Dusting 'Em Off
Revisiting an album, a film, or an event on its anniversary

The Genius of Pet Sounds: Artists Reveal Their Favorite Aspects of The Beach Boys’ Classic

on June 18, 2016, 11:15am
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The Non-Traditional Instrumentation

Sasami Ashworth of Cherry Glazerr

I discovered Pet Sounds when I was a middle school french horn player and was desperately trying to find any non-classical music that featured the horn. “God Only Knows” was obviously one of the most famous examples, and I remember telling anyone around who would listen whenever it came on the radio. It really connected with me in college when I was spending all of my time playing in orchestras and studying music theory but listening to punk and oldies and feeling this disconnect between what I knew about music and what I liked about music. Pet Sounds bridges all of those gaps. It perfectly combines how theory and orchestration can be so magical and how certain melodies, beats, chords and lyrics are just fucking cool — like when you find out a friend has a Cool Mom, but they have a respectable job so your parents will still let you sleep over at their house.

Cam Boucher of Sorority Noise

They were one of the first bands to really take that step into the wild world of pushing instruments past their intention and making instruments out of things not intended for music in the slightest. From this came sampling, and it brings us to where we are today. Modern pop wouldn’t exist if not for this band.


The Musical Arrangements

Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People

It’s just pop music — but elevated. The arrangements feel incredibly modern and inspired. I am a total sucker for the Wall of Sound production. The album makes me excited to go into the studio and throw out the rule book.

beach boys tribute 17 The Genius of Pet Sounds: Artists Reveal Their Favorite Aspects of The Beach Boys Classic

Photo: Claire McKeown of Honey Child poses with the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary vinyl. McKeown organized a Beach Boys tribute performance at LA’s Echo on 5/15/16.

Claire McKeown of Honey Child

Pet Sounds has influenced me by showing me that you can create music that is beautiful, melodic, and also push your listener into a musical world that is deeper and more challenging than most pop music. As a classical musician, this is very important to me. I must be honest that I still don’t know what key “God Only Knows” is in. Brian Wilson seems to be hiding the tonal center, and just when you think you know where you are, he throws you into a different world with no reasoning of how you even got there. This mystery is what keeps me obsessed. This said, you can just let go of your mind and bask in the beauty of the melody.

Nick Bockrath of Cage the Elephant

Pet Sounds is absolutely one of my favorite records in my collection, and it’s just as amazing every play because of the sheer depth of production. The arrangements and level of musicianship is insane. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be in those sessions. When the drums come in on “I’m Waiting for the Day”, it’s pretty much one of my favorite moments in recorded music.

Avi Buffalo

The parts, instrumentation, varying moods, and feelings of all the sounds have long sparked a lot of excitement in me as a musician. The songs and chord changes that sound traditional or simple on the surface tend to have something else going on, like complex harmony, specific melodicism, counterparts, and interesting timing. All of it is musically exciting and to me transcends genre. To me, it’s not a rock album, a pop album, a classical album, or a folk album, but instead just seems like a very passionate musician’s combination of loved sounds into a delicate and pure musical experience.


The Cultural Impact

Sameer Gadhia of Young the Giant

It was the first time that I began to understand that a band’s relationship with an audience is not static. It is a continuous dialogue of success and failure: reinventing, flailing, until eventually, new ground is reached. And that, in its purest essence, is Pet Sounds. The fresh beginnings of art-rock and psych in the Californian music scene; the nascence of the headphone album, and for me, most inspiring, the daring to fight against the borders the world sets for you. In the years since my first listen, and as Young the Giant’s narrative evolves now into our upcoming third album, The Beach Boys’ evolution in Pet Sounds, just as Sgt. Pepper, Ziggy, or Kid A, inspires me and all of us to dig further into the Heart of Great Creative Darkness, to believe in the magic of songs, and to wade beyond the borders that have been set for us. Always and, hopefully, forever.

Dean Tzenos of Odonis Odonis

My dad was a big Beach Boys fan, so growing up I soaked it all up through osmosis. It wasn’t until Smile came out that I would revisit Pet Sounds as an adult and find out how crazy and intricate it was. It pushed pop music to a new level of experimentation and in turn pushed The Beatles to make Sgt. Pepper’s and beyond. Like most forward-thinking records, the industry types surrounding it had very little faith in the power of Pet Sounds and really tried to derail it. And yet here we are 50 years later, still singing its praises. In my honest opinion, it redefined pop music for years to come.

Jasamine White-Gluz of No Joy

Psychedelic pop music wouldn’t exist without this album. The story of the recording process and the issues surrounding the band during the production are legendary. I always found it fascinating that, although Brian Wilson is responsible for the album, it is still credited as a Beach Boys album. There’s something I connect to about his “wizard behind the curtain” approach, as I write the songs in No Joy but choose to credit them as a band.

Natalie Hoffman of Nots

Two years after I moved to Memphis, after I had played in a couple of bands and was becoming completely addicted to writing music with other people, a couple of close friends showed me Pet Sounds. I, like many people, had only heard the Beach Boys’ oldies station radio hits — “Surfin’ USA”, “Barbara Ann”, that song “Kokomo” – and I had no clue about the complexity, the incredible nuance, and the outright pop genius of the band. I listened to Pet Sounds on repeat over a couple of months. My friends who played music with me at the time and I became immersed in trying out harmonies ourselves and trying our best to make those harmonies — and our songs — layered, more complex, and just less predictable. And don’t get me wrong, none of us were what you would call anywhere near a classically “good” singer, so we had no idea what we were doing. But we became completely enthralled with this idea of pop music with these unsettling, articulate layers that we saw so evident in Pet Sounds. This was 42 years after the album was released, and it had that much of an effect on a group of 20-year-olds living in Memphis making music after work together.

I think the trajectory of pop after Pet Sounds shows a reaction completely akin to the one we had — it’s almost like the required response to the album! The standard, the predictable, catchy, overly-simple, sugared, and sold way of making an album was challenged. The end of the record is a statement in itself — like the stark ending of a film. It fades out of a song about loss and change into trains roaring and dogs barking and throws you back down into what could be your living room, your front porch, and you look at yourself and realize that this isn’t an ending at all. This is pop music in motion. Everything you thought you knew about it roars away with that train, and you have the plain and liberating realization that nothing can stay stagnant after hearing this.

Andy Gill of Gang of Four

Clearly, The Beatles learnt 90% of what they did in the mid-to-late ‘60s from this album. Pet Sounds is not a knowing record. It’s innocent, but so many rock bands took it as a green light to get clever — to start playing with the time signatures, to go prog. You know, “Let’s put a french horn in there!” Before you know it, you’ve got Queen.

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