Is Pet Sounds The Best Record Ever?

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Unlike most iconic pop music, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds never reaches you over the head with its greatness. But as it turns 50, its suffering beauty merely glows brighter.


I have at least three copies of Pet Sounds , the Beach Boys album that turns 50 this year. I have a version included with a British boxed defined that includes all the material the band recorded for Capitol. I have a vinyl Japanese pressing of the stereo mixture. And theres a Cd boxed defined to be given to only this one album, complete with the version as released in stereo, various backing ways, and a mono mix of the entire record. Does that build me a fanatic?

I dont think so, but then I know genuine Pet Sounds fanatics, and in that crowd Im only a tourist passing through.

For all I know, there are people whose job descriptions include Pet Sounds analytics. Nor would I be surprised to learn that it is the most written-about record album of all time. Certainly it is the subject of numerous volumes, thousands of magazine articles, and several movie and television documentaries. Its Wikipedia entry goes on at dissertation length. Fan boys and fan daughters simply cant say enough.

Whats interesting about that, though, is that unlike most records that get singled out for dissection, Pet Sounds ignited no movements, transgressed no social taboos, defined no styles. It didnt even sell in massive numbers, at least not initially( and it has the dopiest cover art of any great album of any time !).

It doesnt even sound all that revolutionary. It certainly doesnt sound like a boulder album. Nobodys kicking out any jams on this record. If you had to compare it to something, it might be a beautifully stimulated pair of shoes that never wear out and feel more comfortable the more you wear themand induce you feel better merely by having them on.

Or perhaps the metaphor should be aural furniture: something that you live with day in and day out for years. It doesnt change your world in any dramatic overnight sense, it only attains it more bearableand more beautiful.

But it doesnt make a fetish of its richness. The tympani, the bass harmonica, the thereminthey are all there for a reason. They belong in the sungs, so much so that if you think about the instrumentation at all while you listen, you simply guess, thats the only combination of instruments and voices that would have worked there. It seems all so inevitable, as though this record simply seemed, fully formed, with no human intermediary. And surely theres no moment where you feel like the musicians are poking you in the ribs and saying, Cellosneat, right?

I must have listened to Pet Sounds dozens, maybe hundreds of days, without reasoning, heres a classic, near perfect record. I knew it was wonderful, otherwise I wouldnt have played it so much. And I knew that it possessed that curiously magical quality of seeming new every time it hit the turntable or the CD player or some streaming device.

Still, I had to read somewhere that it was a notion album before I knew that it was the musical story of the arc of a love affairmaybe it was Sloop John B that threw me off the track there? Or perhaps it was my chronic inability to pay much attention to lyrics( if you set a firearm to my head and told me to sing any sung I loved from beginning to end, Im not sure I could do it ).

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Pet Sounds would prove to be the apotheosis of Brians achievement, along with Good Vibrations, and after that would come the accident and burn of Smile , the ill-fated project which until recently we have never heard in any kind of complete form, and which certainly had no impact when various little pieces of it were released in the 60 s.

Sometimes I daydream about him, constructing that amazing music all by himself out there in Southern California with no one he could talk to about what he was up to because almost no one around him had more than an inkling of how tremendously talented he was. The studio musicians who play on Pet Sounds , they knew. But that was about it. The Beatles, the Stonesalmost any of his contemporaries, reallyhad each other. Dylan, of course, was merely Dylan, but speaking strictly musically, Dylan couldnt hold Brian Wilsons coat. No, Brian was all on his own.

He must have been lonely in that consider, but happy, too, because when he made Pet Sounds , he poured everything he knew into that one album, and boy did he know a lot. There is beauty stacked on beauty in those ways, but every moment, every sound, serves the whole. It seduces you one subtle measure at a time, and then does it again, over and over, for as long as you care to listen. Its been doing that for half a century, and I dont see it ever stopping. Some people call the greatest album ever stimulated. Who am I to argue? Brian himself has said that he was deliberately trying to tap into something spiritual with the music on that record, and while that word usually stimulates me wince, in this I think he succeeded. Pet Sounds , without fail, will lift you up.

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