I am guessing that a million plus words have been written about Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys since its release in 1966, and that 95 percent have been positive. I am going with the majority here as I think Pet Sounds is a slice of pure pop perfection.
The only regret I have in regard to Pet Sounds is that, for all intents and purposes, it was not supposed to be a final destination. Pet Sounds was to have been a stop on the journey of Brian Wilson’s continually evolving musical vision. Next up was to have been an album titled Smile, and who knows what was to follow.
Brian Wilson’s fertile mind would create the magnificent single “Good Vibrations” shortly after the Pet Sounds sessions, but he would then be hampered by illness for years. Smile would not be released for decades, so we are left with the brilliant Pet Sounds and the sadness of roads not traveled.
The technical merits of Pet Sounds are apparent even 42 years later. Brian Wilson built his skills in the studio for years prior to the album release, which brought them to full flower. Pet Sounds was an album recorded like a single. Brain Wilson intended for the album as a whole to have been a hit, rather than just a song or two. It was the whole rather than the individual songs that was important.
Part of Brian Wilson’s brilliance was the ability to take simple lyrics that spoke of basic human feelings and create an emotional impact through his music and harmonies. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is a song about simple desire, a journey we have all taken. The song's simple lyrics are bathed in gorgeous harmonies with strings and subtle percussion molded into the mix.
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” is a quiet testament to love. The song just slips by with an understated vocal and then harmonies. “I’m Waiting For The Day” is a requiem to longing and waiting for the day you can love again. Unanswered is the question: Will this really happen?
“God Only Knows,” besides being one of the most beautiful ballads ever recorded, may have been the most sophisticated song on the album and was possibly pointing toward the future. Carl Wilson’s voice floats above a symphony of instrumental sounds. The layering of such instruments as French horns, strings, harpsichord, flutes, and a staccato percussion all provide a subtle background for this ethereal ballad.
Pet Sounds continues to satisfy. Paul McCartney once said, “No one is educated musically until they’ve heard Pet Sounds." In line with this quote I remember reading somewhere that the more you live, the better it gets. Pet Sounds’ legacy is that it changed the way albums were recorded and created.
Pet Sounds concludes with another beautiful ballad, this time of loss. The final sounds of “Caroline No" would echo Brian Wilson's most creative musical period. A train is coming down the track while a dog barks. The train passes and is quickly gone. Then silence.