Pet Sounds The Movie

Oct. 12, 2016
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No less than Paul McCartney pronounced “God Only Knows” as a “perfect song.” Apparently, John Lennon nodded his ascent. “God Only Knows” appeared on The Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds (1966) and would inspire The Beatles to record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As shown in the documentary Classic Albums—Pet Sounds, out on Blu-ray and DVD, the admiration traveled two ways with the Beatles’ Revolver as an inspiration for The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. As a result, The Beach Boys, who no one took for deep in their early days of surfing safaris and hot rodding, joined The Beatles in leading rock’s bid to become art as well as entertainment.

The film includes interviews with many who participated in the making of Pet Sounds. Wilson sits at his piano, demonstrating and recollecting, recalling that he wanted to do something “better than surf and car songs.” Session drummer Hal Blaine, from the “Wrecking Crew” gang of crack LA session musicians, remembers, “the British Invasion scared them [The Beach Boys] to death.” Perhaps even without the competition from across the Atlantic, Wilson would have developed greater ambitions. Even before Revolver, there were indications of growing sophistication in his songwriting and arranging. He was already mastering the recording studio as an instrument.

Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound was Wilson’s foundation, but The Beach Boys’ productions became subtler, more textured than Spector’s. Several of the documentary’s interviewees thought that Revolver opened a door for Wilson, encouraging tendencies toward introspection and melancholy. For Pet Sounds, he found an unlikely songwriting partner in lyricist Tony Asher, whose previous experience had been in jingle writing. Wilson ran into Asher in the hallway outside Capitol Records’ recording studios and sensed he would make a good partner. Asher proved to be a deceptively simple lyricist, infusing emotional profundity into lines that would be carried memorably by the voices of The Beach Boys in Wilson’s formidable arrangements.

Pet Sounds didn’t sell well upon release. Capitol more or less sabotaged the marketing, deeming the album uncommercial and encouraging a return to surfing and hot rodding. But despite the label’s hostility and the wariness of some of Wilson’s bandmates, Pet Sounds has endured as one of the greatest albums of the classic rock era.

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