The Beach Boys were riding high in the music world. It had been a spectacular year for them. They had
placed four singles in the Top 10, one album in the Top 20, another in the Top 10 and currently had the Number One album in
the country -- Beach Boys Concert.
For The Beach Boys -- brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson; cousin Mike Love;
and friend Alan Jardine, all of suburban Hawthorne, California -- life should have been sweet indeed. But underneath the success,
there were real problems. The group had fired the Wilsons' domineering father, Murry, as their manager back in April. While
that removed a major source of emotional stress from their lives, it also meant that other pressures came to rest even heavier
on Brian, the group's principal songwriter and producer of their records.
Brian did not respond well to the added pressure. He began to withdraw, spending
more and more time alone. He complained of stomachaches, headaches and fatigue. In November, after boarding a flight to Australia
for a concert tour, Brian had experienced a panic attack.
On Dec. 7, Brian married 16-year-old Marilyn Rovell. Then, just a few short weeks
into life as a newlywed, only days before Christmas, Brian had to leave for a three-week tour with The Beach Boys.
"We were on tour December 23rd," Brian described several years later. "The plane
had been in the air only five minutes. I told Al Jardine that I was going to crack up any minute. He told me to cool it. Then
I started crying. I put a pillow over my face and began screaming and yelling... I just let myself go completely... I was
coming apart. The rubber band had stretched as far as it would go."
1964 ended with only four Beach Boys on the road, as the rest of the group finished
the tour without Brian.
At home, with the other Beach Boys away, without the demands of traveling from
city to city day after day, Brian could concentrate his energies on the creation of music. His first task was to finish another
album for Capitol.
The sessions for what would be released in March 1965 as The Beach Boys
Today! had begun in the summer. In the can were more than a half dozen tracks, but it was a long way from a completed
album. With the Beach Boys on the road, Brian enlisted the cream of Los Angeles' studio musicians as his regular band and
cut a series of adventurously orchestrated tracks in the first two weeks of 1965. The tracks not only completed the Today
album, but effectively foreshadowed the instrumental approach that would blossom to full flower a year later. The tracks were
more structurally complex than any of Brian's previous efforts.
When the group came off the road
mid-month, Brian brought them into the studio to add vocals. Then he dropped a bombshell. He no longer wanted to tour; he
wanted to devote himself totally to making records. "I told them I foresee a beautiful future for the Beach Boys group," Brian
recalled, "but the only way we could achieve it was if they did their job and I did mine. They would have to get a replacement
It was not a decision that came lightly to Brian or that was readily accepted
by the others, but Brian stood his ground. "I felt I had no choice. I was run down mentally and emotionally because I was
running around, jumping on jets, one-night stands, also producing, writing, arranging, singing, planning, teaching."
Brian wouldn't tour regularly with the group again until 1976. Replaced on the
road first by session guitarist Glen Campbell (several years away from his successful solo career) and then songwriter/producer
Bruce Johnston, Brian finally had all the creative time he needed.
In March, The Beach Boys Today! was released. In sequencing the
album, Brian made a distinction between the group's hit sounds and the more introspective material to which his muse was drawing
him. On the first side of the album, he placed all of the upbeat songs. On side two, he placed a group of slower, softer songs
that echoed his thoughts and feelings, forming almost a suite of orchestrated, mature emotional music. That concept was one
he would return to in earnest a year later.
In the spring of 1965, Brian and his coterie of session players were again hard
at work on The Beach Boys' next album, to be released in July as Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). More of
a mixed bag than Today, Summer Days nevertheless featured several songs in which Brian further developed a mature
expression of his concerns. Lyrically, both Let Him Run Wild and You're So Good To Me were portents of songs
he would create over the next year, while Summer Means New Love was an orchestrated, almost symphonic instrumental,
a major step forward from the surf guitar numbers he'd included on previous albums.
Following the release of Summer Days, however, Brian seemed to be
foundering, in search of a creative direction. In early July, following up on a suggestion made by Alan Jardine, Brian cut
a track on the West Indies folk song, The John B. Sails, a.k.a. Sloop John B. "I thought it would be a great
song for us to do," Alan recalled. "Brian was at the piano. I asked him if I could sit down and show him something. He wasn't
into folk music, so what I did was to play it for him in the Beach Boys idiom. I figured if I gave it to him in the right
light, he might end up believing in it. I put some minor changes in there, and it stretched out the possibilities from a vocal
point of view."
To Jardine's surprise, Brian had paid attention. On July 12, Brian cut a track
for the song with his regular crew of session musicians. "I got a phone call to come down to the studio," Alan remembered.
"Brian played the song for me, and I was blown away... I played some chords, he came back and arranged an entire symphony
around it." But after laying down a rough lead vocal for the song, Brian put it aside unfinished.
The summer passed without any other
ventures into the recording studio. By the end of the summer, Capitol Records was asking Brian for an album for the coming
Christmas buying season. But Brian was at a loss for new material. Then he hit on the idea of doing a live album in the studio
-- not with the group standing in front of microphones running through their repertoire of hits, but something a bit different
... a "party" album, where it would appear that the group and their friends were sitting around with guitars and sodas and
chips and singing their favorite oldies. It was a seemingly ideal solution -- it could be done quickly, and Brian didn't have
to worry about writing new songs and crafting arrangements for them.
In September, over the course of five sessions at Western Recorders, The Beach
Boys (supplemented only by session drummer Hal Blaine on bongos and percussion) ran through several hours of informal performances,
touching on more than two dozen songs. After overdubbing party noises on the 13 tracks selected for inclusion, Beach
Boys' Party! was turned in to Capitol and set for release the second week of November.
With that monkey off his back, Brian finally seemed to break his creative block.
On Oct. 13, he cut the track for a new single, The Little Girl I Once Knew, then called The Beach Boys in to do vocals
a week-and-half later. An excellent pop/rock production, the song was characterized by a radical stop-and-go arrangement that
brought the melody and rhythm to a halt twice in the song.
Despite the song's obvious noncommercial aspects, it headed up the charts promptly
upon its release in mid-November. Then, unexpectedly, Capitol rush-released the infectious Barbara Ann, from the Party
album, as a single. Disc jockeys all across the country had been playing the song off the album. Capitol could smell a monster
hit and moved to strike immediately, instead of waiting for The Little Girl I Once Knew to ascend to the top and then
begin its descent down the charts. With the release of Barbara Ann, the upward motion of The Little Girl I Once
Knew was halted, and the record topped out at #20. Barbara Ann, in the meantime, began a climb to the #2 spot.
But all of that was still a couple of months away. On Nov. 1, Brian was back at
his favorite studio, Western Recorders, for a full day of recording. He laid down instrumental tracks for a song that looked
back on the simpler times of his youth, In My Childhood, and for an untitled number that would be dubbed Trombone
Dixie for its heavy use of horns.
But Brian's muse proved fleeting and he soon was stretching for inspiration. On
Nov. 18, he cut an instrumental he initially called Run James Run, intending it for possible use in a James Bond movie.
Finally, in December, Brian found his inspiration. He heard the new Beatles album,
Rubber Soul, and reacted as never before. "When I first heard it, I flipped," Brian recalled. "I said, 'I want
to make an album like that.'" What he heard was, as he described it, "a whole album with all good stuff."
"I really wasn't quite ready for the unity," he explained. "It felt like it all
belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs ... that somehow went together like no album ever made
before, and I was very impressed. I said, 'That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album.'"
Brian returned first to the track that he had left waiting since July -- Sloop
John B. He cut the group's vocal on Dec. 22, then returned to the studio alone on Dec. 29, recording a new lead vocal
with revised lyrics, losing much of the Caribbean patois that had characterized the song in its previous folk incarnation.
With his creative juices flowing,
Brian began looking for the last piece of the puzzle -- a collaborator. "He doesn't really like to work alone, as far as writing,"
explained Marilyn. "It wasn't fun working by yourself."
At the time, Tony Asher was working for an advertising agency in Los Angeles,
writing commercial jingles. His path had crossed Brian's several months earlier in one of Hollywood's many recording studios.
"I ran into Brian at a session I was doing for a commercial jingle in connection
with my advertising job," Asher recalled. "Brian was doing some demos of something or other. We ran into each other in the
hall. We started chatting, and he asked me to take a listen to what he had been doing. He then went into the studio to play
something for me on the piano. I played a couple of things for him, and that was pretty much it. Frankly, I never expected
to hear from him again.
"A few weeks later, I got a phone call, and Brian said, 'Listen, I have an album
that is overdue. Would you ... want to help me write it?' I thought it was somebody in the office playing a joke on me. I
said, 'You gotta be kidding.'" And then pretty quickly I was convinced it was him.
"It was such an absurd notion. He didn't really know anything about my writing
abilities except that we had exchanged some ideas on songs when I was in the studio with him. Apparently, he had some input
from some mutual friends about my abilities as a 'wordsmith,' as a copywriter and as a lyricist. But for me, it seemed like
it was out of the blue and it was just quite hard to imagine."
Asher took an unpaid leave of absence from his job, and he and Brian began writing
early in January 1966.
"We started work within a week or ten days of the phone call from Brian," he remembered,
"and worked off and on for quite a few weeks straight. I think my original 'leave of absence' from work was supposed to be
two to three weeks.
"When I first went to his house, we spent a little time just talking. [Then] he
played me some of the tracks that they'd recorded. There were a number of tracks, some of which had had lyrics written to
them and indeed vocals recorded to them, but which for one reason or another didn't meet with Brian's expectations. One of
the things we listened to, for example, was Sloop John B, which was completed... There was also You Still Believe
In Me; I believe it was called In My Childhood at the time, [but] Brian never let me hear the lyric to it."
Brian gave Asher a cassette of In My Childhood to work on initially. "That
was a good way to start things off," Asher said. "It's a great luxury -- at least for a lyricist -- to write to tracks because
you have a much better sense of what the musical mood of the song it. And here was a case where it was real clear what Brian
had in mind."
After Asher completed lyrics for the track, he and Brian turned their attention
to a group of new songs that Brian was composing.
"In most cases, Brian was just playing riffs on the piano, ideas that were anywhere
from tiny fragments of a song to completed melodies," Asher explained. "When I heard one that seemed to lend itself to an
idea, I would throw out a lyric idea. Not a lyric, you understand. An idea for the direction a lyric might take... In a couple
of cases, Brian had an idea for a partial lyric or for the lyric to what would be called 'the hook' of the song."
By the end of a typical songwriting session,
Brian and Asher would have "a pretty complete melody, partial lyrics and a kind of bridge, and some other stuff," Asher recalled.
"I'd go home at night and work on the lyrics a little bit and bring them back the next day.
"Brian didn't really write lyrics to the songs; he edited them. That means he
might have simply said that he didn't like a particular line. I would then have tried to convince him of its merit, if I felt
strongly about it, or I would have written an alternate in an attempt to get closer to what he seemed to be after. None of
this is to say that he didn't supply words to some of the songs. He did. But his role was more to react to what I did after
I did it, rather than to direct it before it occurred or even as it was occurring."
"It's fair to say that the general tenor of the lyrics was always his," Asher
summarized, "and the actual choice of words was usually mine. I was really just his interpreter."
Brian recognized that the songs he and Asher were composing were different from
anything previously associated with The Beach Boys. Asher recalled, "At the end of singing through one of the songs, he said,
'Boy, people are going to know that this is a Tony Asher lyric,' And I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'It's just not like
anything that we've done before."
Brian soon headed to the studio to cut tracks for the new songs. Working at Western
Recorders with his favorite engineer, Chuck Britz, he laid down tracks for half a dozen new songs in January and early February.
And then The Beach Boys came home from a three-week tour of Japan and Hawaii.
What they found, though, was quite unexpected.
"We came back, and there was Pet Sounds sitting there for us to
do," Alan recalled. "There was this masterpiece sitting there, kind of an uncut gem. And we're going, 'Wow, hmm, what's up,
Brian?' 'Oh, I got this little esoteric piece of work I want you to hear.' Really, it was a whole new horizon for us. We were
a surfing group when we left the country, and now basically we came back to this new music. And it took some getting used
"The group was less than enthusiastic about the material," reported Asher. "[The
Beach Boys] were hoping and expecting more of what had been hits for them all along... They had just returned from a very
successful tour. So they didn't see the wisdom in changing the 'formula.'"
"With Pet Sounds, there was resistance," Brian explained. "There
was a little bit of intergroup struggle. It was resolved in that they figured it was a showcase for Brian Wilson, but it [still]
was The Beach Boys. In other words, they gave in."
With the group on board, there were
a lot of details to be attended to -- cover art, title, track lineup, etc.
On the morning of Feb. 15, the group assembled in the Petting Zoo at the San Diego
Zoo for the cover photo session. The photos of The Beach Boys feeding an assortment of goats was a play on the album's chosen
title, Pet Sounds. The title came from the idea that the sounds heard on the album were Brian's "pet," or favorite,
Exactly who came up with the idea for the title is disputed. Brian has credited
Carl. Carl, on the other hand, thought it was Brian: "The idea he had was that everybody has these sounds that they love,
and this was a collection of [his] 'pet sounds.' It was hard to think of a name for the album, because you sure couldn't call
it Shut Down Vol. 3."
Mike also has laid claim to coming up with the title. "We were standing in the
hallway in one of the recording studios, either Western or Columbia, and we didn't have a title," he recounted. "We had taken
pictures at the zoo and ... there were animal sounds on the record, and we were thinking, well, it's our favorite music of
that time, so [I said], 'Why don't we call it Pet Sounds.'"
Two days after the photo shoot, Brian was back in the studio with his usual assemblage
of session musicians working on a track for the latest Wilson-Asher composition, Good Vibrations.
Already, a definite conception of the Pet Sounds album was forming
in Brian's mind. Around Feb. 23, he provided Capitol a list of 10 tracks that would form the core of the album -- Wouldn't
It Be Nice, Caroline No, Good Vibrations, You Still Believe In Me, That's Not Me, Hang
On To Your Ego, Sloop John B, The Old Man And The Baby, Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
and I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. He indicated two more selections would be added to the album -- one an instrumental,
the other an as-yet-untitled vocal track.
The inclusion of Sloop John B in the early track listing is significant
because it has long been rumored that Brian was forced, against his wishes, to include the song -- a #3 hit -- on the album.
But in late February, Sloop John B was still a month away from release as a single. Neither Capitol nor Brian could
have had any idea how successful it might be. The track listing proves the inclusion of Sloop John B on Pet Sounds
was strictly Brian's choice.
In the weeks that followed, Brian continued to fine tune the album. Good Vibrations
was dropped from consideration. Hang On To Your Ego became I Know There's An Answer. The Old Man And The
Baby was retitled Let's Go Away For Awhile.
The decision to withhold Good Vibrations from the album was a surprise
to The Beach Boys. "At the time, we all had assumed that Good Vibrations was going to be on the album, but Brian decided
to hold it out," recalled Alan. "It was a judgment call on his part; we felt otherwise but left the ultimate decision up to
Simply put, Brian wanted to lavish more attention on the song. After Pet
Sounds was finished, he would focus his full attention on it, eventually spending six months preparing it for release
as a single.
With most of the necessary instrumental tracks recorded for Pet Sounds,
the month of March and the first half of April 1966 were devoted primarily to vocals. A few more songs were tracked -- I'm
Waiting For The Day, God Only Knows and Here Today -- but the emphasis was on getting the vocals recorded.
"We really worked our buns off on those," declared Mike. "We worked and worked
on the harmonies and, if there was the slightest little hint of a sharp or a flat, it wouldn't go on. We would do it over
again until it was right. [Brian] was going for every subtle nuance that you could conceivably think of. Every voice had to
be right, every voice and its resonance and tonality had to be right. The timing had to be right. The timbre of the voices
just had to be correct, according to how he felt. And then he might, the next day, completely throw that out and we might
have to do it over again."
"We spent so much time perfecting the vocals," admitted Alan, "that I think I
got turned off of the album, just by the sheer volume of work we did on it."
The album was completed in mid-April
and submitted to Capitol shortly thereafter. Brian was immensely pleased with the end result. "I was very proud of that album,"
he declared. "The reason we made Pet Sounds was because we specialized in certain sounds. It was our best --
the songs were our pet sounds."
The album was not unsuccessful. Caroline No, released as a solo single
credited to Brian Wilson, went to #32 in the United States. Sloop John B was a #3 single in the U.S. and a #2 single
in Great Britain. Wouldn't It Be Nice charted at #8 in the U.S., while its flip side, God Only Knows, was a
#2 single in Britain. The album broke into the Top Ten in the U.S. and just missed the top spot in Britain.
Yet, in the United States, the performance of Pet Sounds was slightly
off the mark that had been set by its predecessors. It was the group's first studio album in three years not to be certified
as a Gold Record. In the years since its release, the blame has been laid on Capitol Records for failing to understand and
support the record to the degree they might have.
"At Capitol Records, I think they were a little bit afraid of it," theorized Carl
some years later. "They probably thought they would lose a market, or a segment of people."
"This album was so radical compared to the really nice, commercial Barbara
Ann's that we had been making, that they had been so successful in selling, that they just wanted more," explained Bruce.
"They didn't promote Pet Sounds, because they said that it wasn't commercial and the people wouldn't understand
it. Capitol just didn't think that this was the direction that we should take, so they didn't promote it."
"They just kind of put it out," asserted Mike. "But it kept building and building.
Now, it seems that it's a lot of people's favorite album."
No less a talent than Paul McCartney has proclaimed it a personal favorite. "It
was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water," he recounted in 1990. "I love the album so much."
The Beatles' producer, George Martin, also has sung the praises of the album.
"The first time I heard Pet Sounds," he recalled, "I got that kind of feeling that happens less and less as
one gets older and more blase ... that moment when something comes along and blows your mind. Hearing Pet Sounds
gave me the kind of feeling that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and you say, 'What is that? It's fantastic!' It
gives you an elation that is beyond logic."
In 1995, nearly 30 years after the album was released, a panel of some of the
most successful musicians, songwriters and producers in rock music was assembled by Britain's MOJO magazine
to determine the "Greatest Album Ever Made." When the balloting was completed, the winner was Pet Sounds.
Two years later, the album was accorded yet another honor, when it became one
of the few individual albums to which a boxed set has been devoted. The Pet Sounds Sessions, a four-CD package,
provided a thorough exploration of the album's construction via tracking session highlights, a complete set of vocal-less
backing tracks, a counterpart set of vocals-only mixes, alternate versions of songs, copious documentation and -- most significantly
-- a stereo mix of the album.
For many years, Pet Sounds was not available in a true stereo mix.
Brian, nearly deaf in one ear, had submitted the album to Capitol only in monaural form. Although Capitol had released an
electronically-rechanneled version in the mid-Sixties, a true stereo rendition had remained elusive. Then, in 1996, in conjunction
with the album's 30th anniversary, the original master tapes were accessed and a stereo mix finally constructed. Until now,
however, that mix has been available only as part of the boxed set. This CD offers the stereo mix, together with Brian's classic
mono mix, in a single disc format.
"It certainly was a groundbreaking album," Carl reflected several years ago. "It
was just so much more than a record; it had such a spiritual quality. It wasn't going in and doing another top ten. It had
so much more meaning than that."
And, of course, it still does.