Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pet Sounds: A Love Story

Social media and the music industry has been buzzing this week with reminders that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys amazing album, Pet Sounds. On September 13th of this year Marilyn, Will, my original Beach Boy buddy Steve Semmler and I (and perhaps a few players to be named later!) are going to see Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and their band perform the entire album (and many other BB classics) live in St. Petersburg, FL. My love for this album is very personal and very intense, and to join in the celebration today I re-post my thoughts from January of 2014 on the artistic masterpiece that is Pet Sounds. Enjoy.

On May 16, 1966, the world of music changed forever. The Beach Boys, known for their breezy anthems about California girls, surfing and hot rods, released an album that no one was quite prepared for or would ever forget. Pet Sounds was a whole new type of popular music. Brian Wilson had written rich orchestrations using instruments no one had heard in a pop song before, and his new collaborator Tony Asher wrote lyrics that captured the hearts of young people everywhere. The album is in the top 5 of most every "greatest albums of all-time" list ever made, and produced several songs that teenagers in 2014 still know today. The Beatles were often quick to point out that there would have been a very different Sgt. Pepper without the influences of and the creative gauntlet thrown down by Pet Sounds. Paul McCartney said this in a 1990 interview:

"It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian's writing. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life---I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs. I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. It's that kind of an album for me."

I first heard the album years after its release when I started collecting Beach Boys vinyls in the mid 1970s. I too was simply stunned at the majesty of the music and the passion of the lyrics. It was immediately one of those rare albums that I could never listen to just a few songs at a time. The album was ONE masterpiece that told ONE story, and needed to be heard as such. Time passed and I replaced the vinyl with a CD. And then more time passed and the CD was borrowed and never returned. The Beach Boys box set contains a number of the songs, but not the entire project, and I had been missing Pet Sounds and longing to listen to it with my now 18 year old son Will. This Christmas, Santa delivered a new copy. And I have been listening over and over and over. It takes me back, not just musically, but to so many lost relationships and moments of heartbreak and discovery. No matter who you are or what era you have grown up in, Pet Sounds is the soundtrack of young love. Many of you know Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows (called by McCartney the greatest song ever written). but those are far from the only gems on the album. Here's the song list and a few of my thoughts with selected lyrics:

* Wouldn't It Be Nice ~ This song totally captures that feeling that you have when you are young and in love that everything would be better if you could go ahead and be together forever. "You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it...but let's talk about it...wouldn't it be nice?" Reality can sometimes bite, but hope springs eternal!
* You Still Believe In Me ~ An unbelievably beautiful melody and lyrics that remind us that true love always seeks to be unconditional. "And after all I've done to you how can it it be that you still believe in me?"
* That's Not Me ~ A song about striking out on your own seeking to make it big only to discover "I could try to be big in the eyes of the world but what matters to me is what I could be to just one girl..." Who hasn't felt that way? When you are young (or old!) and in love there is often nothing else that seems to matter.
* Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) ~ Another ultimate expression of young, passionate love that knows nothing of struggle or issues... "I can hear so much in your sighs, and I can see so much in your eyes. There are words we both could say...but don't talk, put your head on my shoulder. Don't talk close your eyes and be still. Don't talk, take my hand and listen to my heart beat..." Wow. Just wow.
* I'm Waiting For the Day ~ The girl he loves has been hurt, and is not ready to move into a new relationship. But the songwriter will wait. Just as we all did at some point in time. "He hurt you then but that's all gone, I guess I'm saying you're the only one. I'm waiting for the day when you can love again."
* Let's Go Away For Awhile ~ A beautiful instrumental piece.
* Sloop John B ~ Brian's arrangement of an old Caribbean folk song is pure genius. While lyrically a bit out of step with rest of the album (which is not a surprise as it was a single done months before the rest of the project) the orchestrations and harmonies set the bar very high for the rest of the songs that followed. I own an album called Stack ' O ' Tracks that contained Beach Boys songs without the vocals. This song was the highlight- unbelievably complex and strikingly beautiful.
* God Only Knows ~ The first non-religious song ever played on the radio with "God" in the title, it is the essence of young love. "I may not always love you, but as long as there are stars above you, you'll never need to need to doubt it. I'll  make you so sure about it... If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on, believe me. The world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me? God only knows what I'd be without you." I have felt those lyrics so many times in my life...
* I Know There's An Answer ~ A song about discovering truth and dealing with know-it-alls. Originally titled Hang On To Your Ego.
* Here Today ~ One of my very favorites among an album of favorites! It captures the excitement and drama of new young love - "It starts with just a little glance now, right way you're thinking 'bout romance know you ought to take it slower, but you just can't wait to get to know her.  A brand new love affair is such a beautiful thing" - but with this very practical reminder- "but if you're not careful think of all the pain it can bring. It makes your heart feel sad, it makes you feel so bad, it makes your days go wrong, it makes your nights so long, you've got to keep in mind love is here today and it's gone tomorrow. It's here and gone so fast."
* I Just Wasn't Made For These Times ~ One of the hardest parts of being a teenager- whether in the 1960s or today- is fitting in. Who among us hasn't felt like we just weren't made for the times we live in? "Sometimes I feel very sad..."
* Pet Sounds ~ Brian at his instrumental best.
* Caroline No ~ "Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow? Oh Caroline, no." The album ends with young love dying. Because so often that's what young love does, leaving one party -or both- hurt and longing with unanswerable questions- "Break my heart, I want to go and cry. It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die. Oh Caroline, why?" And wondering if you'll ever be able to feel that way again.

Although at age 56 it is often hard to remember, I was once a teenager and a young adult. I also spent 28 years of my life working with teenagers as a youth pastor. There are few things that impact the lives of that age group more than the search for acceptance and love, and the heartbreak that often accompanies that search. If you've "forgotten" what it was like to feel the agony and the ecstasy of those days and those relationships, Pet Sounds can take you there. Over and over again. And that is a memory that will never go out of style.

Love & Mercy,


  1. Anonymous1/08/2014

    After reading this post I found several of the songs and gave them a listen. Absolutely amazing music!!! "I'm Waiting For the Day" and "Don't Talk" both blew me away, and "You Still Believe In Me" is my new favorite song. I just ordered the CD from Amazon. Thanks for exposing me to this incredible album! ~ Chris Cooper

    1. Chris, thank you. I believe my work here is done. :)


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