This is a running series here “Rolling Stone Magazine likes to make lists, everybody these days likes to make lists. I suppose we could blame the Billboard charts or David Letterman, but it’s probably just a reaction to the public outcry to rank what we love and hate. My friend Brian is overly obsessed with the R.S. mag and their opinions about music in general. I have found in organizing their lists and going through them that there is quite a lot of musical history lessons involved – whether or not one agrees with their overall assessments. (Can anyone seriously agree with their numerical evaluations?) “I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!” – comes to mind. So, whether R.S. Mag’s opinions actually represent those of the world at large or even the U.S. collective – I don’t think they do, but that’s not really the point. I think it might be fun to go through the albums on The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time one at a time and give my own personal opinions – cuz that’s what I do.
We’re on #2 on the R.S. list – Pet Sounds. Released May 16, 1966, this is basically Brian Wilson’s “Magnum Opus”, but it sadly only ever made it as high as #10 on the charts. In my first R.S. review (HERE) I neglected to mention “Influence” as one of the things that raises an album on the list and in the eyes of other musicians. “Sgt. Pepper,” at the top of the list sits there in large part due to the influence it had on other artists and other albums. It changed the way people looked at “albums” and what that meant up to that time. Paul McCartney has said: “It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life.” John Lennon said: “Bloody hell, we better come up with something special to beat THAT.” For more comments about Brian and Pet Sounds from other artists you can read on and on and on HERE. Prior to Pet Sounds the group was all “fast cars, cute girls, and sunny beaches.” There has been volumes written on this album and I don’t need to add to it greatly. I love the Beach Boys and with all of the hype on the Beatles recently, I feel people need to remember Brian Wilson a bit more than they do. Sgt. Pepper was indeed influenced by Pet Sounds, but it goes back to Rubber Soul – Brian said about it 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.” The other “Boys” in the “Beach Boys” weren’t quite so ready to tread in untested water. Brian was writing amazing harmonies and bringing in all sorts of string musicians and things that strayed very far from what they had done previously as a group. Brian had stopped touring with the group, so when they got back off tour and he presented this innovative orchestral music combined with his multiple harmonies and “wall of sound” he and Phil Spector had going (as rivals, not jointly.) In fact Brian said that Pet Sounds was a nod to Phil in using his initials – also referring to the songs as his (Brian’s) Pet Sounds, or favorite sounds. This is one of my favorite all-time albums on many levels. I love the layers of voice coming in and out, the varied instrumentation that occasionally make you wonder what instrument you’ve been listening to all these years. Fading out of a song, only to come back in during the same song. There are surprises throughout that keep me coming back for more. The album isn’t packed with singles, but it flows more like a symphony – with its highs and lows – than a greatest hits album. Unfortunately, the follow-up which was to come out shortly after Pet Sounds was released “Smile” was never to be, and it’s scattered pieces showed up on subsequent albums and in 2004 Brian put out solo what he said was that album, and though it has the essence of it, it really only makes me wonder even more what it would have been like had the drugs and paranoia not caused the break-down that kept us from more. Aquarium Drunkard has posted tunes from a 1967 rehearsal session by the Boys that I highly recommend picking up and putting somewhere safe. Stripped down bare versions of some great tunes. You can also pick up a 4-disc boxed set of the Pet Sounds Sessions with lots of alternate and remastered tracks. Here are a few highlights.