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Album Review: The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"

Updated on December 27, 2020
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Anne is a writer and teacher with a passion for self-expression and publishing.

A New Sound

One of the most groundbreaking albums of its time, Pet Sounds contained a mixture of many experimental sounds and harmonies in its songs.
One of the most groundbreaking albums of its time, Pet Sounds contained a mixture of many experimental sounds and harmonies in its songs.

Brian's Masterpiece

The Beach Boys' album, Pet Sounds, has been seen by many as one of the most influential rock albums of its time because of how different it was from anything else around at the time. This album was mainly Brian Wilson's project, as the other members of the band had insisted with staying more in the beachy, pop vibes that they had become accustomed to with previous albums. However, all of the brothers ended up collaborating to make one of the greatest albums in rock music history. This album was also a pre-cursor for Brian to start branching out in more experimental music, and his next big project after this was his coveted album SMiLE. Pet Sounds was a unique album that drew listeners in with its unconventional sounds, music composition, and lyrics.

Background

Pet Sounds was released in May of 1966 by Capitol Records, and despite being a huge success overseas in the UK, it received more criticism and skepticism in the United States. Only reaching number 10 on the Billboard charts here at home, the album was more of a surprise from listeners back in the US. Because it was so different compositionally than anything they had ever done before, it was hard for some people to adjust to and like. They were so used to that beachy, pop music sound that they had come to love from the band, and many people just could not grow to love the direction the band was going in. Mike Love had even stated that he wasn't sure about the direction the album was going, and at times, Brian and Mike had disagreements and arguments about this. So much of the boys' careers had been controlled by their father, that it was difficult, too, for Brian's father to be on board with such a different sound and a different album; they just did not see eye-to-eye. However, Brian was onto something good. He knew that this was the time to experiment with music. With drugs and psychedelics becoming popular among youth, many other musicians and bands were taking the opportunity to explore new musical sounds, and Brian wanted to go all in with this project.

Musical Composition

The Beach Boys worked hard on this album, often created harmonies that were, dark, chilling, and so unique and different than anything they had ever done before.
The Beach Boys worked hard on this album, often created harmonies that were, dark, chilling, and so unique and different than anything they had ever done before.

Competition

During the time that Pet Sounds came out, The Beach Boys' biggest competition was The Beatles, and a few months after Pet Sounds was released, The Beatles' album Revolver came out. With songs such as "Eleanor Rigby", "Here, There, and Everywhere", and "Tomorrow Never Knows", it was clear that The Beatles were also branching out and experimenting with sound as well. Unfortunately, because Revolver came out so quickly after Pet Sounds, it started to get more attention from the masses, and The Beach Boys' groundbreaking album was left in the shadows. There were still many fans that could appreciate Pet Sounds, but because Beatlemania had swept the nation in the US, they were simply overshadowed by the other band. However, small correspondence between The Beatles and The Beach Boys shows that neither band meant any harm to each other. Brian had even received a message from The Beatles at one point explaining how they were excited for the release of Pet Sounds. They were both equally fans of each other, and so there really weren't any hard feelings about the dismissal of Pet Sounds by critics and the masses at the time.

The Mastermind

Brian Wilson has often been called the mastermind behind this album because of his knowledge of music composition and the way he directed all of the musicians and contributors of the album.
Brian Wilson has often been called the mastermind behind this album because of his knowledge of music composition and the way he directed all of the musicians and contributors of the album.

Popular Songs

The most popular songs on the album continue to be "Sloop John B", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", and "God Only Knows", but there are so many other underrated songs on the album worth mentioning. Brian used unique music composition and instruments to really help this album come alive. You can here in the track "Caroline, No", for instance, the sound of a train and a dog barking at the end, giving this sad song a sense of realness to the listener. Other songs feature variations of instruments such as the glockenspiel, bongos, violin, trombone, Coca Cola bottles, and, you guessed it, the sounds of animals in the background in some tracks, such as the self-titled instrumental "Pet Sounds". The musical composition and harmonies within the album were also very unique, as you can here in songs such as "You Still Believe in Me" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times". Brian Wilson used this album to shift from being just another voice in The Beach Boys to being a musical composer, and arguably, a musical genius, and he is the one that managed almost everything in the production of the album.

Review

Personally, this album will always hold a special place in my heart. If you are new to this type of music and sound, you might not like it, but I think it is definitely worth listening to. I think one of my favorite tracks on the whole album is "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times". The haunting imagery and melody of this song often send shivers up my spine when I listen to it. "God Only Knows", which is one of the most popular songs on the album, also has this haunting chill about it that you just can't shake when listening to it. If you like the more pop sound of previous Beach Boys albums, you would probably enjoy songs such as "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice", but all of the album is definitely worth listening to. Pet Sounds is a groundbreaking album that will always be known as the time when Brian Wilson really came into his own as a musician, and without this classic album, we never would have been able to experience the wonder and musical genius that Brian Wilson brought for The Beach Boys during this time.

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