Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds forever changed the landscape of pop music. It's a deeply personal album, and Wilson's meticulously complex and bizarre arrangements elevated the three-minute radio tune to art.
The story of how Pet Sounds was made has been told and retold (and parodied) plenty of times since its release in 1966, but there are still many fascinating little stories about the album that may have gone under the radar. In honor of Wilson's 75th birthday, we're taking a look back at the highly influential album.
WAS INSPIRED BY THE BEATLES' ALBUM,
"Rubber Soul blew my mind," Brian Wilson once said. "When I heard Rubber Soul, I said, 'That's it. That's all. That's all folks.' I said, 'I'm going to make an album that's really good, I mean really challenge me.' I mean, I love that f*cking album, I cherish that album."
2. IT STARTED WITH A PANIC ATTACK.
In December of 1964, while on a flight to Houston to start yet another Beach Boys tour, Brian Wilson had a panic attack, which led to him collapsing in the plane's aisle and sobbing. He had to return to California, where he recovered and realized that he could tour no longer. He called a meeting with the rest of the band and said, "Listen, I'm going to have to quit the touring group. But it's going to be well worth it, because I'm going to write you some good songs."
3. WHILE THE BAND TOURED IN 1965, BRIAN WILSON STAYED AT HOME AND WORKED ON PET SOUNDS.
Throughout 1965, while the rest of band toured, Wilson worked on his new project. He arranged, composed, and produced the album and conducted an army of L.A.'s best studio musicians, a.k.a. "The Wrecking Crew," to perform on it. Wilson had unprecedented control over Pet Sounds, and he was just 23 years old at the time.
4. IT TOOK AN ENTIRE WEEK TO RECORD THE VOCALS FOR "WOULDN'T IT BE NICE."
Once the rest of the band returned from international touring, Wilson had them come into the studio to put vocals down on top of his compositions. It took a full week to record the voice track on “Wouldn’t it be Nice.” Wilson was so demanding that Mike Love began referring to him as "Dog Ears" and joked that Wilson was able to hear things that normal human beings could not—including "an impure thought."
5. THE TITLE TRACK WAS WRITTEN FOR A JAMES BOND MOVIE.
Wilson wrote the instrumental track “Pet Sounds” with the intention that it would be used in a James Bond movie. The original title was "Run James Run."
6. THE ALBUM'S COMPOSITIONS ARE EXTREMELY COMPLEX.
Wilson's arrangements on Pet Sounds are so musically complex and meticulous that meaning can be derived at a remarkably technical level, as music critic Jim Fusilli explained in his book about the album:
["You Still Believe in Me"] begins in B major, a key rarely used in pop, and remains in B major. The G# major chord below the first, and only, time the word "love" is invoked in the song is particularly striking; on the second pass, the G# major chord hits below the word "fail." In a rare example of the bassist emphasizing the root in a Brian Wilson arrangement, Carol Kaye hits the G# in both instances. It's as if Brian wanted there to be no confusion for the listener: in his mind, at least in this song, love equals failure.
7. THERE WAS SOME MAJOR FAMILY DRAMA DURING THE RECORDING OF "HELP ME, RHONDA."
The Wilsons' abusive father/manager Murry Wilson had effectively been kicked out of his sons' musical lives after a drunken, in-studio tirade during a recording of "Help Me, Rhonda." Despite this, he managed to use his clout with Capitol Records to speed up Brian's vocal track on "Caroline, No" to make it sound higher to his liking.
8. THE BARKING AT THE END OF "CAROLINE, NO" IS REAL.
The barking came courtesy of Brian's two dogs, Banana and Louie.
9. THEY USED SOME UNIQUE METHODOLOGIES TO GET JUST THE RIGHT SOUNDS.
The dreamy, plinking sound at the beginning of "You Still Believe in Me" is achieved by someone reaching inside an open piano and directly plucking its strings. This effect is used in other songs on the album as well, but it is isolated in this case..
10. THE BAND EMPLOYED A NUMBER OF BIZARRE INSTRUMENTS ON THE ALBUM.
Besides its orchestral strings and wind sections, Pet Sounds is famous for its unusual and almost comedic use of bizarre instruments, including bicycle horns, vibraphones, timpani, finger cymbals, Coke cans, accordions, modified 12-string mandolins, and water jugs.
11. CAPITOL RECORDS WASN'T IMPRESSED WITH THE FINAL RESULT.
Capitol Records wasn't thrilled with the album and how far it strayed from the band's usual sound. The company refused to issue a single with it until months after its release. ("Sloop John B" and "Caroline, No" were released as singles months before the album, with the latter published as a Brian Wilson solo.)
12. THE RECORD LABEL WAS SO SURE THE ALBUM WOULD BE A FAILURE THAT THEY RELEASED A "BEST OF" ALBUM AROUND THE SAME TIME TO MITIGATE THE DAMAGE.
Capitol had such little faith in Pet Sounds, they decided to release The Best of The Beach Boys, a collection of the band's well-known surf and party hits, around the same time.
13. THE BEST OF COLLECTION MANAGED TO OUTSELL PET SOUNDS.
Pet Sounds peaked at number 10 on the charts in the United States. The Best of The Beach Boys landed at number eight.
14. THE BEATLES INSPIRED PET SOUNDS, THEN PET SOUNDS INSPIRED THE BEATLES.
Pet Sounds was a hit in the UK, where it topped the charts. Before its release there, Brian Wilson's tour fill-in Bruce Johnston took two copies with him to London and managed—through Beach Boys fanatic Keith Moon—to arrange a meeting at a hotel with John Lennon and Paul McCartney to play it for them. They listened to it once through, paused, and immediately asked to hear the album again. Shortly afterward, the two began to work on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
15. WITHOUT PET SOUNDS, THERE'D PROBABLY BE NO SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
According to The Beatles's producer, George Martin, "Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened ... Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds."