Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

When I was a teenage wannabe-Punk I didn't like The Beach Boys. I mean I really didn't like them. I thought the harmonies were girly, the fun-in-the-sun lyrics were too cheesy, the clothes were bloody awful, and what the Hell was Sloop John B about anyway?

Now, of course, I love The Beach Boys and I especially love Pet Sounds, the album containing - you've guessed it - Sloop John B.

Pet Sounds is famously the album where Brian Wilson took creative control of the group and steered them away from their previous surf / rock 'n' roll style towards a more symphonic, studio-based sound. And what a sound! Wilson throws in strings, Theremins, bicycle bells, clip-clop percussion, harpsichords, rasping horns and possibly a kitchen sink on a surfboard, who knows? It almost strays into the realm of the avant garde before settling for queasy-listening on a couple of strange filler instrumentals. The trademark Beach Boy vocals are present and correct and perfect, alternately joyous and heartbreaking.

As well as Sloop John B, the album also contains two of their most well-known singles, Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows, mini masterpieces of yearning and heartache. And, if not for Brian Wilson's perfectionism, the awesome Good Vibrations would have appeared here as well, instead of propping up the next album, the deeply flawed Smiley Smile.

Lyrically, Pet Sounds is a lot deeper than previous Fun Fun Fun -type material. The first track, Wouldn't It Be Nice, is a childlike wish to be grown up and married but, after that, things take a more introspective and troubled turn. The songs' protagonists often feel lonely or betrayed and offer warnings about former lovers and friends.

"I went through all kinds of changes
Took a look at myself
And said 'That's not me' "

"Where can I turn when my
Fair-weather friends cop out?
What's it all about?"

Even the traditional Caribbean folk song, Sloop John B, seemed to fit in well:
"I feel so broke up, I want to go home
This is the worst trip I've ever been on."

With hindsight all this is sadly indicative of Brian Wilson's fragile mental state, culminating in the honest admission of I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. The uncertainty and confusion in these lyrics ( along with the fantastic music ) adds a resonance to the album that elevates it to its classic status.

Song for your favourite surfer girl: Don't Talk ( Put Your Head On My Shoulder )


  1. One of my own favourite albums too. I love that line "Where can I turn when my fairweather friends cop out?"

    Have you heard "Sunflower". I think it's got some of their better later songs on it. They never topped "Pet Sounds" though. It always seemed such a sad story to me.

  2. No, I've never heard Sunflower, but it's on my "To Buy" list, along with Surf's Up.

    Good to hear from you, mate!

  3. dave? dave's not here, man. . .


  4. Although it was their pinnacle, I actually prefer slightly later albums, like Wild Honey, Friends and 20/20.
    For completists there are many different PS CDs - a mono version, remastered stereo, mono & stereo on one disc, a 4 disc box set of out-takes, BW performing it live, etc., etc.

  5. I've got both mono and stereo versions but you have to really listen hard to make out much of a difference. And then, of course, there are the two different versions of the same song: I Know There's An Answer / Hang On To Your Ego...