Read these great comments and interview from Brian Wison and the Beach Boys on their remarkable album Pet Sounds–today still considered by many as one of the greatest and most important albums of all time.
BRIAN WILSON INTERVIEW
(On February 1, 1996, nearly thirty years to the date when they began writing together, Brian Wilson and Tony Asher joined compilation co-producer David Leaf at Capitol Records to share their memories from the Pet Sounds era.)
Interviewer: Pet Sounds was considered a departure, but if we listen to “Kiss Me Baby” or “She Knows Me Too Well” or “Let Him Run Wild” or “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” we certainly hear you going in that direction. But in 1965, we also heard “California Girls” and “Help Me Rhonda” and the Party! album. Do you remember when and why you decided to do something different?
BRIAN: “Well, you wanna know the real story behind that? I wanted to create something that I thought would bring an adequate amount of spiritual love to the world. And there was a lot on my shoulders back in those days, you know. Life was tough. It really was. But I did it. We did it. I guess you can be proud of yourself.”
Interviewer: Let’s start by talking about each song. Tell me what you remember, either about the writing of it or the tracking or the vocal session.
“WOULDN’T IT BE NICE”
BRIAN: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ was not a real long song, but it’s a very ‘up’ song. It expresses the frustration of youth, what you can’t have, what you really want and you have to wait for it.”
Interviewer: You once said that you showed Dennis a special way to cup his hands on the vocal session. Could you tell me about that?
BRIAN: “Well, he had a lot of trouble singing on mike. He just didn’t really know how to stay on mike. He was a very nervous boy. Very nervous person. So I taught him a trick, how to record and he said, ‘Hey Brian. That works great. Thank you!’ And I said, ‘It’s okay, Dennis: He was really happy. I showed him–not how to sing, but I showed him a way to get the best out of himself–just ‘cup’ singing.”
“YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME”
“You Still Believe In Me’ was more of what I would call a man who would not be afraid to take all of his clothes off and sing like a girl because he had feelings for people from that perspective. I was able to close my eyes and go into a world and sing a little more effeminately and more sweet–which allows a lot more love to come down through me, you know what I mean?… It’s like Kenny Rogers. There’s an example of a guy who has a fairly masculine sounding voice. ‘You Still Believe In Me’ was quite the opposite.”
“THAT’S NOT ME”
“A very Mike Love-ish kind of a trip. He just really nailed it, real powerful voice, very souped-up kind of a sound. Tony and I actually didn’t even really realize who we were writing it for. We didn’t really write for anybody; we just wrote the songs. So we had full carte blanche to create these songs.”
“DON’T TALK (PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER)”
“(Whistles) Oh boy, that’s a beautiful song. Some of these songs just came real fast… That’s wonderful, a lot of love in it. Tony had remarked to me many times while we were writing that he very much liked how I sang… People say, ‘Hey Brian, you sound good. You’re doing good.’ That helped me out, got me going.
“[Don't Talk] was something that I think was the result of the fact that there are so many different ways to tell somebody you love them, and I think that we had a real special kind of grip on that kind of thing. No one walked in the room and said, ‘Hey, you two, break it up.’ There was nothing like that at all. It was like God had given us something to do together. Like, (stentorian voice) ‘Hey, Wilson and Asher, get out here.”
“I’M WAITING FOR THE DAY”
“Vocally, I thought I sounded a little bit weird in my head. That’s the one cut off the album I didn’t really like that much. But, you know, it’s okay, it’s not a case of liking or not liking it; it was an appropriate song, a very, very positive song. I just didn’t like my voice on that particular song.”
“LET’S GO AWAY FOR AWHILE”
“If you want to know the truth, I think Burt Bacharach had influenced me a little bit with that. If you really analyzeit and you think about it, there were a lot of chord changes similar to the way he would put something together. And I think that his music had such a profound thing on my head; he got me going in a direction. I’m definitely proud of that tune.”
Interviewer: It is a spectacular cut. Talk about the dynamics of that track.
BRIAN: “We used kettle drums toward the end of the song where it goes (sings). We used dynamics like Beethoven. You know, Beethoven, the dynamic music maker.”
Interviewer: Speaking of the kettle drums and the dynamics, this album really has incredible percussion on it.
BRIAN: “There are dynamics throughout the album, and if you want to know the truth, I think I was trying to emulate Phil Spector in some ways with my tracks.”
Interviewer: Before we get back to the album, let’s talk about that just for a second. There is a clarity of instrumentation on your records vs. the “Wall Of Sound.” Can you tell me what it was about Spector’s work that impressed you?
BRIAN: “Well, he had it in his mind. He knew in his head what he wanted before he got to the studio, obviously. What had happened was, I’d been called down to Gold Star a couple times by Phil Spector, and I think he really wanted to teach me a little bit about production. I didn’t know that at the time because I was just a young, naïve little guy. But later on I realized he was there to help me, and he was there to teach me about something.”
Interviewer: Of what you watched, observed and learned, how did it specifically influence you as a producer?
BRIAN: “I learned that he would say ‘Let’s hear the electric piano,’ and he’d walk toward the window in the booth and he’d look and [he'd listen and] he’d go, ‘That’s what I want’ ‘That’s good’. ‘All right, let’s do this.’ Like in Creation. ‘It is good.’ What it really came down to is he taught me how to create records.”
Interviewer: So it was that you learned how he did it, not the result, because your results were obviously very different from his.
BRIAN: “I think that he was there just to let me know how to create a record versus how you go in and try to make a record. He taught me more how to do that.’
Interviewer: You once talked about how you learned from him that if you had a piano and a guitar and combine them together that created–
BRIAN: “A third sound. You get a different sound.”
Interviewer: Tell me about that.
BRIAN: “Well, I used that in Pet Sounds. ‘I Know There’s An Answer–you’ll hear an organ and a tack piano together. It’s really neither of those sounds. It’s like a completely new sound. A different sound. Combining one thing to make another thing. It’s amazing.”
Interviewer: Let’s get back to our “song by song” discussion. We were up to “Sloop John B,” the one song on the album you didn’t compose. Tell me about it.
BRIAN: “Al Jardine called me up and said, ‘I want the Beach Boys to do ‘Sloop John B.’ The Kingston Trio had a version, and I’d never heard it so he brought The Kingston Trio record over, and he played it for me. I learned the song and I arranged it.”
“GOD ONLY KNOWS”
“That was a vision that Tony and I had. It’s like being blind but in being blind, you can see more. You close your eyes; you’re able to see a place or something that’s happening.”
Interviewer: There are two different versions of the song on the box…one where you sing the lead and then the one from the actual album, with Carl on lead. How did you decide whose voice was right for that one?
BRIAN: “Well, I thought I was gonna do it. As the song progressed, I said, ‘Hey, I feel kind of natural doing this.’ But when we completed creating the song, I said my brother Carl will probably be able to impart the message better than I could, so I sacrificed that one. But he had a good time singing it.”
Interviewer: “I Know There’s An Answer” began life as “Hang On To Your Ego…” Were you having trouble hangin’ on to your ego? Is that what that song was about?
BRIAN: “Yeah. I had taken a few drugs, and I had gotten into that kind of thing. I guess it just came up naturally.”
BRIAN: “Here Today’ was probably one of the mystery songs on the album. I don’t really know what it’s about. I liked it, but yet I didn’t. I don’t really identify with that song like I do with ‘You Still Believe In Me’, or ‘Caroline, No.’ It was just one of those songs in there, one little song.”
Interviewer: But it fit in with the album?
BRIAN: “Yeah, it fit in good.”
“I JUST WASN’T MADE FOR THESE TIMES”
BRIAN: “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ had what I would call a fairly behind-the-beat– not ‘behind-the-beat’ meaning in back of the beat, but getting behind the beat and being able to create a song like that from a place.”
Interviewer: Where did the idea to use the Theremin come from?
BRIAN: “I was so scared of Theremins when I was a kid, the thing about the ’40s mystery movies where they had the (sings) ‘uh-uh-uh-uh-uh’ those kind of witchy, bewitching sounds. I don’t know how the heck 1 ever arrived at the place where I’d want to get one–but we got it.”
BRIAN: “The instrumental called ‘Pet Sounds’? That was [originally] ‘Run James Run! It was supposed to be a James Bond theme type of song. We were gonna try to get it to the James Bond people. But we thought it would never happen, so we put it on the album.”
BRIAN: “Whew! Boy, there you go. That’s something that stood over the years. Obviously, probably my favorite cut on the album. Just absolutely blew my mind away. The song itself was taken and put in a context, musical context over at Western Recorders. We gave it life. Gave it new life, like a breathing person, like the life of a song or something. And quite a heavy experience for me. I liked my voice on that one. My dad said, he goes, ‘You know what, son?’ he said. ‘You oughta speed that up a whole note; it’ll sound better] So that’s what we did. So ‘Caroline, No’ as people hear it is actually not really the sound that we did when we recorded it. That’s kind of a weird story.”
Interviewer: Tell me about Banana and Louie.
BRIAN: “Oh, my two dogs. Oh, I loved them. [Quieter] They both died. I took a tape recorder and I recorded their barks. And we went down and we looked through some sound effects tapes and we found a train. So we just put it all together.”
Interviewer: Do you remember what effect you were looking for to end the album?
BRIAN: “I’m not really sure. I can’t answer that question.”
Interviewer: Do you remember how the album came to be called Pet Sounds?
BRIAN: “Yeah. Carl had thought of that.”
Interviewer: It’s now thirty years later. How does it feel when people still come up to you on the street and say–
BRIAN: “They say this, invariably, all the time. I run into people and they go, ‘Brian, Pet Sounds is my favorite album. I love all your music.’ Thanks buddy, thanks a lot! Really, unbelievable.”
Interviewer: Can you relate to that…that you’re the guy who did that record?
BRIAN: “Yeah. Of course.”
Interviewer: We all know that Tony wrote a lot of the lyrics. From your point of view, was there a musical contribution as well?
BRIAN “From Tony? At the time I was writing, I wasn’t aware of anything called an interchange on a higher level of music, I didn’t know about that. I don’t know, but it seems like when I wrote with him, it went in a whole different direction.”
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the contributions of a few of the musicians who played on Pet Sounds…HAL BLAINE.
BRIAN: “He was like the drum beat, the tempo man. He gave the right tempos. As a matter of fact, he came up with more of the tempos than I did. I just said, ‘Look. I want it to feel like this. I want it to be happy, I want it to feel ‘up’ happy and very straight ahead’ and we would move around, he would move his hands and I went, ‘Yeah, there we go’ and he’d just take it from there.”
BRIAN: “Carol Kaye was the greatest bass player I’ve ever met.”
BRIAN: “Besides being a friendly guy, Lyle also had a hell of a grip on his bass-playing and everybody wanted him. He was one of the regulars in Hollywood. And Ray Pohlman, of course, too.”
Interviewer: I think Hal Blaine told me that Ray was one of the guys who might help you work out a chord chart.
BRIAN: “Yeah! He did. I would write one thing and then he would–we didn’t have a way to Xerox then, so we had to write ‘em all out. So he did it the long way. He had to write each one and gave ‘em to the guys.”
Interviewer: You would have written it on the piano and then he would transpose it for the guitar…for the other guitar players?
BRIAN: “He would do that. Yeah.”
BRIAN: “Whew, he was dynamite. Just a really amazing guitar player; that guy was dynamite. He played the RUN introduction on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice: Whew! Jazz guitar, any kind of guitar you want, he could play.”
BRIAN: “Oh yeah! He was– he had what do you call it, dano [Danelectro] bass? Six-string bass. He was great. He played really good bass. I got the best out of him. A dano bass, you can get a little higher bass sound, and you can double with Ray Pohlman, put Ray Pohlman down on the bottom and put Bill Pitman on the top and you’ve got two bass parts. That’s how we got Billy Pitman to cook. We got him cookin.’”
AL DE LORY.
BRIAN: “Oh wow. Great harpsichord player, really good harpsichord player, the best. Good keyboardist.”
BRIAN: “Larry Knechtel was a bass player, and he also played organ. He was on ‘California Girls’ I think, on the organ.”
Interviewer: On saxophone you had Steve Douglas…
BRIAN: “Yeah, Steve Douglas was also my contractor, and he played, I think, saxophone for Phil Spector. Luckily, I got a hold of the guy. He was a great player, he was really good. He was the tenor. Jay Migliori was the baritone player on our sessions.”
BRIAN: “Oh! Don Randi! Great keyboard player. One of Phil Spector’s best musicians. Really, really, really heavy dude.”
Interviewer: What made him so good?
BRIAN: “Well, he just had a good smile and a very bright face you know and everybody used to like him. He’d tell jokes. Hal Blaine and Don Randi were your cut-ups, the cut-up guys, Abbott and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy.”
BRIAN: “Oh! Billy Strange! Do you remember ‘Sloop John B?’ Do you wanna hear what happened? I cut the track, right? Billy Strange was playing direct in the booth. Guitar. Direct in the booth. He was not in the studio. And after it was done, I went ‘Well, that’s a wrap, guys! That’s it!’ He goes, ‘Hey, wait a minute. What if I played a third above that (sings) do-do-do-do-doot.’ And we overdubbed that onto it and the whole track started to sparkle! I couldn’t believe it, you know? It was like the difference between night and day. Really something.”
Interviewer: I’ve talked to many of the musicians who played on your sessions, and they said you would come in and play them the song and individually work out their parts with them. Tell me how would you interact with the musicians.
BRIAN: “Well, I was sort of a square, you know? 1 got there and I go, ‘Oh, let’s see, um uh–’Yeah! We would try each one separately. We usually started with keyboards– you know, the basic, keyboards. Then we’d go to drums. Then we’d go to horns, then violins if they were live. We usually didn’t do live violins. We’d overdub the violins.”
Interviewer: Glen Campbell played on Pet Sounds. What did you like about his playing?
BRIAN: “I think it was just that his energy was present in the room. I think we got a lot of that out of him, besides just his guitar.”
Interviewer: At the start of the session, you would come in with a finished song and an arrangement?
BRIAN: “Sometimes I’d just write out a chord sheet and that would be for piano, organ, or harpsichord or anything. Keyboard charts.”
Interviewer: So you had the arrangement in your head and now you had to teach it to them?
BRIAN: “Well, yeah. They’d play it. They had a chord sheet. I wrote out all the horn charts separate from the keyboards. I wrote one basic keyboard chart, violins, horns, and basses, and percussion. I’d say– we’d start with Julius Wechter. ‘Can I please hear the sleigh bells?’ (choo, choo, choo, choo) ‘Nah, throw ‘em away. Let’s hear– how ’bout some tambourine, maybe? Let’s hear a tambourine. Yeah, that’s it! We’ll take a tambourine:”
Interviewer: Hal Blaine told me he carried something he called his “bag of tricks”?
BRIAN: “Yeah! That bag of tricks, He’d have like 20 different things. He’d pull out all kinds of stuff…like a tambourine, sleigh bells, he’d pull out a– (sound effects)”
Interviewer: What was it about these musicians that made you feel so comfortable?
BRIAN: “Well, for one thing, I was very comforted by the fact that they were Phil Spector’s musicians, so I felt very at home with them. You know, as much as I loved his records, I loved his musicians, too. So, we had a thing going, where I used to joke about it. I used to say, ‘You guys would rather play on a Brian Wilson session than a Phil Spector session.’ They’d laugh; all they’d do is laugh. They wouldn’t answer. And they’d laugh at me, you know. I was just kiddin’ around.”
Interviewer: You once said that during this album, you and Carl had prayer sessions.
BRIAN: “Well, not a whole bunch of ‘em,’ we had a couple prayer sessions. I told Carl that–I believe I told this to Tony– I’m not sure if I did or not. I told Carl that I wanted to create or make an album that would bring love to people where they don’t really realize that they’re being loved at the level that we were doing it. And he and I would pray for people, we’d pray for the album– it was quite a ritual we got going, you know. It’s really quite the album project.”
Interviewer: There’s a true spiritual feeling to the record.
BRIAN: “Oh, absolutely. The record was meant to be spiritual, like I told Carl. It was meant to be. That album was meant to be a spiritual type of thing. Now, this new repackaging and box set of Pet Sounds–it feels good in my heart. It’s like, right on time, you know what I mean? Of all the things we could be doing in the whole darn world, we’re here, kinda like, slowly, just getting this Pet Sounds thing to come into being, you know, and it’s really quite amazing.”
Interviewer: Some people are going to be discovering Pet Sounds for the very first time.
BRIAN: “That’s what I told Melinda [Brian's wife] the other night. I said that people that never, ever knew of that kind of music, they’re going to listen to the record and they’re gonna go, ‘Gee whiz, I never knew that there could be that kind of record!”
Interviewer: So you’re going to be bringing a whole bunch of new love to the world.
BRIAN: “Yeah. Absolutely. This is gonna be a good year.”
Interviewer: In 1966, the response to Pet Sounds, particularly in England, was overwhelming, but it wasn’t a big seller. Did it bother you that more people didn’t hear the album?
BRIAN: “In 1966, they [the Beach Boys] were received by the British people very, very highly, they were received very warmly. And the people over there seemed to have had an affinity with our music. But, actually, I was very heartsick. I was very, very, very upset that it didn’t sell like I thought it would. But let’s put it this way-30 years is a long time in the music business, in the recording industry and when you cycle– an album cycle– a 30 year cycle has got to mean a lot more than if we did it in 1970, even. Because that album has been bouncin’ around for years, and these people that’ll pick up on it for the first time, good for them! I want that to be. I think it’s a good thing.”
Interviewer: One of the things that we’re going to have in the box set is an interview with Paul McCartney in which he talks about his love for the album.
BRIAN: “Boy, I’ve heard a million stories from Paul McCartney. I heard that he thought it was the best album ever made, I heard that ‘You Still Believe In Me’ was his favorite cut. I’ve heard a bunch of stories about that. Well, it’s mutual admiration. Right?”
Interviewer: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about the time when you made the record that comes to mind when we’re talking about Pet Sounds.
BRIAN: “Let’s put it this way. For the first time in my life, I did something that I wanted to do from my heart– what my real music is. You know what I mean? The first time in my whole life that I really, really, really did something that I thought was good. Not listening to ‘Be My Baby’ or ‘Ten Little Indians’ or, you know, ‘Amusement Parks USA’– Pet Sounds was something that was absolutely different. Something I personally felt. That one album that was really more me than Mike Love and the surf records and all that, and ‘Kokomo.’ That’s all their kind of stuff, you know?”
Interviewer: Is there anything in particular that you think is the coolest musical invention that you came up with, or one vocal that you think is the best?
BRIAN: “If it’s a case of spiritual love– I’d have to go with ‘Caroline, No.”
(In between their individual interviews, the creative team was in the studio together to discuss the album.)
Interviewer: Brian, you were just telling me about how you and Tony experienced “God Only Knows.”
BRIAN: “You never know when two people get together. As you grow mentally, I had recalled saying to myself that I think Tony had a musical influence on me somehow. After about ten years, I started thinking about it deeper, my mind got a little more–you know, because I had never written that kind of song. And I remember him talking about ‘Stella By Starlight’ and he had a certain love for classic songs. I think he saw something– like being blind then in your head you see a place or a song– I think we saw that song together. I was, like, how do you explain it? It’s a place.”
TONY: “That’s interesting. I had forgotten about the ‘Stella By Starlight’ thing. It was just an example of a rich kind of songwriting, and I think I mentioned it to him and that’s interesting ’cause ['God Only Knows' is] a song that’s right up there with that kind of song.”
Interviewer: Brian, why did you pick Tony Asher?
BRIAN: “Oh, a lot of reasons. One, I thought he was a cool person. Two, anybody that hung out with Loren Schwartz was a very brainy guy, a real verbal type person. I just felt that there was something there that had to be, you know, that really had to be.”
Interviewer: So to a certain degree it was instinctive?
BRIAN: “Oh yeah. It’s like none of us looked back. Tony and I did not look back to Spector. We went forward, kind of like on our own little wavelength. It wasn’t like we were thinking, ‘Okay, let’s beat Spector,’ let’s out-do Motown.’ It was more what I would call exclusive collaboration not to specifically try to kick somebody’s butt, but just to do it the way you really want it to be. That’s what I thought we did.”
Interviewer: What was it about this guy that it worked so well? How did those writing sessions go?
BRIAN: “As I recall, each song, we kind of got fired up about it. I’d plunk a few things out and he’d say, ‘Hey! What’s that? Wait a minute, what’s that?’ and I’d say ‘I dunno, I’m just playin’ around’ you know, sort of a spontaneity sort of thing– little scary, but what isn’t scary?”
Interviewer: Did you play Rubber Soul for him or did he play it for you?
BRIAN: “I think he played it for me. When I heard Rubber Soul, I said, ‘That’s it. I really am challenged to do a great album.’ Not to try to out-do Rubber Soul ’cause nobody can out-do Rubber Soul’ it’s a thing of its own. But you can do your own thing. You don’t have to panic and say, ‘I can’t do as good as the Beatles’ you know.”
TONY: “You know, there’s something that I wanted to ask you that was related to what David asked you a minute ago– did you and I write differently from the way you wrote with other lyricists? Was there anything different about it?”
BRIAN: “Well, we had our own little chemistry.”
TONY: “Oh, of course.”
BRIAN: “Each collaboration was absolutely different. Can’t compare one to the other at all. No way to compare it.”
Interviewer: Early on, when you were starting out together, you played Tony the tracks that you had recorded. Do you remember what they were?
BRIAN: “No. I did the tracks after we had completed the songs. One at a time, I think I went one at a time.”
TONY: “With the exception of ‘You Still Believe In Me.’”
BRIAN: “Right. I think ‘You Still Believe In Me.. I did a track to that and we wrote to it. But– God! That’s amazing, how you can remember things.”
TONY: “Do you remember, it was called ‘In My Childhood’ and had that little bicycle bell on it?”
BRIAN: “Yes. I remember that. I know.”
Interviewer: Anything else about Tony Asher that we should say to his face, or should we wait to talk about him after we get him out of here?
BRIAN: “Real good. Real funny, David. Oh no, actually, it was quite a vibration, a very, very heavy vibe, like he said. With this new reissue thing, with the box set, it ought to do real well. Oh, yeah, I could say something about Tony. I would like to write with him again and do something, see what we could come up with.”
TONY: “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.”
by Mike Love
We were all milling about the hallway just outside Studio 3 at Western Recorders. From the interior of the booth, the speakers were giving off the incongruous sound of a train passing into the distance. That’s how the album ended — the train passing, the clanging of a bell at a railroad crossing, and a dog barking. Brian was unsure what to call the as-yet untitled album. So with the sound of the dogs barking echoing in my ears, I said, “What about Pet Sounds?”
“Sloop John B” had already been released as a single when in May of ’66 Bruce Johnston took a trip to England. He had with him an acetate of the newly-completed album. Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, and a big Beach Boys fan, brought John Lennon and Paul McCartney by Bruce’s room. They stayed up for several hours listening to this most elaborate effort to date from “America’s Band” — The Beach Boys. A little over a year after the release of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys were voted the #1 group in England. (The Beatles were #2 and the Rolling Stones #3 in the readers’ poll of the British music magazine New Music Express.)
“Good Vibrations,” which I co-wrote with Brian, was the most avant-garde single The Beach Boys had ever created. The single should have, and probably would have been, included on Pet Sounds were it not for the tendency Brian had to try many variations of certain songs. In the case of “Good Vibrations,” this modus operandi reached legendary proportions. “Good Vibrations” cost more to record than any single had up until that time. For that matter, Pet Sounds was probably the most expensive album — with all the numerous vocal sessions, not to mention the many tracking sessions which included the best musicians in the West Coast recording industry. This creative achievement was mind-blowing when weighed against the previous album, The Beach Boys’ Party!, from which “Barbara Ann” was chosen as a single by Capitol promo man Al Coury and went to #1 or #2, depending on what chart you read.
Another incredible thing was the fact that Brian had been absent from the touring group for about a year. Although Brian was a great singer and good bass player, he never was too comfortable with one-nighters and the road. The adulation of the fans did not satisfy him. In fact, his being away from his home environment and the studio caused him more pain than pleasure. So it was with great regret that the rest of the group continued touring without him. Glen Campbell took the sting out of it with his great talent and tremendous sense of humor, keeping us in stitches for six months or so before Bruce joined Carl, Dennis, Alan and myself, and became a permanent member of the group in ’65. Actually, “California Girls” was the first single Bruce sang on with us after going to school on The Beach Boys as one of The Rip Chords, along with Terry Melcher. They did very well with a Beach Boys clone called “Hey Little Cobra.”
At any rate, Brian from ’65 to ’66 and into ’67 was primarily responsible for the greatest creative explosion of any group ever when measured for sheer innovation. Before Pet Sounds, the standard procedure of a record company was to pack an album with 10 or 12 songs, often hastily recorded, to accompany a single. Often, the follow-up single was quite derivative or similar to the hit that preceded it. The Beach Boys, with Brian writing and producing, changed all that. Pet Sounds has been referred to as the first “concept album.”
We had been going out on imaginative limbs since ’62, with changes in tempos and subject matter, and with experimentation and inventive use of instrumentation. One could, in retrospect, hear IT coming. IT arrived in full force with Pet Sounds. In ’65, just one year before, the opening bars of “California Girls” sounded absolutely symphonic.
The use of this type of instrumentation was so distinctly different from the drum-bass-guitar-and-piano rhythm tracks that were the rock ‘n roll sound accompanying our voices ’til then.
The interviews accompanying this Pet Sounds release are self-explanatory, detailed and revealing. What was not covered was the care, and the lengths that were gone to, to make the vocals on Pet Sounds as flawless as they could possibly be. I remember one session in particular at the CBS Records Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The song was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” The instrumental tracks had been recorded. The group was back from touring and we were assembled around the microphones. I was almost always on a separate microphone because when I wasn’t singing lead, I would do the bass part. I loved singing bass and had done so before we were a professional group, just singing with Brian and a couple of friends or relatives, among them my sister Maureen, my aunt Audree Wilson and various school chums of Brian’s. But since I had no volume to speak of in that range, and the others — Brian, Carl and Alan along with Bruce — were singing in full voice or falsetto, it always necessitated an extra microphone for me.
Anyhow, I’ll never forget just how much a slave driver Brian was when he produced the session. We did upwards of 30 takes on just one section of backgrounds for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” About the 20th take, frustrated by what seemed the zillionth attempt to get the sound he was looking for. I started calling Brian “dog ears” (with affection).
They say dogs can hear sounds that humans cannot and I swear Brian must have been part canine because he was reaching for something intangible, imperceptible to most, and all but impossible to execute. Consequently, if one gives Pet Sounds or “Good Vibrations” a listen, we can safely say with some degree of confidence that the vocal performances are as close to perfect as humanly possible. The standard of vocal quality combined with the brilliant arrangements and tracking amounted to a phenomenal effort. This has been rewarded some 30-plus years after in polls placing Pet Sounds as the #1 album of all time and “Good Vibrations” as the #1 Single.
Pet Sounds wasn’t always received so warmly. I remember Brian and I going to a meeting with Karl Engemann, who was assigned to The Beach Boys by Capitol Records as AE-113 man. Karl, one of the nicest men ever in the record business, somewhat sheepishly told us, “Guys, this album is great but couldn’t we get you to do something more like that other stuff?” It was understandable coming from a company which had distributed an unprecedented string of commercial hits from us. For them to go from “Surfin’ USA,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around” and “California Girls,” amongst others to “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “You Still Believe In Me,” etc., was just too much of a stretch. Capitol wasn’t the only area of resistance. I remember Cousin Brucie telling me at least a decade later that when he first heard “Good Vibrations” he hated it. He was the #1 DJ in New York City and was partly responsible for making “I Get Around,” “Surfin’ USA” and “Help Me Rhonda” #1 in New York. Eventually, Bruce Morrow said he got to like “Vibes”–but it had to grow on him.
These changes, the musical equivalent of pushing the envelope, are what has contributed to The Beach Boys’ place in history. Brian in the ’60s was so brilliant and versatile musically, it was a constant source of inspiration and pleasure to be called upon to come up with the lyrics to so many great songs, such as “I Know There’s An Answer.”
I was aware that Brian was beginning to experiment with LSD and other psychedelics, and I prevailed upon him to accept my words for the song and title change from “Hang On To Your Ego” to “I Know There’s An Answer.” The prevailing drug jargon at the time had it that doses of LSD would shatter your ego, as if that were a positive thing.
Brian was already fragile emotionally, having suffered a breakdown in ’64. For his ego to be shattered by the possible influence of drugs combined with increasing self-imposed pressures was just too much. Brian’s drive, determination and innovation is what led McCartney to praise Pet Sounds so highly. I remember Paul years ago at the making of a TV Special (produced by Lorne Michaels and with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in a hilarious sketch) in which they filmed a birthday party at Carl’s house in Malibu. Paul leaned over to Brian and said, “This morning I was drivin’ along, Pet Sounds playin’ in my car, and tears streamin’ from me eyes. When are you gonna give us another Pet Sounds, Brian?”
Well, maybe he will and maybe he won’t ever give us another Pet Sounds, Paul. But you can be assured that you had a part in its creation along with the rest of The Beach Boys. The artistic competition The Beatles provided only spurred ourselves and others onto new musical heights. Sometimes in the midst of endless attempts to make the vocal parts perfect during the making of Pet Sounds, we would get tired and frustrated. But over 30 years later to have Pet Sounds rated by some as the #1 album of all time, we must admit to being proud of our efforts.
Yet there is nothing new under the sun, they say, and all music evolves from what has come before. So whether it’s the Kingston Trio from whom we first heard “Sloop John B” or the Four Freshmen who inspired us and gave us a goal to strive for when it came to harmonies or Phil Spector and his multi-track recording style which influenced Brian’s recording techniques (his all-time favorite Spector song being “Be My Baby”) or the great R&B/doo wop groups of the ’50s and ’60s, all these influences and more were the very fertile soil in which the seeds of Pet Sounds grew. Brian, for certain, was the master gardener. Without him, the fruits of our efforts would never have been so distinctive or prolific.
Little did we know when we first recorded songs about surfing that one day we would be riding the waves of an endless summer in a musical eternity.
Source: Album Liner Notes