Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Pet Sounds is the title of the 1966 LP recorded by American pop group the Beach Boys. Long regarded as the masterpiece of composer-producer Brian Wilson, it has been hailed as one of the best and most influential albums in popular music, and many leading critics cite it as the best pop album ever made. In 1995, nearly thirty years after its release, a panel of top musicians, songwriters and producers assembled by Britain's respected MOJO magazine voted it "The Greatest Album Ever Made". In 1998 Q magazine readers voted it the 31st greatest album of all time; in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 3.
Essentially a Brian Wilson solo project, Pet Sounds was created after Wilson had stopped touring with the band, focussing his attention on writing and recording. Wilson created incredible layers of beautiful harmonies by the Beach Boys, sound effects and unusual instruments like bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, the theremin, and even dog whistles, on top of conventional keyboards and guitars.
Writing the songs
Most of the songs on the album were written during December 1965 and January 1966. On this project, Wilson collaborated for the first and only time with Tony Asher , a young lyricist and copywriter who had been working on advertising jingles, whom Brian had met in a Hollywood recording studio months earlier. One song was co-written by another new associate, Terry Sachen . After a long and successful string of pop hits for which the lyrics had been written by Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love, Pet Sounds marked the first occasion that Wilson went outside the group to find a writing partner.
Love is co-credited on the album's opening track, "Wouldn't It Be Nice", and on "I Know There's An Answer" (the only song with lyrics by Terry Sachen ) but with the exception of his co-credit on "I'm Waiting For The Day", his contributions are thought to have been minimal. Love's main contribution' to "I Know There's An Answer" is reputed to have consisted of his strenuous opposition to the song's original title, "Hang On To Your Ego" and his insistence that it be partially rewritten and retitled.
Love's co-writing credits on Pet Sounds and beyond are the artefact of recent changes to the group's publishing, the result of a counter-suit filed against Wilson by Love, following Wilson's successful legal bid in the 1990s to regain control of the Beach Boys' publishing company, Sea of Tunes , established in the early Sixties by Brian's father (and the group's then manager) Murry Wilson, to administer the band's songs. But Brian signed away all his rights to the catalogue in 1967 during the early stages of his well-publicised breakdown; in the late 1990s he successfully sued to regain them.
Asher's lyrics brought a new level of nuance and maturity to Wilson's work and provided the perfect complement to the dazzling music and arrangements that Wilson was creating. Although Pet Sounds is not strictly speaking a concept album, it can be argued that the ten tracks are united by broadly connected themes, reflecting Wilson's personal concerns with the difficult transition from youth to adulthood in Sixties America, the exciting but often fleeting nature of love, and the yearning for a better future.
These concerns are skillfully mirrored by Asher's lyrics, which contain many elements written in the negative, in future tense or in future conditional tense -- evidenced in titles like "Wouldn't It Be Nice?", "You Still Believe In Me", "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" and "Caroline, No".
The album also broke new ground for a pop recording by including two very sophisticated instrumental tracks -- the wistful "Let's Go Away For A While" and the title track, "Pet Sounds". Both had been recorded as backing tracks for existing songs, but by the time the album neared completion Wilson had decided that the tracks worked better without vocals, so they were left in that state. Another fully recorded backing track for an untitled song, known as "Trombone Dixie", was also recorded, but it remained in the vaults until the album was remastered for CD release in the 1990s.
Sloop John B
The track "Sloop John B" predated the recording of the rest of the LP by some months, but it proved to be a pivotal point in the album's development. It was a traditional West Indian folk song that had been suggested to Brian by group member Al Jardine. Wilson recorded a backing track on July 12, 1965, but after laying down a rough lead vocal, he set the song aside for some time, concentrating on the recording of what became their next LP, the 'live in the studio' album Beach Boys Party.
By November 1965 he had written and recorded an innovative new single "The Little Girl I Once Knew", which was a major step forward in production and arguably deserves to be placed among the Pet Sounds songs. Unfortunately it was overshadowed by Capitol's rush-release of the Beach Boys' infectious 'Party' version of the song "Barbara-Ann", which shot to #2 on the American charts. "Little Girl" was reportedly also hampered by radio station concerns that the song's stop-start structure would be disconcerting for DJs and listeners.
- I really wasn't quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs ... that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, 'That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album.'
It's worth noting that The Beatles album Brian Wilson heard was the US version of Rubber Soul, which contained 12 tracks instead of the 14 on the UK version, of which 2 were tracks from the UK version of Help ("I've Just Seen A Face" and "It's Only Love") and 10 from the original 14 tracks on the British Rubber Soul.
In early January Wilson contacted Tony Asher, and within ten days they were writing together. Wilson played him some of the music he had been recording, and gave him a cassette of the finished backing track for a piece with the working title "In My Childhood"; it had lyrics, but Wilson refused to show them to Asher, who took the music away and wrote new lyrics. The result was eventually retitled "You Still Believe In Me" and the success of the piece convinced Brian that Asher was the collaborator he was looking for.
"The general tenor of the lyrics was always his," Asher later recalled, "and the actual choice of words was usually mine. I was really just his interpreter."
The recording of Pet Sounds
With writing well underway, Brian worked rapidly through January and early February 1966, recording six backing tracks for the new material, productions which arguably surpassed anything else that was being done in popular music at the time. When the Beach Boys returned from a three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii, they were presented with a substantial portion of a new album, with music that was in many ways a radical departure from their earlier hits. Both Asher and Wilson state that there was resistance to the project from within the group, but on this occasion, Wilson's belief in his new work won the day and the band gave in.
All the backing tracks for Pet Sounds were recorded over a four-month period, using major Los Angeles studios (Gold Star, Western Recorders and Sunset Sound ) and an ensemble that included some of the best session musicians in the country, including famed jazz guitarist Barney Kessell and legendary session drummer Hal Blaine. All tracks were co-written, produced and arranged by Brian Wilson.
Wilson had developed his production methods over several years, bringing them to a high degree of perfection with the recording of Pet Sounds during late 1965 and early 1966. Wilson's approach was in some repsects a refinement and development of the famous Wall Of Sound technique created by his mentor and rival Phil Spector. Armed with new Ampex 8-track recorders, Wilson assembled tracks of unrivalled complexity and technical brilliance, using his regular team of 'first call' session musicians, who are sometimes known as "The Wrecking Crew".
Wilson's typical production method on Pet Sounds was to record the instrumental backing tracks for each song as an ensemble performance, performed live and taped direct onto a 4-track recorder. His engineer Larry Levine has reported that Wilson also typically mixed these backing tracks live, as they were being taped. Like Spector, Wilson was a pioneer of the 'studio as instrument' concept, exploiting the novel sound combinations that arose from using multiple electric instruments and voices in an ensemble and combining them with echo and reverberation. He often doubled bass, guitar and keyboard parts, blending them with reverb and adding other unusual instruments to create startling new sound combinations. The deceptive simplicity of Wilson's music often covered the fact that his arrangements were more musically adventurous and complex than anything yet attempted in pop music.
These backing tracks were then dubbed down onto one track of an 8-track recorder, and although much of the fine detail in the arrangments was often covered by the group's rich harmony vocals, Wilson's natural talent for arranging ensured that they interacted perfectly with the vocal tracks -- often to the surprise of the musicians who performed them.
Six of the remaining seven tracks were usually dedicated to each of the Beach Boys' vocals (the five-piece group was by then being regularly augmented by singer Bruce Johnston, who later became a permanent member). The last track was usually reserved for additional vocals and/or instruments and other 'sweetening' elements.
Although the self-taught Wilson often had entire arrangments worked out in his head (which were usually written in a shorthand form for the other players by one of his session musicians), surviving tapes of his recording sessions show that he was remarkably open to input from his musicians, often taking advice and suggestions from them, and even incorporating apparent 'mistakes' if they provided a useful or interesting alternative.
It is also important to note that, in spite of the availability of complex multitrack recording, Wilson always mixed the final version of his recordings in mono, as did Phil Spector. He did this for several reasons; Wilson personally felt that mono mastering provided more sonic control over the final result that the listener heard, regardless of the vagaries of speaker placement and sound system quality. It was also motivated by the knowledge that radio and TV broadcast in mono, and most domestic and car radios and record players were monophonic. Another and more personal reason for Wilson's preference was the fact that he was deaf in one ear, the result of childhood damage to his eardrum inflicted by a blow from his violent father Murry Wilson.
On February 15 the group travelled to San Diego Zoo to shoot the photographs for the cover of the new album, which had already been titled Pet Sounds. Two days later, Brian was back in the studio with his session band, laying down the first takes for a new composition, "Good Vibrations". Around February 23, Wilson gave Capitol a provisional track listing for the new LP, which included both "Sloop John B" and "Good Vibrations". This list clearly contradicts later rumours that Wilson had not wanted "Sloop John B" on the record.
Wilson worked through February and into March fine-tuning the backing tracks. He also, to the group's surprise, dropped "Good Vibrations" from the running order, telling them that he wanted to spend more time on it. Most of March and early April was devoted to recording the remaining backing tracks and to the crucial recording of vocals, a process which proved to be the most exacting work the group had yet undertaken, as Mike Love later recalled:
- We worked and worked on the harmonies and, if there was the slightest little hint of a sharp or a flat, it wouldn't go on. We would do it over again until it was right. [Brian] was going for every subtle nuance that you could conceivably think of. Every voice had to be right, every voice and its resonance and tonality had to be right. The timing had to be right. The timbre of the voices just had to be correct, according to how he felt. And then he might, the next day, completely throw that out and we might have to do it over again.
The Influence of Pet Sounds
By mid-April Pet Sounds was finished and had been submitted to Capitol. The album and the singles lifted from it were by no means as unsuccessful in America as it was later claimed. "Caroline, No", released as a solo single credited to Brian Wilson, reached #32 in the United States. "Sloop John B" was extremely successful, scoring a #3 hit in the U.S. and #2 in Great Britain. "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" reached #8 in the U.S., while its flip side, "God Only Knows", was another #2 single in Britain. The LP broke into the Top Ten in the U.S. and reached #2 in the British LP charts.
It was, however, the first Beach Boys LP in three years not to be certified with a gold record award for sales. Much of the blame for its lukewarm commercial fortunes has been laid with Capitol, who did not promote the album anywhere near as heavily as earlier releases like the Party LP.
Although not a big seller for the band originally, Pet Sounds has been massively influential since the day it was released. The Beatles, for example, have said that Pet Sounds was a major influence on the classic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Paul McCartney has repeatedly named it as his favorite album ("God Only Knows" is his favorite song). Incidentally, Brian Wilson has said that the Beatles' album Rubber Soul was a major influence on Pet Sounds.
Pet Sounds was rapturously received in Britain, where it was lauded in the music press and championed by the Beatles and other top pop stars. Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham was so impressed that he took out a full page advertisement in a major British music journal to publicise the album at his own expense, heaping praise on its creator. Inspired, Oldham wanted to use his Immediate Records to do albums in a similar vein, like the (at the time) unreleased Billy Nicholls ' album, Would You Believe in 1968.
- "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (Asher/Love/Wilson)
- "You Still Believe in Me" (Asher/Wilson)
- "That's Not Me" (Asher/Wilson)
- "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" (Asher/Wilson)
- "I'm Waiting for the Day" (Love/Wilson)
- "Let's Go Away for A While" (Wilson)
- "Sloop John B." (Traditional)
- "God Only Knows" (Asher/Wilson)
- "I Know There's an Answer" (Love/Sachen/Wilson)
- "Here Today" (Asher/Wilson)
- "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" (Asher/Wilson)
- "Pet Sounds" (Wilson)
- "Caroline, No" (Asher/Wilson)
In 1999, a Pet Sounds box set was released which included the original mono release, the first ever stereo release and 3 CDs of out-takes and rehearsals. Recordings from Brian Wilson's 2002 concert tour, in which he reproduced the whole album live on stage, were released as Pet Sounds Live.
There is a bonus song on the 2001 release of Pet Sounds, "Hang on to Your Ego", which is an earlier version of "I Know There's An Answer".
- Glen Campbell - Guitar (12 String)
- Paul Horn - Sax (Tenor)
- Brian Wilson - Organ, Guitar, Piano, Arranger, Keyboards, Vocals, Vocals (bckgr), Producer, Liner Notes, Supervisor
- Frank Capp - Percussion, Glockenspiel, Bells, Tympani [Timpani], Vibraphone
- Plas Johnson - Percussion, Saxophone, Sax (Tenor)
- Barney Kessel - Guitar, Mandolin
- Don Randi - Piano
- Jerry Cole - Guitar, Guitar (Electric)
- Frank Marocco - Accordion
- Lyle Ritz - Ukulele, String Bass
- Julius Wechter - Tympani [Timpani], Vibraphone, Latin Percussion
- Mike Deasy Sr. - Guitar
- Bruce Johnston - Vocals
- Mike Love - Vocals, Vocals (bckgr)
- Terry Melcher - Tambourine, Vocals
- Jerry Williams - Percussion
- Carl Wilson - Guitar, Vocals
- Billy Strange - Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Guitar (12 String)
- Jim Gordon - Percussion, Drums
- Hal Blaine - Bongos, Drums, Tympani [Timpani]
- Arnold Belnick - Violin
- Chuck Berghofer - String Bass
- Bruce Botnick - Engineer
- Norman Botnick - Viola
- Chuck Britz - Engineer
- Roy Caton - Trumpet
- Gary Coleman - Bongos, Tympani [Timpani]
- Al DeLory - Organ, Piano, Tack Piano
- Dennis Diken
- Jesse Erlich - Cello
- Carl Fortina - Accordion
- Ron Furmanek
- James Getzoff - Violin
- Bill Green - Flute, Percussion, Saxophone, Sax (Tenor)
- Jim Horn - Flute, Saxophone, Sax (Baritone), Sax (Tenor)
- Harry Hyams - Viola
- Jules Jacob - Flute
- Al Jardine - Vocals
- Carol Kaye - Bass, Bass (Electric)
- Larry Knechtel - Organ
- William Kurasch - Violin
- Larry Levine - Engineer
- Mark Linett - Engineer, Liner Notes, Coordination, Compilation, Mixing, Digital Remastering, Stereo Mix Producer
- Nick Martinis - Drums
- Ron McMaster - Remixing
- Mike Melvoin - Harpsichord
- Jay Migliori - Clarinet, Flute, Clarinet (Bass), Saxophone, Sax (Baritone)
- Tommy Morgan - Harmonica
- Jack Nimitz - Sax (Baritone)
- Bill Pitman - Guitar
- Ray Pohlman - Guitar, Mandolin, Bass (Electric)
- Jerome Reisler - Violin
- Alan Robinson - French Horn
- Andrew Sandoval - Transfers, Mastering Supervisor
- Ralph Schaeffer - Violin
- Sid Sharp - Violin
- Ernie Tack - Trombone (Bass)
- Paul Tanner - Theremin
- Tommy Tedesco - Guitar (Acoustic)
- Darrel Terwilliger - Viola
- Dennis Wilson - Drums, Vocals
- Tibor Zelig - Violin
- Brad Benedict - Photo Research
- Joseph DiFiore - Viola
- Joseph Saxon - Cello
- Gail Martin - Trombone
- Larry Walsh - Mixing, Digital Remastering
- Justin DiTullio - Cello
- David Leaf - Liner Notes
- Tommy Steele - Art Direction
- Leonard Hartman - Clarinet, Clarinet (Bass), Horn (English)
- Sam Gay - Art Supervisor
- George Jerman - Photography
- Darren Wong - Art Supervisor
- Lisa Reddick - Producer
- Jim Elliott - Producer
- Bobby Klein - Sax (Tenor)
- Ralph Balantin - Engineer
- Brad Elliott - Liner Notes
- Michael Etchart - Executive Producer
- Tammy Kizer - Producer
- Al Casey - Guitar
- Richard Evans - Design
- Steve Douglas - Clarinet, Flute, Saxophone, Sax (Tenor)
Billboard Music Charts (North America) - album
1966 Pet Sounds Pop Albums No. 10 1990 Pet Sounds The Billboard 200 No. 162 2001 Pet Sounds Top Internet Albums No. 24
Billboard Music Charts (North America) - singles
1966 Caroline, No Pop Singles No. 32 1966 God Only Knows Pop Singles No. 39 1966 Sloop John B Pop Singles No. 3 1966 Wouldn't It Be Nice Pop Singles No. 8
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