Falling in love with the sublime Pet Sounds wasn’t so simple in the mid-1960s. Though indescribably beautiful and alluring, she was complicated, unlike the simple hit songs about cars, surfing and girls that made The Beach Boys famous.
Constructed of layers upon layers of sonic invention, with its meticulous craftsmanship and sophisticated arrangements, Pet Sounds was a testament to Brian Wilson’s beautiful mind, but it also had trouble fitting in. It was introspective and poetic. It experimented with drugs. It was dissatisfied with the state of the world and longed for escape. The media didn’t get it at first. Even internally, there were doubts. And Capitol Records thought so little of its commercial appeal that it decided to issue a greatest-hits compilation to cushion the expected financial blow.
Of course, Pet Sounds was eventually hailed as a work of complete and utter brilliance. The sainted Wilson, for all his troubles, received validation for his momentous decision to forego touring and concentrate on making records. Padded with 30 more minutes of insight and interviews – some of which discusses “Good Vibrations” and wonders “what if” it, too, had been part of Pet Sounds – left out of the original broadcast of this installment of the “Classic Albums” series, this DVD deep dive only adds to the Pet Sounds mythology, even as it demystifies the process that birthed it.
How Wilson embraced Al Jardine’s love of folk music and then built “Sloop John B” into a cheery, ocean-sprayed sea shanty of misty, majestic pop is detailed. With great curiosity it unpacks the sounds and decisions that resulted in “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” “Let’s Go Away for a While” and “God Only Knows” in a flowing narrative that never gets bogged down in minutia. It is fascinated with the influence of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album on Wilson, as well as his symbiotic working relationship with lyricist Tony Asher and the creative give-and-take between Wilson and the Wrecking Crew. It listens without judgment as Mike Love explains his side in a disagreement over the original title of “I Know There’s an Answer” – the LSD-referencing “Hang on to Your Ego.”
Scads of interviews with members of the Beach Boys, as well as journalists and musicians who worked on the record, marvel at and try to explain Wilson’s genius. A vintage clip of Dennis Wilson talking reverentially about the effect Pet Sounds had on him and how he viewed his brother’s artistry is incredibly poignant, and behind-the-scenes footage of Wilson at work on Pet Sounds shed light on what makes him tick. Pet Sounds changed everything. This shows how it happened.
– Peter Lindblad