vibrations? was worked on during this period, but was ultimately not included on the album. ?It was in the embryonic stages,? said Wilson. ?It was a little too complicated for Pet Sounds.?

The sense of maturity in the songs was a sharp contrast to the group?s previous fun-in-the-sun tunes, but it was the inventive musical arrangements that were especially striking. The album reached #10; not bad, but not as high as the band had hoped.

Pet Sounds has been reissued a number of times since; part of a three-album Beach Boys Deluxe Set (1967), paired with Carl and the Passions ? So Tough (1972); and on the band?s Brother-Reprise label (1974). By 1990, when Pet Sounds was first released on CD, it was regarded as a legendary work. ?I was very surprised,? Wilson said. ?I never expected it to last that long, but it did.?

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