Yes, It Is Really As Good As They Say
Looking at a quite expensive double LP reissue of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds in PJ’s Records, I scoffed at the storeowner’s claim I was holding the greatest album ever made. How could the band responsible for “Kokomo” and… that song Uncle Jesse sang with the Rippers on “Full House” make the greatest record ever? Regardless, I figured I’d try it and ran to the Downtown library (this happened in those dark days before my employ at AADL) to check it out. The new version has the original mono as well as a stereo remix—a surprise coming from deaf-in-on-ear Brian Wilson. I elected to go stereo. I didn’t much care for it. Mono elicited the same reaction. But after the tenth time, I loved it.
I grew up on The Beach Boys. Maybe that gave me a bias, as I first band I ever liked, I dismissed them as “kid’s music.” Not to mention, I was listening to Pet Sounds forty years out of context. When someone says Pet Sounds was revolutionary, it means so little, because I’ve already heard all the music it’s influenced, making it much harder for original to impress a newer generation. But all it took was a few repeat listenings to start appreciating it.
While it owes a debt to Phil Spector and his teenage symphonies, Pet Sounds made a bold statement, creating, in a time when a British accent alone equaled top ten hit, a distinctly American record full of folk traditions and the sunny, California music synonymous with The Beach Boys. Furthermore, Phil Spector called albums “Two hits and ten pieces of junk.” Brian Wilson, took the challenge of crafting a cohesive, artsy, beautiful record from start to finish. Pet Sounds raised the bar of what an album should—nay, could be, and before everyone tried to release the next Sgt. Pepper’s, they wanted to make the next Pet Sounds.
Pet Sounds stands as The Beach Boys’ crowning achievement. I have since, through listening to their box set, rekindled my appreciation for their earlier work, but after Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations hit, they tanked. Smile, the follow-up to Pet Sounds (as if there could be such a thing,) never happened once Brian Wilson left the band (he actually finished it in 2004,) and slowly, the artistic competition The Beach Boys had with The Beatles deteriorated from neck and neck to a landslide.