May 16 – No Dogs In Beach Boys Set

Film-maker Francis Ford Coppola recently suggested you can’t make art without taking risks. We had evidence of that this day in 1966 when one of the truly “classic” albums of the rock era came out – the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. But as good as we now consider the record, it wasn’t without artistic risk. The LP took a turn away from the simple, carefree sound that had dominated the band’s previous 10 albums (released in an astounding four years!) and not everyone was happy with the difference. The band’s own Mike Love, for instance, is said to have called it “S***” and some at their Capitol Records offices didn’t even want to put out the expensive and experimental album.

Pet Sounds was unquestionably Brian Wilson’s pet. He wrote most of the material, produced it and found backing musicians, using the other Boys as little as possible in the eight or so months it took to get the record together (which also cost Capitol some $70 000, a huge amount for the time equivalent to over half a million in this day and age.) Wilson was doing a large amount of drugs, primarily LSD, at the time and having some mental issues which doubtless led to a somewhat sadder and darker sound than the band had produced on previous hits like “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ USA”. Not only was the lyrical content deeper, so too was the quality of the sound and production on now-classics like “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”. Many credit it as the first concept album, something Wilson agrees with… to a degree. “It wasn’t really a song concept album, or lyrically a concept album, it was really a production concept album.” Wilson had two clear inspirations for the concept- the Beatles and Phil Spector. He borrowed heavily from Spector’s huge “Wall of Sound” studio technique and was unabashedly competitive with the Fab Four. After he heard the critically-acclaimed Rubber Soul he decided to up his band’s game. “It was a challenge to me, “ he recalled, “it didn’t make me want to copy them but to be as good.” He told his wife excitedly, “I’m gonna make the greatest rock album ever made.”

Did he succeed? Some would say he did. Although at the time, response was lukewarm at home (it only hit #10 in the U.S., not as good as most of their prior albums) it took off right away in the UK, where it got to #2 and earned them their first platinum record on that side of the ocean. Spencer Davis echoed many there at the time saying “I haven’t spent much time listening to the Beach Boys before, but I’m a fan now…”

Soon many around the world caught up to Davis. It sold to platinum in the U.S. after a few years and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” and “Sloop John B” both hit the top 10 singles chart. Retrospective critics have been very appreciative of the band that “bid farewell to the innocent world of the Beach Boys fun-in-the-sun hits” in the words of Rolling Stone. That album twice has listed it as the second greatest album of all-time (both times behind The Beatles Sgt. Pepper…) complimenting its “luxurious sounds… deeply personal songs” which “perfected the idea (that) an album could be more than the sum of its parts.” Q and allmusic both have scored it a perfect 5-star rating and London’s the Times put it at #1 on their list of best albums ever- ahead of Sgt. Pepper. Wilson must love that one!

One last bit of evidence about how good the album was- a song Wilson was working on during the recording, with a 43-piece orchestra, didn’t end up on the album. It eventually was finished and released as a single later on. That song was their biggest hit, “Good Vibrations.


13 thoughts on “May 16 – No Dogs In Beach Boys Set

  1. When I purchased the album and gave it a spin, back in the day, I thought ” what is this crap?” Then, I gave it a few more listens and realized what a great disk it was. My original copy, long lost was replaced when my son gifted one to me a few years back. Still, one of the greatest albums ever made. Mike Love was, and still is a dick, so his memories don’t mean squat.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It must have taken a lot of people by surprise when it came out. I love the singles but only recently heard the entirety of it; to me it isn’t in the same category as the Beatles of that era but it so far ahead of the early Beach boys stuff I can see how it would upset a few of their diehard fans.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Badfinger (Max)

    Without this album the Beach Boys would not be remembered as highly today. Yes, they had some big hits in the surfing songs…I like a lot of those but this album had staying power. Mike Love’s opinion isn’t worth s***. I’m not exactly in Mike’s fan club.

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  3. About Brian’s struggle with mental health issues and his tripping on LSD, I wonder what came first? I think that people who have fragile psyches are playing with fire by using recreational hallucinogenics. That said, they have come full circle and are being used in a controlled setting to treat some chronic mental health conditions. OK I’ve digressed enough, it’s a great album and I admire anyone in the arts for stepping out into new areas with their art. Is it the greatest album of all time? I find it ironic that an album that was once an outcast is now considered for the title. Shows you how ludicrous the whole measuring stick thing is when it comes to art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True enough on both those points. To me, it’s certainly miles and miles better than anything they’d done before and it holds up quite well but I can’t honestly see how it’s put in the discussion for “best ever.” However, you’re right, anything new or different is challenging and will probably be criticized at first , but influence and years later be looked back as an important cornerstone. Same in literature, or I believe visual arts. As for the hallucionegenics, yep, it seems like playing with fire. I’ve met people who took acid or mescalin at times and seem quite normal, but there are plenty of Sid Barrett’s out there too who become burn outs and probably end up being the ones we see walking around downtown yelling at no one or at intersections holding signs saying ‘please help’. there’s also the cause and effect issue, I guess, do the drugs cause the mental issues or do the people who have mental problems naturally turn to drugs more readily?

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  4. ‘God Only Knows’ sure had a few of those up-tight dress-up for Church Services on Sunday starched britches types gasping at ‘God’ being used on a common or low ‘Pop song.’
    No wonder they got so Righteously upset when Lennon said his ‘more popular than God now’ comment. Forget Peace and Understanding- ‘burn the records of the blasphemer! Furthermore, burn the blasphemer!’
    Oh, sorry, I went off on a rant myself– this record does deserve its high ranking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know it deserves SO high a ranking (as in , among so many lists’ top 10 ever) but it’s a very good one for sure. I didn’t know anyone was upset with ‘God Only Knows’ but I could easily believe it at that time… probably a conundrum for many ultra-conservative Americans who adored the ‘clean wholesome’ Beach boys but would object to His name being used, like you suggest.

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