Pet Sounds: Celebrating Brian Wilson’s Masterpiece 50 Years Later

Featured image via Chris Boland

Written by Dan Cousart

On May 16, 1966, a pop group from Southern California who called themselves the Beach Boys released a groundbreaking record that would change music forever. The tides of popular music were changing in the mid 1960s thanks to the mainstream introduction of the Beatles in 1964 and Bob Dylan in 1965. Rock music was beginning to gain an artistic consciousness way beyond what was previously thought possible, and the Beach Boys would soon be at the center of it.  

Album art courtesy of Capitol Records

Album art courtesy of Capitol Records

Back in early 1965, a 22 year old Brian Wilson was fed up with touring and writing songs about the beach. The Beach Boys were arguably the most successful pop group at the time, and Brian was the songwriter. Most people would be content to ride the wave of fame, but Brian wanted more.

Brian decided to retire from touring with the band to focus on writing and recording. The rest of the Beach Boys continued to tour with Bruce Johnston on bass.

It was around this time that Wilson first heard the Beatles’ record “Rubber Soul”. Wilson was captivated by it’s sound and use of experimentation. “Rubber Soul” would serve as Wilson’s main inspiration for the songs that would become “Pet Sounds.” Wilson quickly headed into the studio to start recording.

The “Pet Sounds” sessions would yield hits like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows” and “Sloop John B,” as well as deep cuts like “You Still Believe In Me.” What made this record unique however, was how introspective the songs were and Wilson’s use of the studio to create art. Train noises, bicycle whistles and animal noises were considered studio innovations and incredibly unconventional for the time. This proved to be a problem for the band when they returned from tour to hear this completely new sound. The other Beach Boys did not like the record, stating that it was too dreary and not like their old songs. It took Wilson a while to convince his bandmates to sing the new songs and to not scrap the whole record. Once an agreement was made, the final steps of recording were made, and the Beach Boys added their classic harmonies to the mix.

 

“Pet Sounds” was released on May 16, 1966 to mixed reviews in the American market. It’s first single “Caroline, No” failed to do nearly as well as their previous singles. It was only after “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B” were released as singles did the record take off. Though it was not as well received as their previous efforts, many musicians began to cite “Pet Sounds” as a masterpiece, including a certain Paul McCartney, who says that “Pet Sounds” had a hand in making “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper”. How’s that for some history?

What do you think of Pet Sounds? Let us know in the comments! Don’t forget that Brian Wilson will be celebrating Pet Sounds’ 50th with a performance at the Tower Theatre September 23rd. Get tickets here!

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