A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

‘Pet Sounds’ was – and is – an inspiration

Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 7-17, 18 or 19

The Beatles’”Sgt. Pepper” all summer has received justifiable attention on its 50th anniversary, but the wonderful album didn’t spring full-blown from Lennon and McCartney’s heads. It owes a lot to Capitol Records labelmates the Beach Boys, especially their ground-breaking 1966 release, “Pet Sounds” – scheduled to be performed live by Brian Wilson in Illinois and Indiana this fall.

Also, a Beach Boys boxed set just came out: “1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow” with rarities from recording sessions that produced “Smiley Smile” and “Wild Honey” plus concerts featuring “Pet Sound” tunes such as “God Only Knows.”

Speaking of live Beach Boys, the group in various lineups has frequently played Illinois, from Chicago, Rosemont, Tinley Park, Hoffman Estates and Aurora to Rockford, Moline, Springfield, Macomb and Peoria. Wilson and his current band, including Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, are scheduled to perform “Pet Sounds” in South Bend and Florence, Ind., and Rosemont and Peoria, Ill.

“Pet Sounds” benefited immensely in 1964-65 after Brian Wilson was replaced on tour by Glen Campbell, then Bruce Johnston, letting Wilson stay in the studio to refine his creative process, which he mastered as a consummate composer/arranger. The album became a bold and original production, experimental and moody, yet uplifting and visionary.

Author and journalist David Wild, in the hour-long documentary directed by Martin R.Smith currently being cablecast on Showtime, ”The Beach Boys: The Making of ‘Pet Sounds’,” says the record was “where rock ‘n’ roll became a religious experience.”

Songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “Caroline No” and particularly “God Only Knows” bookend a superb collection of 13 tracks.

“Pet Sounds” inspired John Lennon and especially Paul McCartney and was a catalyst for “Sgt. Pepper.

Johnston in the film says after the LP was finished “I took two copies of ‘Pet Sounds’ with me [to England]. Our publicist set up about 25 interviews for me.” Then Lennon and McCartney went to his hotel to hear the record.

“I played them the album and they heard it two times and they were just delightful,” he added.

Wilson and the Beach Boys had started to move away from their successful formula of songs about surfing, hot rods and young love starting in 1965 with “Beach Boys Today,” followed that year by “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)” – featuring the popular “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls” – and then the acoustic “Beach Boys Party!” with mostly cover songs. “Pet Sounds” came next, taking six months to finish and released a year before “Sgt. Pepper.”

The Beatles were evolving, too, releasing the more-challenging “Rubber Soul” (1965), “Yesterday and Today” (1966), and “Revolver” (also 1966) immediately before “Sgt. Pepper.”

“Pet Sound’s” melodies and arrangements, structure and chords, harmonies and performances, instrumentation and lyrics (by Tony Asher on 8 of 11 tracks; 2 are instrumentals ) remain breathtaking.

“If you can pop all of those together in one album, I figure you’ve got it,” McCartney said in a 1990 interview with David Leaf. “It may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of this [20th] century, but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways.”

McCartney conceded that “it was ‘Pet Sounds’ that blew me out of the water. I’ve often played ‘Pet Sounds’ and cried. It’s that kind of an album for me.

“ ‘God Only Knows’ lyrics are great,” McCartney continued. “Those do it to me every time. Very emotional. Always a bit of a choker for me. It’s a really, really great song. [In my] top 10 favorite songs [it’s] at the top of my list.

“If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed ‘Pepper’,” McCartney added. “And my influence was basically the ‘Pet Sounds’ album.”

Wild reminisced about “Pet Sound’s” impact.

“A half a century [later] – this is how good this can be,” he said.

[PICTURED: Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson in 2002 teamed up for a live duet of "God Only Knows" during a Los Angeles fund raiser for McCartney's Adopt-A-Minefield charity. Photo from "Beatlebomb," c/o]

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