In 1965, rolling into 1966, while his band The Beach Boys were touring Japan, Brian Wilson remained in California. The Beatles’ then-brand-new album Rubber Soul had forced him to rethink his entire method of music making and spurred him to make, in his words, “the greatest rock and roll album ever”. Not a shabby ambition for a 23-year whose head was full of teenage symphonies. Compelled to break out of the surfing boy band box the Beach Boys were locked inside, Wilson sat out of the group's tour to create the 36-minute pocket symphony that would shatter every preconceived notion the world had about the band—and even popular music itself.
The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds Changes Musical Landscape
When it was released in May 1966 Pet Sounds confounded the critics and the record company, but many, including the Beatles and Bob Dylan (“That ear! Jesus, he's got to will that to the Smithsonian") thought that Wilson’s ambition was achieved. Paul McCartney happily admits that the genius of Pet Sounds not only changed the Beatles’ ambition for Revolver, but it was the primary inspiration for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a year later. As George Martin put it Sgt Pepper’s “was only ever an attempt to equal what Brian Wilson had achieved with Pet Sounds”.
The album has become shorthand for Brain Wilson’s fully realized artistic vision that owes little to trends and everything to the soul. "We were trying to capture spiritual love that couldn't be found anywhere else in the world," Wilson has said. In doing so, he gave popular music one of its finest touchstones. The result was an album that had leading musical figures struggling to match his technical innovation, lyrical depth and melodic genius. Fifty-one years on the album still sounds as fresh, as innovative and as joyful as it did in 1966.
With its vivid orchestration, lyrical ambition, elegant pacing and thematic coherence, Pet Sounds invented – and in some sense perfected – the idea that an album could be more than the sum of its parts. When Wilson sings "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?" on the magnificent opener, he isn't just imagining a love that could evolve past high school; he was suggesting a new grown-up identity for rock & roll music itself. Wilson famously and meticulously pieced the album together over long months in the studio, but its centrepiece, “God Only Knows” was written in about 45 minutes. It’s Paul McCartney’s favourite song, and it’s been described as the most perfectly constructed song in pop history. So much has been written about this song that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how simply gorgeous and how moving it is.
Wilson’s songs are so ingrained in our musical culture that you don’t even realize how many you know until you hear them played live. At the heart of Brain Wilson’s tour remains the songs, the music that resonates in the recesses of our collective unconscious. Allow yourself be swept away once more.
What the critics have been saying about the Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds tour so far
So much of the joy of these live settings of Wilson’s music centers on the skill and dedication of the 10 members of his touring band, which this time around again has included fellow Beach Boys founding member Al Jardine and ’70s-era Beach Boy, guitarist, singer and songwriter Blondie Chaplin.
- LA Times
Pet Sounds’ magic act still animates its author.
Experiencing a meticulous recreation of [Pet Sounds] is a truly unique concert experience.