50 years ago today (May 16), The Beach Boys released their game-changing masterpiece ‘Pet Sounds’. The album received lukewarm responses upon its release, but opinion has since shifted and it is now considered one of the pinnacles of pop music. Here we go behind the story of the 1966 album and dig out some of the the things you might not know about ‘Pet Sounds’.
The instrumental track ‘Pet Sounds’ was originally titled ‘Run James Run’ due to Wilson’s hope that the album would be used as a James Bond theme song.
During the record’s sessions, vocalist Mike Love frequently referred to Brian Wilson as ‘Dog Ears’ due to his ability to hear an entire range of sounds and frequencies that most wouldn’t hear.
Before the album was released, their label Capitol considered shelving the album due to band’s change in sound and in the run up to the album, the label refused to issue a single due to their lack of faith in their new sound.
Brian Wilson claimed that he made ‘Pet Sounds’ after The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ “blew his mind”. “When I heard ‘Rubber Soul’, I said, ‘That’s it. That’s all. That’s all folks.’ I said, ‘I’m going to make an album that’s really good, I mean really challenge me.’”
But according to the late Beatles producer George Martin, The Beatles were heavily influenced by ‘Pet Sounds’ following its release in 1966. “Without ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Sgt. Pepper’ never would have happened….’Pepper’ was an attempt to equal ‘Pet Sounds’.”
Following their trip to San Diego Zoo to shoot the album’s famous cover, the Zoo superintendent John Muth insisted that The Beach Boys were banned from revisiting due to their alleged mishandling of the animals. The band’s vocalist Bruce Johnston denied this and said that, “the goats were horrible!” and that the band “were the ones who suffered”.
The barking heard at the end of ‘Caroline, No’ were actually made by Brian Wilson’s two dogs, Banana and Louie.
The album performed far better commercially in the UK than it did in their native USA. The album peaked at Number 10 in the US upon release but in the UK it reached Number 2 and stayed in the Top 10 for six months.
‘Pet Sounds’ features an array of unorthodox musical instruments including Coca-Cola cans, dog whistles, bicycle bells, dogs barking and the sound of a passing train.
Years after its release, Mike Love admitted that he refused to sing certain lyrics on the album due to their explicit references to drugs. ‘I Know There’s An Answer’ (originally titled ‘Hang On To Your Ego’) in particular caused friction between the group, as Love insisted that Brian Wilson change some of the lines which he deemed glorified the use LSD.
The provisional title for the album was ‘Our Freaky Friends’, before it was changed changed to ‘Pet Sounds’. The attribution to the album’s title has changed various times over the years, with Brian Wilson once claiming it was an intentional tribute to Phil Spector by matching his initials.
The production for the album was based on Spector’s ‘Wall Of Sound’ techniques, which Brian Wilson tried to emulate on ‘Pet Sounds’. One example of this is the doubling of the bass on ‘I Know There’s An Answer’.
71 musicians and engineers are named in the album’s liner notes with 59 of those names being session musicians, including American country musician, Glen Campbell. In actuality, aside from Brian Wilson, several members of the band did very little for the production of the album with much of the album’s instrumentation coming from the session musicians.
Before its release, Brian Wilson was tentative about including the word ‘God’ in the title of ‘God Only Knows’ as he thought that the word would cause the song to be shunned from radio playlists.
“Pet Sounds’ was a hit with both music fans and musicians alike, with Terence Trent D’Arby claiming that he listened to the record at least once a day for six months and in 1997, Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke claimed he based the ‘atmospheres’ of ‘OK Computer’ on the album.
On ‘The Pet Sounds Sessions’ Boxset, an out-take track entitled ‘Dog Barking Session’ includes Wilson’s odd request to bring a horse into the studio. Brian Wiltz (Studio Engineer) is heard to give a curt reply of “I beg your pardon?”.
The album was recorded over a ten-month period beginning in July 1965 and finishing on April 10, 1966. The album was then mixed three days after the final session in one nine-hour sitting, with the album released barely a month later.
The album’s recording cost amounted to $70,000 (today equal to £356,739), a sum that was considered astronomical at the time.
Much of the album was written and composed by Brian Wilson, who following a panic attack in December 1964 withdrew from the group’s touring schedule to begin work on the group’s next album on his own.
Wilson composed ‘Good Vibrations’ in February 1966 and the initial track list for the album included the track. He opted to leave it off the album in favour of continuing work on the track, which was eventually released in October 1966.