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Brian Wilson Revisits 'Pet Sounds' for One of the Final Times

Apr. 11, 2017
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Brian Wilson has fond memories of the first time he played music from Pet Sounds in Milwaukee. The date was May 14, 1966, and Wilson and The Beach Boys were in town at the Milwaukee Arena (the current UW-Milwaukee Panthers Arena), only a couple of days before the release of the seminal album. For many, it was the first chance to hear songs like “Sloop John B.” “I just remember I was feeling really good,” says Wilson during a recent phone interview. “I was smiling and laughing and having a good time.” It was the first of numerous times Wilson has played those songs in Milwaukee over the years, including the time The Beach Boys became the first headliner at the Marcus Amphitheater. Wilson also says he was good friends with Milwaukee native Jack Rieley—record producer and former Beach Boys manager. “Milwaukee is a nice town,” Wilson says.

More than 50 years later, Brian Wilson is back in Milwaukee to reintroduce Pet Sounds. While it won’t be with his legendary band, Wilson is bringing along some familiar faces. Beach Boys’ members Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin are joining Wilson for a tour dubbed “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances.” “People seem to like Pet Sounds quite a bit,” says Wilson. “I get a lot of good reaction from the audiences.”

Last year, Wilson and his band started touring the album in full (plus other favorite Beach Boys and solo material), in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary. “It makes me feel proud because Pet Sounds was made in 1966, and in 2017 people still like Pet Sounds,” says Wilson.

Wilson says he’s very impressed with the tight chemistry he has with Jardine and Chaplin. “I think we still harmonize really good,” he says. “The band members are very good singers and harmonize really good. It’s a pleasure to work with them both.” Of Jardine, who was also featured on the original recording of Pet Sounds, Wilson says, “Nowadays [our chemistry is] a little better because we’ve had a lot of practice. We have 50 years of practice so we can sing as good as we did back when Pet Sounds was first recorded.”

He’s also very impressed with Jardine’s son Matt, who is in the band. “Al Jardine’s son Matt Jardine sings ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ and gets a big standing ovation,” Wilson says. “Every single concert he gets a big standing ovation. I cannot believe it. I can’t believe it.”

The creation of Pet Sounds is something Wilson will always cherish. The album resulted from him taking time off from the Beach Boys’ busy touring schedule to focus on writing new music.

“I told the boys, ‘Boys, I’m going to stop touring and go home and write some really good songs,” he says. “And they were like ‘No, Brian, no! Don’t go home.’ I said ‘Guys, I’ve got to go home and write some songs.’ So I went home and wrote Pet Sounds.”

But he wasn’t about to retread on past successes. Instead of the surf and car tunes, Wilson challenged himself to write a different kind of song. “I told my engineer [Chuck Britz], ‘Chuck, I want to do something different now,’” he recalls. “So I called Tony Asher up and he came over to my house and we wrote ‘God Only Knows’ in an hour and a half. All it took was an hour and a half.” With Asher, Wilson found a like-minded person with whom he could easily co-write songs. “I liked working with Tony Asher because he was a very creative person,” says Wilson. “He writes very creative lyrics. Like ‘God Only Knows’ is a beautiful love song. I’m talking beautiful, beautiful love song.” When Wilson reconvened with the Beach Boys to record the album, he admits that he felt nervous at first. “I felt nervous just before Pet Sounds got going and on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ I started feeling better,” he says.

The sonic influence of Pet Sounds has permeated all areas of music, including pop and psychedelic rock. The album featured recording techniques unique to Beach Boys songs, including the “Wall of Sound” recording technique. While Chuck Berry didn’t have an influence on Pet Sounds, Wilson wrote the Beach Boys’ hit “Surfin’ USA” because he liked Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.” He was sad to hear of Berry’s death earlier this year.

If Wilson had to offer advice to an up-and-coming songwriter, he’d tell them not to do drugs and finish their songs. “I tell them not to take drugs, for one, and if you’re going to write a song finish the song,” he says. “Don’t stop halfway through. Finish the damn song. I always tell people that. A lot of people write a third of a song and that’s all they’ve got. But when I write a song I write a whole song.”

After this tour, Wilson plans to record a new album at some point. “We’re going to record a rock ’n’ roll album,” he says. “I’m going to make a rock ’n’ roll album that’s going to make people clap and yell and feel good. I’ll make a tribute to the great singers of the ’50s and ’60s.” Wilson hopes to leave Milwaukee with the feeling he had on March 14, 1966. He hopes audiences feel that way, too. “I plan to make the Milwaukee audience happy,” says Wilson, “and make them feel good with good music.”

At the Riverside Theater on Wednesday, April 19 at 8 p.m.

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