Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Pet Sounds - Track by Track

The Beach Boys stand front and center in a genre they clearly own: California Surf. When they (or should I say Brian?) nixed the surf theme, it did nothing to negate the image. California Surf wasn't merely a musical genre, it was a lifestyle. Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds exemplified angst of American Youth. It is as timely in 2017 as if was in 1966. Here it is, track by track.

AM's focus is promoting what was, and is, exemplary rock 'n' roll. Pet Sounds of course hovers at the top. It's an LP that, like Sgt. Pepper, is a benchmark, one that we go back to again and again. At 51, Pet Sounds still has its luster.


1. Wouldn't It Be Nice 
(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, Mike Love); Lead vocals: Brian Wilson (verses), Mike Love (bridge). Instrumental track recorded Jan. 22, 1965, Gold Star Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Larry Levine. Vocals recorded March-April 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Ralph Balantin. Released July 18, 1966 as Capitol single 5706. Entered Billboard "Hot 100" July 30, 1966; on chart 11 weeks; peaked at #8 Sept. 17, 1966.

A pop masterpiece alongside "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations," "Wouldn't It Be Nice" expresses "the need to have the freedom to live with somebody," according to Brian. "The idea is, the more we talk about it, the more we want it, but let's talk about it anyway." The song is one of the few for which Tony Asher wrote the lyric by himself. "I took the tape home and came back a day or two later with the lyric completed." Mike Love's writing credit is for the "Good night, my baby/Sleep tight, my baby" lines in the song's fade, which so predominately features his vocals. The backing vocals on the song were especially problematic for the group during recording. "We re-recorded our vocals so many times, but the rhythm was never right," recounted Bruce. "We would slave at Western for a few days, singing this thing, and Brian would say, 'No, it's not right, it's not right.'

2. You Still Believe In Me 
(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocal: Brian Wilson. Instrumental track recorded Nov. 1, 1965 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Instrumental introduction recorded Jan. 24, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Vocals recorded January-February 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA.

Highlighted in the article "Pet Sounds" (10.19.15) Originally titled "In My Childhood," explaining the bicycle bell and horn (?).




3. That's Not Me 
(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocals: Mike Love (verses); Mike Love and Brian Wilson (chorus). Basic track recorded Feb. 15, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA.
Additional instrumentation recorded February or March 1966 at Western Recorders, CA.
Vocals recorded February or March 1966 at Western Recorders, CA.

"I think That's Not Me reveals a lot about myself," Brian said in 1976. "Just the idea that you're going to look at yourself and say, 'Hey, now look, that's not me,' kind of square off with yourself and say, 'This is me, that's not me.'" A funny (read that as unusual take on the "Child is Father to the Man" ideology.  "That's Not Me" is the only song on Pet Sounds on which The Beach Boys played the basic track. Brian filled out the sparse track (only drums, organ, guitar and tambourine) with overdubs from several of his usual crew of session players. It is the only track on the LP that does not feature strings, horns or woodwinds.

4. Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) 

(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocal: Brian Wilson. Instrumental track and lead vocal recorded Feb. 11, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. String overdub recorded April 3, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA; engineered by H. Bowen David.

"Don't Talk" is one of two Brian Wilson "solo" recordings on Pet Sounds (the other is "Caroline, No"). Brian sings the lead vocal with no backing vocals. Writing the song proved challenging, Tony Asher recalled. "It's an interesting notion to sit down and try and write a lyric about not talking. That came out of one of those conversations where Brian and I were talking about dating experiences... I think at some point we were talking about how wonderful non-verbal communication can be between people." One of the defining moments of the track for Don't Talk is the point at about 1:50 into the song where the bass line simulates the beating of a heart after Brian implores, "Listen, listen, listen." )Biased Commentary: Shear genius.

5. I'm Waiting For The Day 
(Brian Wilson, Mike Love); Lead vocal: Brian Wilson. Instrumental track and string overdub recorded March 6, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Vocals recorded March 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Ralph Balantin.

Brian has indicated that "I'm Waiting For The Day" is "the one cut off the album I didn't really like that much... 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." (Commentary: Oh Brian, it's so beautiful and so appropriate.)

6. Let's Go Away For Awhile 
(Brian Wilson); Recorded Jan. 18, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA.
String and flute overdubs recorded Jan. 19, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA.
Released Oct. 10, 1966 as the B-side of Capitol single 5676(Good Vibrations).

Originally recorded with the designation Untitled Ballad, this song apparently had several tentative titles before Brian settled on "Let's Go Away For Awhile." A Feb. 23, 1966 Capitol memo lists the song by the title "The Old Man And The Baby." In 1967, Wilson said, "I think that the track "Let's Go Away For Awhileis the most satisfying piece of music I have ever made. I applied a certain set of dynamics through the arrangement and the mixing and got a full musical extension of what I'd planned during the earliest stages of the theme. The total effect is ... 'let's go away for awhile,' which is something everyone in the world must have said at some time or another. Most of us don't go away, but it's still a nice thought. The track was supposed to be the backing for a vocal, but I decided to leave it alone. It stands up well alone."


7. Sloop John B. 

(Traditional, arranged by Brian Wilson); Lead vocals: Brian Wilson, Mike Love. Instrumental track recorded July 12, 1965 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Vocals recorded Dec. 22, 1965 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. New lead vocals and 12-string electric guitar overdub recorded Dec. 29, 1965 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA.

High harmony lead and additional backing vocals recorded January 1966. at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Released March 21, 1966 as Capitol single 5602.

A Beach Boys hit and staple, it is oddly placed on Pet Sounds, despite an incredibly calculated arrangement that fits the Pet Sounds mold.

8. God Only Knows 

(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocal: Carl Wilson. Instrumental track recorded March 10, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Vocals recorded March-April 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Ralph Balantin. Released July 18, 1966 as the B-side of Capitol single 5706(Wouldn't It Be Nice). Entered Billboard "Hot 100" Aug. 12, 1966; on chart 8 weeks; peaked at #39 Sept. 24, 1966.

Even during the writing of the song, Brian and Tony Asher knew "God Only Knows" was going to be something special. "I really thought it was going to be everything it was," recalled Asher, "and yet we were taking some real chances with it. First of all, the lyric opens by saying, 'I may not always love you,' which is a very unusual way to start a love song." For many listeners, the most distinctive aspect of the track is the French horn. "Brian came up to me and sang me the line," remembered horn player Alan Robinson. "He seemed to come up with it on the spot... Absolutely a wonderful line, and I played it. Then, he suggested that I play it glissando [gliding rapidly through the tones]. You can do a sweep on the French horn and get all the harmonic notes in between, maybe eight or nine tones between the five notes."

When it came time to lay down a lead vocal, Brian tapped younger brother Carl to do the honors. "I thought I was gonna do it ... but when we completed creating the song, I said my brother Carl will probably be able to impart the message better than I could... I was looking for a tenderness and a sweetness which I knew Carl had in himself as well as in his voice."

9. I Know There's An Answer 
(Brian Wilson, Terry Sachen, Mike Love); Lead vocals: Mike Love and Alan Jardine (verses); Brian Wilson (chorus). Instrumental track recorded Feb. 9, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Vocals recorded February-March 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA.

"I Know There's An Answer" began life as "Hang On To Your Ego," a song with the same verses, but a different chorus. The original lyrics created quite a stir within the group. "I was aware that Brian was beginning to experiment with LSD and other psychedelics," explained Mike. "The prevailing drug jargon at the time had it that doses of LSD would shatter your ego, as if that were a positive thing... I wasn't interested in taking acid or getting rid of my ego." Alan recalled that the decision to change the lyrics was ultimately Brian's. "Brian was very concerned. He wanted to know what we thought about it. To be honest, I don't think we even knew what an ego was... Finally Brian decided, 'Forget it. I'm changing the lyrics. There's too much controversy.'"

10. Here Today 
(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocal: Mike Love. Instrumental track recorded March 11, 1966 at Sunset Sound, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Bruce Botnick. Vocals recorded March 25, 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Ralph Balantin.

The most overlooked song on the LP, "Here Today" is mostly discussed because of the background chatter audible throughout the track. Examining the importance of just how temporary love can be, the track could have easily been a hit were it not for the strength of the LPs other three dynamic 45s.

11. I Just Wasn't Made For These Times 
(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocal: Brian Wilson. Instrumental track recorded Feb. 14, 1966 at Gold Star Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Larry Levine. Vocals recorded March-April 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA; engineered by Ralph Balantin.

According to Brian, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" reflects his life and his feeling that he doesn't fit in with society. For Tony Asher, that presented a problem. "In many of the other songs, when Brian would express a feeling, I would say, 'Oh, yes, I've had those feelings,'" Asher explained, "maybe not in the same way or the same degree, but I understood them. But this one I didn't relate to. It was more trying to interpret what he was feeling than having this joint feeling in our various ways." "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" features Brian's first experimentation with a Theremin, probably the very first time it had been used on a rock record. "I was so scared of Theremins when I was a kid," admitted Brian, "the thing about the '40s mystery movies where they had those kind of witchy sounds. I don't know how I ever arrived at the place where I'd want to get one -- but we got it." 

12. Pet Sounds 
(Brian Wilson); Recorded Nov. 17, 1965 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. "
Pet Sounds" began life under the title "Run James Run." "It was supposed to be a James Bond theme type of song," explained Brian. "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." The unique percussion sound heard on the track is drummer Ritchie Frost playing two empty (tin) Coca-Cola cans, at Brian's suggestion. "Pet Sounds," btw, has always been a bit of a mystery. Solved: Brian liked sounds, particularly those never before heard on vinyl, dogs barking, a train in the distance, two soda cans knocking together. These he considered his "pet sounds." There has always been speculation, based on the boy/girl issues of the LP that pet referred to "petting," a sixties term for copping a feel. Nope.

13. Caroline, No 
(Brian Wilson, Tony Asher); Lead vocal: Brian Wilson. Recorded Jan. 31, 1966 at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA. Released March 7, 1966 as Capitol single 5610, by Brian Wilson.
Entered Billboard "Hot 100": March 26, 1966; on chart 7 weeks; peaked at #32 April 30, 1966.


Brian called "Caroline No" "one of the prettiest, most personal songs" he'd ever written. "'Caroline No' concerned growing up and the loss of innocence," he explained. "I'd reminisced to Tony about my high school crush on Carol Mountain and sighed, 'If I saw her today, I'd probably think, God, she's lost something, because growing up does that to people.' But the song was most influenced by the changes Marilyn and I had gone through. We were young, Marilyn nearing 20 and me closing in on 24, yet I thought we'd lost the innocence of our youth in the heavy seriousness of our lives."

Of course, the question most asked is: who was Caroline? "Actually, I had recently broken up with my high school sweetheart who was a dancer and had moved to New York to make the big time on Broadway," admitted Asher. "When I went east to visit her a scant year after the move, she had changed radically. Yes, she had cut her hair. But she was a far more worldly person, not all for the worse. Anyway, her name was Carol. And when I sang the lyric for the first time to Brian, I was singing 'oh, Carol, I know.' Brian, understandably, heard it as 'Caroline, No.' which struck me as a far more interesting line than the one I originally had in mind."

"Caroline, No" was issued as a single under Brian's name, the only time his name appeared on a record as a solo artist during the group's years with Capitol Records. The song features only Brian's voice -- he sings the entire lead vocal (doubled) and there are no background vocals. The track was released as a Brian Wilson single at Brian's urging. Capitol knew Brian was the sole singer on the record and that no other Beach Boys had participated, so they were agreeable. Unfortunately, Brian's name was far from a household word, and since there was no substantive promotional campaign to accompany the 45, it met with mixed response and ran out of steam at #32.

The trailer with the barking dogs and passing train was not part of the single and was added specifically to close the album. The dogs were his pets, Banana and Louie, recorded at Western Recorders on March 22, 1966. "I took a tape recorder and I recorded their barks," Brian remembered. "And we went through some sound effects tapes and we found a train. So we just put it together."