This week we are celebrating 50 years of the Beach Boys magnum opus Pet Sounds. It seems appropriate given Brian Wilson is in town performing the album in full this weekend.
Released in May 1966, Pet Sounds was Brian Wilson’s project. He wrote, arranged and produced pretty much the entire album with minimal support from the rest of the band. The other members would only provide vocals, with over fifty session players brought into play on the record.
By this time, Wilson had quit touring with the group and had decided to focus on working in the studio. This caused some friction, with other members not entirely enamoured with what Brian was trying to do on this record.
Sound-wise, Pet Sounds is quite symphonic with complex arrangements and unusual sounds featuring throughout. It was quite a departure from the groups pop sound of previous records, with many critics labelled the sound of this record baroque pop, or progressive pop.
You can also hear the influence of Phil Spector’s wall of sound production on this record, with quite a heavily layered sound throughout. Wilson was also influenced by what The Beatles were doing at the time in making more sophisticated studio recordings.
Pet Sounds received a somewhat lukewarm reception at the time in the States, a market which was still infatuated with singles and not albums. However, it was heavily praised in the UK, with bands ranging from the Beatles to Cream raving about the record.
It was also very hard to replicate live, with only a handful of songs ever being performed by the band. Brian Wilson would subsequently tour the record in its entirety.
Pet Sounds has since gone on to garner significant critical acclaim and is considered to be one of the most influential albums in the history of popular music. Rolling Stone magazine even ranked it second in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
It is also universally accepted to be Wilson’s best work and the Beach Boys greatest album.
In its wake more and more acts would begin experimenting in the studio with different sounds and song-structures. It also set a precedent which helped lead to the birth of album-oriented rock and prog rock, showing that music could be more than just pop, but art as well.