Music can often just be something that’s on in the background. You don’t always sing along with it, go to concerts, or be really into a band to be a fan. There are some styles or eras of music that for me—are just something to put on during a long drive to lighten it up, or to help get you through hour 17 of driving through Nebraska.
Call me crazy, but that’s how I generally feel about pop music from the 50s and 60s. It’s typically very upbeat, but just doesn’t have what I look for in terms of music style and composition. Enter the Beach Boys, who formed their band in 1961 out in California. The group consisted of three brothers, a cousin and a family friend. The surf scene was very big during that time so they were coming up with surf/beach-themed music—a sound to piggyback on the culture in a sense. Since a band already existed with the name ‘The Surfers,’ the Beach Boys were born.
Today I’m focusing on the album Pet Sounds which was released in May of 1966. They were working hard on establishing their use of unconventional instruments and elaborate production with layers of sound and harmonies. For that reason, this album is considered groundbreaking and way ahead of its time. You’ll hear elements of pop, jazz, classical, lounge and a sound that seems to somehow incorporate Latin influence. To name a few of the odd instruments used on this album you’ll hear silverware, accordions, sleigh bells, plastic water jugs and even barking dogs.
To many, this is considered a group album in name only as Brian Wilson contributed just about everything toward this album. From composition to production, he virtually did it all. At the time, Wilson’s life was spiraling down into a dark place. He was experimenting heavily with drug use and was rooted in self-doubt—common problems for the time. However, instead of ignoring the problems like most songwriters did at the time, Wilson vented about his desire for isolation by writing this record, which seemed to temper his life from escalating further out of control. When listening to the lyrics, there seems to be a lot of regret and romantic angst on this album, contrary to what some critics have described as an ‘upbeat album.’
The Beach Boys are still active to this day, and they have sold a ton of records. I won’t go into all the acclaim this album has out there, but would encourage you to look it up someday. The accolades for this album’s production and how it changed the face of popular music is staggering. I think on first listen, it may be exactly what I had discussed at the opening—just an album that’s sort of background music. But if you sit down and really listen to what was accomplished on this record, I completely understand the praise.
Give this one a go today. The $5 dollar price tag can’t be beat, and Pet Sounds a classic. Feel free to think of it as background at the grocery store, or really listen to it. Either way, I think you’ll be happy.
Top 3 Tracks: