(Full disclosure I am a giant music geek.) Sometimes when I am listening to music at home or at my desk I get the statement from friends, coworkers and library volunteers “I am surprised you are listening to that.” Most recently “that” being the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. Pet Sounds changed everything I thought I knew about music as I’m sure it did for others reading this. Until I heard Pet Sounds I thought of the Beach Boys as a California surf rock band with a couple of hits. It was not until I heard the luxurious Gershwin esque soundscapes and layered instruments that Pet Sounds is comprised of did I understand the genius of Brian Wilson and the cultural significance of the Beach Boys.
Up until Pet Sounds was released the Beach Boys members played most of the instruments and sang on the recordings. Brian Wilson inspired by the Beatles album Rubber Soul enlisted a backing band consisting of session players known as the Wrecking Crew to create the instrumental ground shattering sounds highlighted in songs like “Pet Sounds” and “Let’s Go Away for a while.” Wilson also inspired by Phil Spector’s wall of sound production technique broke barriers with his own interpretation of the wall of sound. Throughout Pet Sounds, instruments like the bass harmonica and electro theremin can be heard with an abundance of others that make you listen intently and scratch your head. Vocals through the album are sung in the classic five part harmony the Beach Boys are widely known for. The lyrical content throughout is highly emotional and tackles Wilsons dealing with love, anxiety and development of self-image. When Pet Sounds was released it was met with mixed response in the US but was critically acclaimed in the UK, retrospectively it is hailed as one of the best albums of all time alongside pieces of music that it inspired like the Beatles Sgt. Peppers record. The song entitled “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” makes me wonder if Wilson knew he had tapped into something very special when creating Pet Sounds melding classical and baroque styles into pop harmony and lyricism.
I write this tribute because this year is the fiftieth anniversary of Pet Sounds and because this album has had a profound impact on my life. It is amazing that art in any aspect can evoke such emotion from the human soul. I encourage you to explore the Beach Boys catalog at the library. (Although nothing beats vinyl and a good set of headphones.) Some of my favorites include Surfs up, Pet Sounds and Party! which are available through the e-resource Hoopla. The library also carries physical copies of the albums Smile, Today! and the recently released biopic Love and Mercy which chronicles Wilson from the sixties to the eighties. For serious audiophiles I recommend Inside the music of Brian Wilson which breaks down the music theory and lyrics throughout Wilsons career and a movie entitled The Wrecking Crew which showcases accomplishments of the session musicians who contributed to Pets Sounds.
Abdon Gonzalez, Public Services – Emily Fowler Central Library