This edition of Rick’s Picks is a pretty serious one, as I reveal what I think is the greatest album ever recorded. Most of my friends who have talked to me at length about music already know the answer to this…there’s no surprise. The award goes to the 1966 Beach Boys classic “Pet Sounds”.
I can talk endlessly about this album, and often have. I have researched this album to death, and strive to find out every tidbit there is to know about how this album was conceived, written, produced, performed and recorded. Fortunately for me, it’s one of the most documented albums ever recorded. It is the only album that I know of that has an entire box set devoted to it, complete with vocal sessions, instrumental outtakes and studio chatter. The reason? There are a lot of people like me out there.
For those who don’t know, here is a quick overview of the album. When most people think of the Beach Boys, they think of their early material…”Fun Fun Fun, Surfin’ USA and Little Deuce Coupe”. But at the end of 1964, while the Beach Boys were riding high on their surfing, cars and girls persona, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown of sorts, and announced to the rest of the band that he would no longer tour with them. That gave Brian the freedom and the time to explore more in the studio, and come up with much more complex songs. The best evidence of this is the Beach Boys “Today” album, which features songs about cars and girls on side one, and much more introspective songs on side two.
Then Brian heard The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” album, and he was blown away by what he heard. As Brian put it, “It was a whole album of good songs.” So he decided that he needed to come up with his own “whole album of good songs.” While the rest of the band was on tour, he started writing songs with collaborator Tony Asher, and started recording instrumental tracks with the best studio musicians in Los Angeles. When the boys returned from touring, he took them into the studio, played the tracks for them, and they were astounded at what they heard. It was unlike anything they had done before…unlike anyone had done before.
There were strings, harps, bicycle bells, a theremin, multiple layers of instruments, and incredible arrangements. From the first track, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Al Jardine of the Beach Boys once said that most musicians would be proud just to come up with the middle part of that song, let alone the entire composition) to the sad and lovely “Caroline, No”, this album can captivate me like no other. Brian poured his heart and soul into this album, and it’s as beautiful and incredible now as it was in 1966.
I’m in pretty good company with this one. Paul McCartney says that he and John Lennon listened to the album constantly, and that Sgt. Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds. Sir George Martin, the Beatles producer, calls Brian a true musical genius, and that Pet Sounds is the most incredible record ever recorded. Cameron Crowe gives a copy of Pet Sounds to each cast member when he directs a movie to show them the feeling he likes to capture in his films. The list of fans goes on and on…Elton John, Burt Bacharach, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Neil Young, David Crosby, Randy Newman, and many many others.
I own several copies of the album on CD, vinyl, 8-track, reel-to-reel, cassette…stereo versions, mono versions, original versions, import versions. I just can’t get enough of it.
I tend to be obnoxious with this album, talking incessantly about it to anyone who will listen. And I always try to talk people into just listening to the whole thing at least once. I talked at length about it with my friend David Davenport, and when he finally listened to it in its entirety, his response was simply “wow”. He had no idea what an amazing album it was.
So pick up a copy, or ask me to burn a copy for you, but I have to warn you…with every copy I burn for a friend, I supply a manuscript to go with it so the listener can read about every song. It may not be your cup of tea, and I may be overhyping it for you…but I ask you to just give it a listen…a “real” listen with headphones and no interruptions.
Then, let’s talk about it.