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Music / Pet Sounds

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"God only knows what I'd be without you."

"It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. (...) I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life—I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album. (...) I've often played Pet Sounds and cried. It's that kind of an album for me."
Paul McCartney, interviewed by David Leaf, 1990. For more about Paul's love for this album, go here.

Pet Sounds is the eleventh studio album by The Beach Boys. It was released on May 16, 1966 through Capitol Records. Most of it was recorded by Brian Wilson with the group of Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew.

While the album initially had only modest sales and reception in the US, it was an enormous success in the UK, scoring hits with such classic songs as "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "Caroline, No", "Sloop John B." and "God Only Knows". Today, it's a routine pick for the single greatest album ever recorded, and for understandable reason: it would not be hyperbole to state that a multitude of fundamental practices in the popular music of today would not exist without Pet Sounds.

Promoted in the UK as "the most progressive pop album ever", Pet Sounds broke new sonic ground for pop and rock music, and was the first time a group dedicated a whole LP to breaking from the traditional small-ensemble rock band format. An early concept album, it exhibited a diverse array of influences (pop, jazz, exotica, classical, etc.) and Wall of Sound-based compositions containing elaborate vocal harmonies, found sounds, and instruments as far left-field at the time as bicycle bells, the theremin, string sections, and beverage cans. As such, it physically could not be replicated live.

The album rewrote the rules of music production, introducing new approaches to elements such as orchestration, structural harmonies, the role of producers within the industry, and the use of recording studios as an instrument. Its cultural impact manifested in ways including the legitimization of popular music as an art form and a greater public appreciation for the album as the dominant form of music expression, and played no small part in developing the genres of psychedelic music and progressive rock.

Paul McCartney called Pet Sounds his favourite record of all time and one of the main inspirations for The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from 1967, along with Frank Zappa's Freak Out from 1966. McCartney also considers "God Only Knows" to be "one of the most beautiful songs ever written."

The song "I Know There's an Answer" was originally written as "Hang On to Your Ego", a song about LSD use. As singing openly about getting high wouldn't be popular until a bit later in The '60s, Brian elected to change the lyrics after Mike Love objected to them. Interestingly, in Australia the album was released as The Fabulous Beach Boys with an alternate cover.

A documentary about the creative process behind the making of this album can be seen in the Classic Albums TV documentary series. In 2004, Pet Sounds was included in the National Recording Registry for being "historically, culturally and aesthetically important". The album would be certified platinum (sales of over one million copies) in the U.S. by the RIAA in 2000.


Side One

  1. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (2:25)
  2. "You Still Believe in Me" (2:31)
  3. "That's Not Me" (2:28)
  4. "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" (2:53)
  5. "I'm Waiting for the Day" (3:05)
  6. "Let's Go Away for Awhile" (2:18)
  7. "Sloop John B." (2:58)

Side Two

  1. "God Only Knows" (2:51)
  2. "I Know There's an Answer" (3:09)
  3. "Here Today" (2:54)
  4. "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" (3:12)
  5. "Pet Sounds" (2:22)
  6. "Caroline, No" (2:51)

Bonus Tracks (1990 Reissue):

  1. "Unreleased Backgrounds" (0:50)
  2. "Hang On to Your Ego" (3:18)
  3. "Trombone Dixie" (2:53)

Principal Members:

"I may not always trope you...":

  • A Cappella: One of the choruses of "Sloop John B." includes an a cappella break.
  • Age-Progression Song: "Wouldn't It Be Nice?", where the protagonist wonders about the time in the future when he and his partner could live together, get married and be happy. In "Caroline, No", the protagonist wonders "where the girl he used to know" has gone, mentioning the fact her "long hair" has gone too.
  • Album Filler:
    • "Sloop John B." is, at times, considered this, as it's a cover of an older folk song about a sloop and its drunken crew sinking into doom, and that doesn't really fit in with the theme of the trials of young love that every other non-instrumental has. But it's often given a pass for being a pretty sweet melody... and it was the highest charting single from the album, so it's kinda important.note 
    • The two instrumental tracks are often overlooked, due to their lack of the trademark Beach Boys harmonies and their arrangements sounding somewhat dated to some ears.
  • Animal Motifs: Besides the title, The Beach Boys feed some farm animals in a petting zoo on the album cover.
  • Anti-Love Song:
    • "Here Today", which is about all the nasty stuff that relationships can bring about, and how fine little lovers should be careful and whatnot.
      Right now you think that she's perfection
      This time is really an exception
      You know I hate to be a downer,
      But I'm the guy she left before you found her
      Well, I'm not saying you won't have it good with her
      But I keep on remembering things like they were
    • "God Only Knows" has the strangest line ever to open a truly beautiful, romantic song. But it is immediately subverted afterwards:
      I may not always love you
      But long as there are stars above you
      You'll never need to doubt it
      I'll make you so sure about it
  • Baroque Pop: Trope Maker. no one had made post-rock and roll pop sound quite like this. Many did afterwards. This is a good thing.
  • Be Yourself: "That's Not Me"
    I had to prove that I could make it alone
    But that's not me
    I wanted to show how independent I'd grown now
    But that's not me
    I could try to be big in the eyes of the world
    What matters to me is what I could be to just one girl
  • Born in the Wrong Century: "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"
    I guess I just wasn't made for these times
    Every time I get the inspiration to go change things around
    No one wants to help me look for places
    Where new things might be found
  • Break-Up Song:
    • "Caroline, No".
      Break my heart
      I want to go and cry
      It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
    • "Here Today"
      Right now you think that she's perfection
      This time is really an exception
      Well you know I hate to be a downer
      But I'm the guy she left before you found her
    • "I'm Waiting for the Day"
      He hurt you then, but that's all gone
      I guess I'm saying you're the only one
      I'm waiting for the day when you can love again
  • Concept Album: A vast majority of songs have to do with the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of young love.
  • Country Mouse: "That's Not Me"
    I once had a dream
    So I packed up and split for the city
    I soon found out that my lonely life wasn't so pretty
    I'm glad I went now I'm that much more sure that we're ready
  • Covers Always Lie: A ground-breaking Baroque Pop masterpiece has a cover photo (The Beach Boys feeding goats at the San Diego Zoo) that almost makes it look like an album of children's music!
  • Devoted to You: "God Only Knows"
    God only knows what I'd be without you
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Because he sang a solo (albeit double-tracked) lead vocal without any harmonies, and he was the only band member heard on the song, "Caroline, No" was released a few months ahead of the album as a single credited solely to Brian Wilson, but it was added to the album and has always been credited to the band ever since.note 
  • Downer Ending: The closing track of the album is "Caroline, No", which is a somber breakup song where the narrator laments how much his former lover has changed.
  • The Drunken Sailor: "Sloop John B."
    The first mate he got drunk
    And broke in the captain's trunk
    The constable had to come and take him away
  • Everything Is an Instrument: You better believe it. As The Other Wiki elaborates:
    In it, [Brian Wilson] wove elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, coupled with sound effects and unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans and barking dogs, along with the more usual keyboards and guitars.
  • Face on the Cover: The band (minus Bruce) feeding animals in a petting zoo.
  • Gainax Ending: "Caroline, No" and by extension the album itself, ends with the sounds of a train and dogs barking.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"
    Cuando sere, un dia sere, oh cuando sere
  • Grow Old with Me: "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
    Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?
    Then we wouldn't have to wait so long
    And wouldn't it be nice to live together
    In the kind of world where we belong?
    You know it's gonna make it that much better
    When we can say good night and stay together
  • Homesickness Hymn: "Sloop John B." is a cover of an old Bahamian folk song "The John B. Sails". It details the narrator's sailing misadventures, punctuated by his pleas to the Captain to let him go home.
  • I Am the Band: Despite being billed as a Beach Boys album, Brian Wilson is actually the one who was the most-involved in its creation. "Caroline, No" was even issued as a Brian Wilson solo single. The other Boys were actually absent for most of the recording sessions, because they were busy touring in Japan. Aside from vocals, the few things they contributed to the album were the instrumentals for "That's Not Me", the inclusion of "Sloop John B." at Jardine's suggestion, and some co-writing credits from Mike Love on "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "I'm Waiting For The Day", and "I Know There's An Answer" (and his contributions of those songs were minimal at best, with Mike ad-libbing the lines "Good night, baby / Sleep tight, baby" at the coda of "Wouldn't It Be Nice", re-writing "I Know There's An Answer" from "Hang On to Your Ego", and making slight edits to "I'm Waiting for the Day").
  • Important Haircut: "Caroline, No"
    Where did your long hair go?
    Where is the girl I used to know?
    How could you lose that happy glow?
  • Instrumentals: "Let's Go Away for Awhile" and the title track.
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: "Wouldn't It Be Nice?"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Here Today" has a beautiful arrangement, but it's actually about the fact that love isn't forever.
    You've got to keep in mind love is here today
    And it's gone tomorrow
    It's here and gone so fast
  • One-Woman Song: "Caroline, No".
  • Questioning Title?: "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
  • Pep-Talk Song: "You Still Believe In Me"
    I try hard to be strong
    But sometimes I fail myself
    And after all I've promised you
    So faithfully
    You still believe in me
    I wanna cry...
  • The Power of Love:
    • "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
      The happy times together we've been spending
      I wish that every kiss was never-ending
      Oh, wouldn't it be nice?
    • "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)"
      Come close, close your eyes and be still
      Don't talk, take my hand and let me hear your heart beat
      Being here with you feels so right
      We could live forever tonight
      Let's not think about tomorrow
      And don't talk put your head on my shoulder
  • Progressive Rock: While the album's status as an early progressive rock release has been the subject of much debate, the album's complex, eclectic, layered compositions, creative and unorthodox instrumentation, and overarching concept undoubtedly helped influence a lot of later bands.
  • Rhyming with Itself: Every single rhyme in "God Only Knows" is this. In the second verse, which is repeated to make the third verse, four lines in a row end with "me".
  • Shout-Out: The melody and structure of "God Only Knows" was inspired by The Lovin' Spoonful's "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice"
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Bruce Johnston sings his first co-lead vocal as a Beach Boy at the end of God Only Knows.
  • There's No Place Like Home: "Sloop John B." about a sailor who wants to go home after a long voyage at sea which he considers to be the worst trip he's ever been on.
  • Title Track: "Pet Sounds", which is an instrumental track.
  • Worst. Whatever. Ever!: "Sloop John B."
    Why don't they let me go home?
    This is the worst trip I've ever been on