Arguably one of the most important/significant/best albums ever. Certainly of the 1960s, and definitely the crowning achievement of The Beach Boy’s output. Listening to it 53 years later it may be hard to understand what all the fuss is about. But on this album, Brian Wilson and the boys reached new heights in terms of song composition and album production. Tracks are multi-layered, vocals and instruments are stacked on top of each other to create a full orchestral sound. There’s a whole host of ‘unusual’ (for the mid-60s) sounds hidden away on there, some still taking you by surprise, like the trains rattling by and the dogs barking at the end of Caroline, No.
The album died a death in the US on release, but was a big hit in the UK, being marketed as “the most progressive pop album ever!” reaching #2 in the chart, it’s hardly surprising it spurred Lennon and McCartney to attempt to better it.
The songs and the Beach Boys sound is now so familiar, its easy to not really listen to all the stuff that’s going on in the background to these songs – timpani, flutes, harpsichords, trumpets, it’s a travelling band-cum-circus of psychedelic sounds. Hmm, now what album does that remind you of that came out the following year…? One of my favourites is I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, which features clip-clopping coconut shell percussion as well as the first recording of the Electro-Theremin, played by its inventor, Paul Tanner.
I wonder if it wouldn’t be regarded as so revolutionary if it didn’t also contain such an excellent set of singalong singles, namely: Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Sloop John B, Caroline No, and the undeniably brilliant and beautiful God Only Knows. These are all in themselves fantastic tunes with quintessentially perfect Beach Boy harmonies; they can’t fail to put a smile on your face.
But it’s unusual for a pop album of its era to also contain two instrumentals: Let’s Go Away For Awhile demonstrating Wilson’s compositional ambition and a taster for his “teenage symphony to God”: Smile (unfinished until Wilson’s 2004 version), and the title track, Pet Sounds. This itself is very 50s cinematic exotica, all Hawaian wobbly guitars and funky percussion. As it fades out, I always feel like I want to follow that music and see where it leads: towards a white sandy beach nuzzling a sparkling sea…
Best Bits: God Only Knows
Genre: Pop’s first major exploration of the studio
Like This, Try This: Find The Beach Boys too twee, or just over-familiar, try these versions of Don’t Put Your Head On My Shoulder, from Fennesz and the Argentinian cellist Patricio Villarejo