There’s no other way to say it, The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” is one of the greatest, most influential works in rock ‘n’ roll history. With its symphonic, psychedelic leanings and lush vocal orchestration, “Pet Sounds” was initially met with a lukewarm response in the US when it was released in May 1966, but its underlying beauty, musical insight, and unconventional instrumentation — barking dogs, a train, bicycle bells, and so on — was clearly ahead of its time. It still is, in a way.
At the helm of this lovely chaos — which turned 50 this year — was Brian Wilson whose mastery of harmony and an attraction to the esoteric added to the album’s longevity and impact. The storied career of this living legend is rife with strife, be it abuse at the hands of his father, battles with mental illness, or erratic, drug-fueled behavior. The beauty and ingenuity found in “Pet Sounds” endures.
CITY gave Wilson a jingle with what we thought were some good questions; he seemed preoccupied and put off by some of them and refused to answer others. There was a barking dog nearby (talk about pet sounds) that clearly had him distracted, and it seemed he couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. Yet it just adds to the genius and mystery of the man.
Wilson will be performing “Pet Sounds” in its entirety along with a handful of Beach Boys hits on Tuesday at Kodak Hall during a 50th anniversary (and final) tour for the album. Here’s your chance to hear some rock ‘n’ roll history from one of its most prolific authors.
CITY: How’s the “Pet Sounds” tour going?
Brian Wilson: The last year and half has been great. We’ve been to Australia, Japan, China, Canada, Europe — all over the place.
Did you have any idea of the impact it would have?
I never knew then; I couldn’t have expected that it was as good as it was, you know?
Some say “Pet Sounds” was Brian Wilson’s first solo record.
No, no. It was a Beach Boys record.
Would you consider it a concept record?
Yeah, it was a concept record. It had a lot of harmonies.
How did you get it out of your head and into music?
The musicians read the notes I wrote and they played it. We recorded it after we got a good sound out of the speakers.
What’s a hit song you wish you wrote?
I don’t know; I can’t answer that question.
What about “Shortenin’ Bread”?
“Shortenin’ Bread” was arranged in the 1970’s and we put it on the “L.A. (Light Album).”
You once said “Shortenin’ Bread” was the best song ever written. Why?
I think so, yeah. Because of the rhythm. The rhythm is good.
Paul McCartney says “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” would not have existed were it not for “Pet Sounds.” He said it’s one of the greatest albums of all time. Do you agree?
Yeah, I do. It is one of the greatest. I think “Sgt. Pepper’s” was a good album, too.
What are you currently listening to?
I listen to 1950’s music — Little Richard, Chuck Berry.
Do you still write?
No, I haven’t written in a few years. But I’m going to start up again in a couple months.
What’s it going to sound like?
It’s going to be rock ‘n’ roll.
A hundred years from now, what will they be saying about Brian Wilson?
I think they’ll say Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were great singers and great songwriters.