Many of the vinyl albums that top the list for albums a good collector should have in their collection have a major thing in common; their influence on the world of music when they were released and ever since. The way they broke ground and left the world of music fundamentally different than it was before they’re released. Of these albums, one may hold the crown for changing everything and beginning the musical revolution of the late 60’s, and it may surprise you. It’s the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds.
It may sound surprising because when it comes to the Beach Boys most people think of the happy-go-lucky surfer music of the early ’60s. The Beach Boys owned this genre. For years they mastered catchy pop songs centered around the familiar themes of cars, girls, and of course, surfing. Songs like “Surfin’ Safari” and “Little Deuce Coupe” perfectly captured the care-free feelings of the early ’60s.
The Beach Boys capitalized are the leisure of the early ’60s and the hit parade of songs penned by Brian Wilson told the story of the American dream for young people better than any other band at the time could. Possibly only Chuck Berry ever did as good a job at this. But by 1966, the idea of the American dream began to alter. The care-free days that marked the early 60’s giving way to an escalating war in Vietnam, civil rights protests, and end of the days where hot rods and girls were all that was on young people’s minds.
Enter Pet Sounds. No album better fits the old phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The album sleeve, featuring four Beach Boys feeding goats as a confused Mike Love looks on, does not look like contains ground-breaking music. Honestly. it doesn’t look like it contains anything other than five men tripping at a petting zoo. But you would be mistaken to have these thoughts.
With songwriter Brian Jones sidelined from touring after a nervous breakdown, he began pouring himself into song writing. He also began tapping in to the deeper emotional feelings he had during his time with the Beach Boys. Wilson began writing about these feelings and issues at the same time the experience of American youth began to come face-to-face with issues like war and uncertainty.
In no time at all, Wilson went from writing about girls and surf boards to themes like self-doubt, emotional turmoil, and love stories that are complicated and messy. The album begins with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” which perfectly sets the tone for the album. It’s Wilson asking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if everything we sang about up this point were real?”
From there we move on to the next song, “You Still Believe in Me.” One thing the Beach Boys had mastered at this point in their career was the ability to create intricate harmonies. They show it off in spades all over this album, but it is on this track, with the choir inspired tones that may show it off best. From there the next track features Wilson and Love sharing lead on a song full of self-doubt in “That’s Not Me.”
Side one continues with “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” a beautiful orchestra-centered song with some of Wilson’s strongest lyrics to date, This followed by two more interesting songs. The first side ends with “Sloop John B.” This is the only cover on the entire album, and it closes side one of the album with a throw back to sound the Beach Boys made a few years previously. And with lines like “I feel so broke up, I want to go home” it says a lot about how Wilson felt in those prior years while touring with the Beach Boys.
The second side of the album opens with “God Only Knows” a fantastic piece about the fear of being alone, a subject many have written about, but pale in comparison to Wilson’s work here. Many of the themes of the first side of the album are expanded upon here, as the Beach Boys continue to dive into harmonies and orchestration no other pop band had ever imagined putting on vinyl. The album ends with “Caroline, No” a call of longing that perfectly sums up the album. “It’s sad to watch a sweet thing die” Wilson calls out in the heartbreaking ending this love story.
Pet Sounds is the kind of unassuming album that only those in know have. It’s the album that inspired Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it doesn’t carry all the fanfare. It’s the album a collector who appreciates the musical growth a band can under go must have in their collection. Plus, who doesn’t want an album with five guys tripping with goats on its cover?