The Beach Boys are legendary even outside of Pet Sounds, there’s no denying that. They’ve sold tons of records and concert tickets, turned pop music into art, and remain one of the most iconic bands in history to this day. So why exactly do I think Pet Sounds is the best record they’ve ever made? I’m glad you asked!
Before Pet Sounds
Brian Wilson was the band’s de-facto leader, and his brain brought the band fame and fortune from early on. But his life (and the lives of the other boys, for that matter) wasn’t all cars, girls and sunshine. Brothers Carl, Brian and Dennis Wilson were dealing with their father’s abusive, controlling behavior even before the Beach Boys formed. This, combined with their fame and fortune at such a young age, created problems for them. Dennis leaned heavily into alcoholism and drug use, Carl smoked cigarettes from when he was a teen, and Brian did just about everything. But in the midst of all of this strife, the band released incredible music that would inspire generations.
Pet Sounds started to form during a difficult time for Brian Wilson. It was the first time he tried to push the band’s sound and themes to new heights. He was tired of singing about the beach, and he wanted to try something new, something deeper. Wilson was always interested in being the studio guy, and not so much in touring. He decided he wouldn’t tour anymore, and worked on turning Pet Sounds into his masterpiece, almost entirely on his own.
In 1966, he was greatly advancing his musical development and had started to take LSD, an experience that would alter the course of his life. According to Wilson himself, his drug use brought out his insecurities, some of which went into the album. The album’s intimacy and vulnerability confirm this. Pet Sounds is also very adventurous genre-wise, especially for the time. It covers a ton of ground, which was particularly unusual for the Beach Boys, who always sang about cars and girls. It has been described as progressive, psychedelic, avant-garde, art pop and others. The world didn’t know what it was back then, and I don’t think we’re certain now either.
The album’s subversion of tradition is what really makes it stand out. It’s all over the place; sometimes it feels way ahead of its time, sometimes it’s distinctly 60s. I’d even say that Pet Sounds is the reason that the Beach Boys started to experiment with their sound on later records. Mike Love would have wanted to keep singing about cars and girls for sure, but this record came out and permanently changed that. Pet Sounds marks the first time the Brian Wilson was honest with the band’s audience about what was going on and honest about what he wanted to show the world.
Pet Sounds is an album that everyone should listen to at least once. If you weren’t convinced about my recommendations in previous articles, I urge you to reconsider here. God only knows what I’d be without it.