Pet Sounds is the eleventh studio album by the American rock band The Beach Boys, released May 16, 1966, on Capitol Records. It has since been recognized as one of the most influential records in the history of popular music and one of the best albums of the 1960s, including songs such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows". Pet Sounds was created several months after Brian Wilson had quit touring with the band in order to focus his attention on writing and recording. In it, he wove elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, coupled with sound effects and unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans and barking dogs, along with the more usual keyboards and guitars.
Although Pet Sounds has been credited as one of the most important albums of all time, its initial release failed to reach gold status, where it reached number 10 on the American Billboard 200. A heralding album in the emerging psychedelic rock style, Pet Sounds has been championed and emulated for its dramatic and revolutionary baroque instrumentation. It has been ranked at number 1 in several music magazines' lists of greatest albums of all time, including New Musical Express, The Times and Mojo Magazine. It was ranked number 2 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
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“Who’s gonna hear this shit?” Beach Boys singer Mike Love asked the band’s resident genius, Brian Wilson, in 1966, as Wilson played him the new songs he was working on. “The ears of a dog?” Confronted with his bandmate’s contempt, Wilson made lemonade of lemons. “Ironically,” he observed, “Mike’s barb inspired the album’s title.”
Barking dogs – Wilson’s dog Banana among them, in fact – are prominent among the found sounds on the album. The Beatles made a point of echoing them on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – an acknowledgment that Pet Sounds was the inspiration for the Beatles’ masterpiece. That gesture actually completed a circle of inﬂuence: Wilson initially conceived of Pet Sounds as an effort to top the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. With its vivid orchestration, lyrical ambition, elegant pacing, and thematic coherence, Pet Sounds invented — and in several senses, perfected — the notion that an album could be more than the sum of its parts. When Wilson sang, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older,” on the album’s magnificent opening song, he wasn’t just imagining a love that could evolve past high school, he was suggesting a new grown-up identity for rock & roll music itself.
Wilson made Pet Sounds without the rest of the band, using them only to ﬂesh out the vocal arrangements. He even considered putting the album out as a solo project, and the ﬁrst single, “Caroline, No,” was released under his own name. The personal nature of the songs, which Wilson co-wrote primarily with lyricist Tony Asher, further distinguished the album from the Beach Boys’ previous hits. Its luxurious sound conveys a heartbreaking wistfulness, as songs such as “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and “I’m Waiting for the Day” bid farewell to the innocent world of the early Sixties.
The album’s centerpiece is “God Only Knows,” arranged with harpsichord, horns, sleigh bells, and strings to create a spiritual feeling Wilson later compared to “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.” In the years to come, countless artists would live in his vision.
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