15 Fascinating Facts About Pet Sounds

Capitol Records
Capitol Records

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.

1. PET SOUNDS WAS INSPIRED BY THE BEATLES' ALBUM, RUBBER SOUL.

"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.


Photo by George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

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.

13THE 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."

London Calling: The Clash Is the Subject of a New Exhibition at the Museum of London

The Clash, YouTube
The Clash, YouTube

On September 21, 1979, when British punk legends The Clash tried to amp up the crowd at The Palladium in New York, security guards pushed fans back into their seats.

According to guitar-makers Fender, this frustrated Clash bassist Paul Simonon so much that he smashed his cherished Fender Precision bass on the stage, creating possibly the most famous rock ’n’ roll photo opportunity of all time—which would also serve as the cover art for the Clash's groundbreaking third album, London Calling.

To celebrate this December’s 40th anniversary of its release, the Museum of London has curated a free exhibition that features many of the band’s belongings, images, music, and even Simonon’s surprisingly well-preserved broken bass.

It’s not the only iconic instrument on display—you can also see Mick Jones’s 1950s Gibson ES-295, which he used to record the album and the music video for its titular track, and Joe Strummer’s white 1950s Fender Esquire from the same era. And, if you look closely at Topper Headon’s drumsticks, you’ll notice that they’re stamped with the words “Topper’s Boppers.” According to NME, it’s the only item of Headon’s that’s still around from the London Calling days.

The exhibit also includes sketches from artist Ray Lowry that depict scenes from the London Calling tour, photos taken by Pennie Smith (who snapped the London Calling cover image), a doodle-heavy track listing for the four-sided double album written by Jones, and many other items.

And, of course, any rock ’n’ roll display wouldn’t be complete without at least one leather jacket—the Museum of London is showcasing Simonon’s jacket from the late '70s.

If you’re a little farther than a train ride away from London, there’s time to make some travel plans: The exhibit is open until April 19, 2020.

[h/t NME]

11 Great Gifts for Retro Gaming Fans

No Starch Press/Amazon
No Starch Press/Amazon

Video games are more realistic, expansive, and ambitious than ever, but there’s one thing that most modern titles can’t offer: a hit of nostalgia. If you’re shopping for the retro gaming enthusiast in your life, check out these 11 gift suggestions that promise to level up their holiday season.

1. Pac-Man Ghost Light Table Lamp; $30

The Pac-Man Ghost Light Table Lamp is pictured
Paladone/Amazon

Liven up a stagnant work area or nightstand with this cool LED lamp in the likeness of Pac-Man’s ghost nemesis. It can flash in a variety of different colors, and at a compact 8 inches tall, you can buy more than one to haunt your living space.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Street Fighter II Home Arcade; $245

Street Fighter II Arcade Cabinet.
ARCADE1UP/Amazon

Relive the sweaty palms and raw fingertips of your youth with this Street Fighter II arcade cabinet from Arcade1Up. The entire package is true to its classic arcade roots, with era-appropriate artwork adorning the outside and buttons and joysticks that look like they were transported right out of a '90s Pizza Hut. But this cabinet comes with a bonus: Instead of just getting Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, it also plays Street Fighter ll: The New Challengers and Street Fighter ll Turbo. If you're not in the mood for competitive play, the company also offers a retro Star Wars arcade cabinet, featuring games based on A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Level One Donkey Kong T-Shirt; $41

A Level One 'Donkey Kong' T-shirt is pictured
80sTees.com

Show off your love of arcade gaming with this cool design that depicts Mario’s earliest challenge: navigating the barrel-tossing rage of a giant ape.

Buy It: 80sTees.com

4. Playstation Coasters; $12

A set of four Playstation coasters is pictured
Paladone/Amazon

Keep beverage stains off your gaming-adjacent furniture with this set of four coasters depicting classic Playstation controller buttons.

Buy It: Amazon

5. SEGA Genesis Mini-Console: $79

Sega Mini Classic System.
Sega/Amazon

Flash back to the Genesis era with this retro console that features over 40 games from SEGA’s heyday, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim, and Virtua Fighter. The system also features a port of the arcade version of Tetris, which never actually made its way to the original Genesis.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Sock It to Me Retro Gaming Socks; $11

Sock It to Me Retro Gaming Socks are pictured
Sock It To Me/Amazon

Keep it professional in a suit but game on underneath with these dress socks featuring iconic game controllers from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony.

Buy It: Amazon

7. The Game Console: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox; $19


No Starch Press/Amazon

Take in a photographic history of gaming consoles, from the vintage devices of the ‘70s like the Magnavox Odyssey on through Nintendo’s reign and the emergence of Sony and Microsoft. In all, 86 consoles are on display, ending with the era of the PS4 and Wii U.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nintendo Super Mario Bowser Vs. Mario 3-Pack Diorama; $26

A Nintendo Super Mario and Bowser diorama is pictured
World of Nintendo/Amazon

Let other people display fine art. You can show off this diorama depicting the biggest rivalry in retro gaming between Mario and Bowser. You'll also get a Bob-Omb figurine, just in case you want to recreate one of the duo's video game battles.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Playstation Wallet; $25

A Playstation wallet is pictured
SONY PlayStation/Amazon

Keep your cards and cash in one place with this Playstation-shaped wallet. There's even a button-snap opening in the shape of the system's disc tray.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Pong Shirt; $38

A 'Pong' T-shirt is pictured
80sTees.com

Go so retro that Millennials won’t even know what you’re referencing with this nod to the popular game Pong.

Buy It: 80sTees.com

11. The Legend of Zelda Ugly Christmas Sweater; $39

Legend of Zelda Ugly Christmas Sweater
Nintendo/Amazon

It may call itself ugly, but those pixelated images of Link from Legend of Zelda are nothing but gorgeous to retro gamers. There's also a Mario version, if the portly Italian plumber is more your style.

Buy It: Amazon

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