Tonight (September 1st) on the world famous Classic Album at Midnight on Radio Nova we’re playing The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
The album is presented in full with no commercials or interruptions.
Like The Beatles, The Beach Boys quickly outgrew their early pop tunes and began to expand their musical horizons in the mid 1960s. Songwriter Brian Wilson positioned himself as the driving creative force of the band. While his bandmates toured in 1964, Wilson remained behind in the studio, working on a new direction for The Beach Boys.
The result was a pair of 1965 albums – The Beach Boys Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) – which changed the direction of the band. Gone were the superficial lyrics about cars, surfing and sun-tanned girls, replaced by Wilson’s melancholic songwriting, which often exposed his personal neuroses and insecurities. Musically the band’s sound expanded greatly too, with Wilson adding orchestral arrangements.
Later that year Wilson formed a songwriting partnership with lyricist Tony Asher. In early 1966 they spent several weeks working on lyrics for what would become Pet Sounds. Asher described himself as an “interpreter” who would listen to Wilson’s ideas and fashion them into song lyrics.
In the recording studio Wilson drew inspiration from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound technique, layering instruments in a way that makes you feel like you’re being engulfed by the music. Inspired by The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul, Wilson added non-traditional rock instruments like the glockenspiel, the Theremin, harpsichord and even bicycle bells and coke bottles, with each track featuring around a dozen different instruments.
In its original form, Pet Sounds features 13 tracks. Side A gives us Wouldn’t It Be Nice; You Still Believe In Me; That’s Not Me; Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder); I’m Waiting for the Day; Let’s Go Away for Awhile; and Sloop John B. Side B consists of God Only Knows; I Know There’s An Answer; Here Today; I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times; Pet Sounds; and Caroline, No.
Pet Sounds was released in the US on May 16th, 1966. A commercial disappointment compared to their previous albums, Pet Sounds entered the US chart at number 106, eventually peaking at number 10.
In the UK this scenario was reversed. The Beach Boys had failed to make the same impact in Britain as in the US, but their popularity exploded upon the release of Pet Sounds. Released on June 27th, 1966, Pet Sounds spent six months in the UK Top 10, where it peaked at number two. While the American marketing had tried to steer away from the change of musical direction, in the UK it was purposely advertised as “The Most Progressive Pop Album Ever!” It ended the year as one of the five best-selling albums of 1966 in the UK. In the final quarter of the year, The Beach Boys sold more records in the UK than The Beatles.
Critically, Pet Sounds had a similar reception. Many American critics seemed confounded by the album while British critics hailed Wilson as a new musical messiah. Along with critics, British musicians were won over by Pet Sounds. Eric Clapton said Wilson was “without doubt a pop genius” while John Lennon praised Wilson for “doing some very great things.”
By 2004, the US had finally come around to recognising the brilliance of Pet Sounds and it was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Pet Sounds has been declared the greatest album of all time by publications like The Times, NME, Mojo and Uncut. Is it deserving of such praise? Tune in to Radio Nova at midnight tonight and find out for yourself.