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PET SOUNDS TURNS 50
5/16/16

By Phil Gallo

Is there a record more deserving of 40th and 50th anniversary editions, mono and stereo releases, tribute albums and several concert tours by its mastermind than Pet Sounds? The Beach Boys masterpiece was released 50 years ago today and promptly debuted at #106. Contrary to media celebrations, it was not competing with Bob Dylan’s newest.

Hailed in the U.K. and by generations of critics, musicians and fans over the last 49 years, Pet Sounds was deemed too radical of a change at the time of its release. Technically, the Beach Boys always made concept albums–did they sing about anything besides the surf, girls and cars?—but this one was emotionally nuanced and introspective, a wholly new take on what pop music could be.

“God Only Knows.” “I Know There’s an Answer.” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” The animal and train sounds. The oboes, cellos and shifting time signatures. Tony Asher’s lyrics. Forget about the baggage and its legacy: Admiring the musical achievements on this album is the only option.

Despite it peaking at #10  in 1966, it has since been pushed to the top of countless all-time lists: Rolling Stone listed it at #2 all-time, the Library of Congress put it on its registry in 2004 and multiple British publications have put it at #1 over the last 20-plus years. Heralded as it was, Capitol didn’t issue the album on CD until 1989. (Its release even became a plot line in the comic strip Doonesbury ).

Brian Wilson, currently touring the U.K. and playing the album in full, tweeted today “I recorded it to bring love to the world.”

For anyone curious about Pet Sounds’ genesis and creation, no single documentary tells the full story but a triple bill could flesh it out. Watch Denny Tedesco’s The Wrecking Crew, Don WasI Just Wasn’t Made for These Times and David Leaf’s Beautiful Dreamer to get a sense of Wilson’s accomplishment. The creation of the album was also dramatized in the 2015 film Love and Mercy, with Paul Dano as the young Wilson.

And contrary to media reports from Rolling Stone, the Bible and Wikipedia, Blonde on Blonde was not released the same day as Pet Sounds. Dylan’s two-album set had been scheduled for 5/16/66 release, but adjustments to the song “4th Time Around” delayed its release. (At the time there was no uniform release date).

Columbia Records has its official release date as 6/20/66 though the album did not show up in stores until the end of June and it does not chart until 7/23/66. It peaked at #9 close to two months later and in the years since, has been accorded a reverence that puts it up in the stratosphere alongside Pet Sounds.