Fifty years on, you can read all you want about the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds (and here’s two books that are great), but to really appreciate the intricate nature of the arrangements, you have to turn to the multi-tracks themselves.
Working with session players that could pick up the ideas tumbling from his head (and hurriedly transcribe them), Brian Wilson created a sonic tapestry at L.A.‘s Gold Star Studios that still sounds fresh and, as the years go by, otherworldly. Influenced by Phil Spector’s work, along with the textures of the songs of Burt Bacharach and Martin Denny, Wilson created something as unique as his own DNA. Pet Sounds continues to reveal secrets and treasures the more you listen to it--as this series of YouTube mini-docs from user Behind the Sounds reveals.
These videos use the raw session recordings that were released in 1997, and annotates them, pointing out moments of Wilson’s artistry as we hear these classic tracks assembled. (Wilson, it’s said, kept his swearing to a minimum in order to be taken seriously by the musicians.)
An experienced arranger would probably never have come up with the recipe for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” for example: two pianos, three guitars, three basses, four horns, two accordions, drums, and percussion. And certainly not for a pop song. But there it is.
Yet, as amazing as Pet Sounds is, the album was also a cry for help as mental illness began to really take hold of Wilson. The album would be the high point before a slow decline. It’s as if one man couldn’t hold all this art in his head. It was too much. Aware of the endless possibilities of the studio as instrument, and owning a perfectionist nature, Wilson came undone. These docs are an excellent insight into a beautiful, troubled mind, but one that recovered after a long spell. Wilson continues to record and tour, including full performances of Pet Sounds. Click here to find tour dates for Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour."
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.