Many music writers, as well as Rolling Stone Magazine, have called Pet Sounds one of the two greatest albums ever produced, the other being the The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band. Beatles producer, George Martin, is on record having said that without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened. He said, ”Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” Indeed, Paul McCartney said that Pet Sounds made him cry, and that “God Only Knows” is his favorite song in all of music history.
Pet Sounds wouldn’t have happened without Brian Wilson, singer, songwriter, genius composer – and co-founder of the Beach Boys. The influential album is all the more remarkable because it was produced a year after Wilson quit touring with his band after having suffered from a major nervous breakdown five minutes into a flight en route to a concert. It had to have been an exceedingly painful time, and it marked the beginning of Wilson’s battle with mental illness and a twelve-year self-imposed sabbatical from the band. If nothing else, however, Pet Sounds was a mark of personal triumph. Brian Wilson not only had reined in his mental state to reveal his musical brilliance, but he had to do it while doing battle with his bandmates, his label, and even his family to make the album a reality.
Why the conflict? Because it was radical. A band famous for albums made up of different and disparate songs that worshipped surfing, girls, and hot rods now had its name on an album of thirteen songs interconnected to form a cohesive narrative. It may have been pop/rock’s first authentic concept album, a collection of art pieces, as Wilson described it, each designed to stand alone, but that belonged together.
It was revolutionary.
For anyone who grew up listening to the Beach Boys, it’s hard to believe that one of the most innovative and significant songwriters of the 20th century, Brian Wilson, is now 80 years old. Pet Sounds put Brian Wilson’s mark on musical history, but it was his innovations that made him so influential. He used snippets of music to build songs, and incorporated everything from yodelling, bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, and passing trains into his songs. Fellow Beach Boy band mate, singer Mike Love, called Wilson “Dog Ears” because he could apparently hear sounds other humans could not.
Wilson even enlisted the sounds of barking dogs, including his own Beagle and Weimaraner, “Banana” and “Louie” respectively. Banana was described as a “neurotic ball-chasing, purebred Beagle,” while Louie (sometimes referred to as a chocolate Lab) loved to swim with Brian in his pool. Brian loved both dogs who can be heard barking at a train rumbling past in the song, Caroline, No” at the 2:43 mark below: