So you are an adolescent, 14 or 15, maybe older maybe younger. It doesn’t matter. You have a little money in your pocket, something your grandparens slipped to you when your old man was not looking. He hates when they give you money. You were thinking of walking down to the record store and buying a new record for the phonograph. The world seems to be changing daily. There is a war that just a year ago you were sure about because your parents were sure about. Now you are not so sure.
There is all that trouble in the South, young people getting beaten and they seem so much like you except for the color of their skin. There is a lot to think abut and now to top it all off you are reaching that age where thinking about what you are going to do with yourself for the rest of your life is something that teachers and parents are expecting. So some new music definitely is in order something to make you feel better
Mr. Johnson says good afternoon and you wave back going to the new records. You have wanted Rubber Soul for awhile now and still have not bought it. Now you have heard that they are going to have a new record. Then you see it and the cover makes you laugh a little and let’s face it the art of buying just the right album is just as much about the album cover as it is about the band and sometimes even more than the music. Its just the band feeding and petting a bunch of animals. You like the band. They sing the songs that always make you feel better, songs about girls, and surfing and cars. Despite it being a bit whimsical you buy the album and you rush home, open it amd put it on the phonograph. You watch as the arm carries the needle over and drops. The familiar vocals with even a familiar sounding song starts to play.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong
And just like that, everything changes. Its not an album about cars, or surfing or girls. Its a song and album about all the things you have been thinking about. You don’t like it much, can’t help but feel a little disappointed. There is that song Caroline No. It will be all over the radio soon. You play the record again, and again until suddenly you can’t stop playing it.
The band of course is The Beach Boys and the album Pet Sounds.
In 1965 Brian Wilson left the touring band that was the Beach Boys to concentrate on writing and recording. His first attempt The Beach Boys Today was a masterpiece. In 1966 he wrote and recorded the second greatest album of all time. Considered by many to be a solo album the Beach Boys could not tour the album to promote it. It could not be duplicated live. Wilson was an innovator, still is. The recording techniques and instrumentation were so far in advance of anything out there that it was difficult to wrap your head around the album. The counter culture movement was just beginning but the summer of love was still a year away. When we look back it seems like every youth in America was part of the movement, free love, drugs and protesting a war that was increasingly unpopular. The truth was somewhat different, America’s youth struggled with what was happening in their own country and struggled wth the reasons the generation they were supposed to respect were giving them as to why young American soldiers had to die in a place that many still didn’t even know where it was.
Brian Wilson through his own increasing darkness seems to capture these dark undercrrents on Pet Sounds. Caroline No is a haunting song. For all its brightness Wouldn’t it be nice is not a happy song, its hopeful longing of a better world, a kinder world. God Only Knows, I’m Waiting for the Day, Put Your Head on my shoulder all have these darker undercurrents running through them. It is a true masterpiece of music and lyric by a man who seemed to grasp perfectly that the world was on the brink of change.
I have never been a Beach Boys fan, and I like only a few songs outside of Pet Sounds. I bought the album because its part of one of those lists, specifically Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Albums where it is rated #2. When I first heard the album I was doing what I did going through my music excited because I was closing in on The Beatles certainly one of my all time favorite bands. Then one day I actually heard what I was listening too. I had listened to the album in rotation probably a few times and then one day it caught me at just the right moment, a quiet day, my feet up and the first thing I did was not something so unusual. I listened to the song Caroline No twice. When you think of the Beach Boys that kind of song is not what you think about. I have the album on CD, sure wish I had it on vInyl, really wish I had it on original 1966 vinyl but oh well. The second thing I did was stop the next CD and listen to Pet Sounds again and then a third time and a fourth. I didn’t listen to anything for the rest of the day afterwards but the next morning I began the day with coffee and another playing before I allowed it all to move on. I am still not a Beach Boys fan, I just can’t get past all the high vocals as good as they are and while the kid in my story likes car songs and surfing songs I can handle only so many. Yes the Beach Boys are more than those kinds of songs but when someone mentions them there is a certain sappy feeling that comes over me, like artificial sweetener for your tea.
Pet Sounds is the exception. If you have not listened to the album look it up. I hear you can do this digitally now. Really listen to it and enjoy it.