Release Date: May 16, 1966
Backstory: The Beach Boys had released five albums over the course of just a few short years before the band’s co-founder and multi-tasking ringleader, a then-fledgling 22-year-old Brian Wilson, suffered from a panic attack while flying from Los Angeles to Houston. The event served as a catalyst for the anxious young musician to take a leave of absence from touring with the rest of the group, deciding instead to focus on writing and recording (with Glen Campbell and later Bruce Johnston replacing him on the road). This necessary break quickly resulted in the release of both Today! And Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) — each marking an evolution in the band’s catalog as the arrangements became increasingly more complex and the lyrics developed beyond the previously frequented topics of cars, surfing, and girls.
Having broken free from the chains of touring and influenced by his experimentation with psychedelics, Wilson’s musical maturation was at full tilt as he immersed himself in what would go on to be considered one of the greatest albums of all time, Pet Sounds. Often considered a Wilson solo album, the record boasts his avant-garde symphonic arrangements, elaborate vocal harmonies, and a plethora of atypical instruments — including barking dogs (Wilson’s dog Banana among them), Coca-Cola cans, and sleigh bells (for an embellished visual, see: Dewey Cox).
Heralded as one of the first rock concept albums, its introspective lyrics (written with the help of Tony Asher), lush orchestration, and advanced production amalgamated into a pop piece of art that reinvented the very idea of what an album could and should be during a time when the 45 rpm single carried more weight than a complete LP.
Beatles Approved: In what would kick off a beautiful cycle of inspiration, Wilson says he began work on Pet Sounds as a direct result of how inspired he felt upon hearing The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. In turn, Pet Sounds activated in the Fab Four a drive to write Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in June of 1967. Beatles producer Sir George Martin writes in the liner notes of a 1997 Pet Sounds box set, “Without ‘Pet Sounds,’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ never would have happened…’Pepper’ was an attempt to equal ‘Pet Sounds.’”
Wilson came in second to Sgt. Pepper’s on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, though he still says he personally believes Rubber Soul to be the best album of all time.
Ahead of Its Time: Although the album today is hailed as one of the all-time greats, it debuted on the Billboard charts at 106, eventually breaking into the top ten but garnering significantly less commercial success than the band’s previous records. So much so, in fact, that Capitol released The Best of the Beach Boys greatest hits compilation less than two months after Pet Sounds, which was instantly certified gold by the RIAA. Critical reception in the United States also initially aired on the negative side, but of course, retrospective reviews of this sonic masterpiece beg to differ.
In 2016: Everyone, from fans who remember when Pet Sounds came out to those to whom the title might only seem vaguely familiar, can experience it live as Wilson tours it at festivals, arenas, and theaters around the globe now through the fall in celebration of its 50th anniversary.
Credits: Brian Wilson (lead, harmony, and backing vocals; organ, piano, sound effects; production, arrangements), Mike Love (lead, harmony, and backing vocals), Al Jardine (lead, harmony, and backing vocals; tambourine), Carl Wilson (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, guitars), Dennis Wilson (harmony and backing vocals, drums), Bruce Botnick (engineering), Chuck Britz (engineering), H. Bowen David (engineering), Larry Levine (engineering) + a host of session musicians
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