Pet Sounds Revisited (4/12/04)

Charlie saved this email from last April and suggested I might want to put it up on the blog, so here goes, blasphemy and all.

From: William Kates
To: Charlie Ricci
Subject: Pet Sounds
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2004

This may be sacrilege, but on this weekend's road trip to Earlham, I had the chance to reassess Pet Sounds. After spending what seemed like hours reading the copious liner note descriptions, then listening to the CD, I can honestly say that this is one of the most over-rated albums of all time. I can buy that Rubber Soul may have motivated Brian Wilson to record Pet Sounds, but I have a bit more trouble believing Paul McCartney when he says that Pet Sounds inspired the Beatles to record Sgt. Pepper.

Yes, Brian Wilson was (is) the tortured genius, yes he extracted more sonic capability from the studio than the technology would normally have yielded at the time, yes his lyrics developed a greater maturity level than Fun Fun Fun or Surfin' USA. Given all that, the problem with Pet Sounds is that once you get past the singles that begin and end each side of the record, the rest of the songs don't quite make it, musically speaking. They're gorgeously sung and recorded, but the songs are weak ideas that either should have been developed further or edited out.

Part of what made the Beatles great is that Lennon, McCartney (even Harrison and Starr to a point) and George Martin all had to get their ideas past each other which unquestionably inspired each to greater heights than they could have achieved on their own (their solo stuff proves this); the great Springsteen records had Bruce relating to band and producer more as equals than later in his career (who would have the balls now to tell Bruce that one of his songs is weak). You can see case after case of major artists whose work gets lame when they eliminate the creative tension by producing themselves and I'm making the case that Pet Sounds is the first major example of this syndrome.

Except for Capitol insisting that Sloop John B be added to Pet Sounds because it was the hit single at the time, Brian was pretty much left to his own devices to create Pet Sounds on his own - he hired a publicist to help him polish the lyrics and when the rest of the group returned from touring he taught them their parts for the recording, but it was all him; in fact the Caroline No single was released under the name Brian Wilson rather than the Beach Boys. If you collected all the great Brian Wilson tracks off all the Beach Boys records you absolutely have a case that he is one of the greatest pop songsters who ever lived, but to call Pet Sounds a "perfect album"? Hardly.

This was Charlie's response:

From: Charlie Ricci
To: William Kates
Subject: Pet Sounds
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004

Was I surprised to hear you say what you did! Of course you know I completely disagree with you! Even though The Beatles are my all time favorites I think Pet Sounds is even better than Sgt. Pepper. I think lyrically Pet Sounds is top of the line. According to the biography Heroes & Villains Tony Asher, who got the co-composing credit with Brian, wrote most of the actual lyrics for Pet Sounds.

Did you know that NONE of the Beach Boys, including Brian, played any instruments on the album. Brian recorded most of it while the Beach Boys were touring in Japan. When they got home & Brian played the tapes for MIke Love he was furious. He told Brian he was screwing up. Carl loved it though. You right about the vocals. "Caroline No" has Brian doing all of the vocals himself. That's why it was released as a single under his own name. You're also right about input from other people. All the rest of the band did was add vocals.


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