BEACH BOYS: The Pet Sounds Sessions and/or How a Classic was Made

The Beach Boys: The Pet Sounds Sessions

November 4, 1997 – The Beach Boys: The Pet Sounds Sessions (Box Set) is released.
# Allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see review of “Pet Sounds” from 1972 below)

The Pet Sounds Sessions is a 4-CD boxed set released on this date in 1997 which compiles tracks from The Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds, and its recording sessions. The album is included in its entirety in its original mono mix, as well as a stereo mix. The set also contains instrumental tracks, vocals-only tracks, alternate mixes, and edited highlights from the recording sessions for many of the album’s songs, as well as several songs not included on the album.

After a tumultuous period when it seemed the Beach Boys were going to add yet another “lost” album to their canon, The Pet Sounds Sessions were finally released, and well worth the wait. More of a high-minded set than the “Good Vibrations” box, “The Pet Sounds Sessions” is an education on how what is considered to be one of the all-time best rock albums ever was made. Taking a recording-booth view, a listener gets treated to several different versions of the album, pulled apart in different ways, hearing stereo versions, studio outtakes, backing tracks, vocal tracks, alternate takes, and a remixed mono version. It can be daunting. The booklet is even more comprehensive, listing interviews with everyone involved with the project, plus admirers like Sirs Paul McCartney and George Martin (it also includes a snide prologue by Mike Love, the inclusion of which was apparently the reason the set was delayed.) At times, reading the booklet is a bit much, all the participants extensively laud Brian and Pet Sounds, it’s easy to feel quickly jaded, (and creepily almost like reading a eulogy) but it’s still very impressive. But then sit back and listen to the depth and sparkle of the newly-mixed stereo version, or soak in the HDCD-mastered mono version, or wonder at the incredible blend of voices singing of bittersweet longing, or hear the alternating sigh and thunder of the unearthed orchestral tracks, and prepare to be… transported.

Stephen Davis, June 22, 1972

Recorded and released in 1966, not long after the sunny, textural experiments of California Girls, Pet Sounds, aside from its importance as Brian Wilson’s evolutionary compositional masterpiece, was the first rock record that can be considered a “concept album”; from first cut to last we were treated to an intense, linear personal vision of the vagaries of a love affair and the painful, introverted anxieties that are the wrenching precipitates of the unstable chemistry of any love relationship. This trenchant cycle of love songs has the emotional impact of a shatteringly evocative novel, and by God if this little record didn’t change only the course of popular music, but the course of a few lives in the bargain. It sure as hell changed its creator, Brian, who by 1966 had been cruising along at the forefront of American popular music for four years, doling out a constant river of hit songs and producing that tough yet mellifluous sound that was the only intelligent innovation in pop music between Chuck Berry and the Beatles.

Previous Beach Boy albums were also based on strong conceptual images — the dream world of Surf, wired-up rods with metal flake paint, and curvaceous cuties lounging around the (implicitly suburban and affluent) high school. It was music for white kids; they could identify with the veneration of the leisure status which in 1963 was the ripest fruit of the American dream. It wasn’t bullshit, you could dance your silly brains away to “Get Around” or “Fun Fun Fun” if you felt like it.

But Pet Sounds….nobody was prepared for anything so soulful, so lovely, something one had to think about so much. It is by far the best album Brian has yet delivered, and it paradoxically began the decline in mass popularity that still plagues this band. It also reflected Brian’s preoccupation with pure sound. In fact, the credits on the new edition of Pet Sounds read: “This recording is pressed in monophonic sound, the way Brian cut it.” It’s a weird little touch. The tone of it is so mythologizing it sounds as if Brian were no longer among us.

The love songs of Pet Sounds begin with the gorgeous theme of frustrated mid-Sixties blueballed adolescence, “wouldn’t it be nice to stay together, hold each other close the whole night through?…” That question lays the entire premise of the album immediately in front of us. “You Still Believe In Me,” with Brian’s lovely harpsichord playing, carries the affair a little farther, through and past indescretion into the reconciliation of “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder),” sung in Brians’ wrenching, melting butter falsetto with the gentle lyrics of Tony Asher, Brian’s major collaborator in this period, at the top of their form. There are also the perceptive songs of anxiety, malaise and self-doubt — “That’s Not Me,” “I’m Waiting For the Day,” a tribute to the larger-than-life echo chambers of Phil Spector, the striking choral ensemble of “God Only Knows” and the angst-laden “I Know There’s An Answer.” Each of these tunes has its own singular flavor, one little brilliant touch — the slur of a baritone saxophone or the luxuriant tintinnabulation of Brian’s omnipresent chimes — that puts it apart from the body of the whole record.

The Pet Sounds story ends unhappily, or at least stoically. “Here Today” is an angry blaster, and portrays a pessimism and disaffection that jars with the previous optimism. It is the end of the affair, and our persona is clearly pissed. “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is an expression of general disenchantment with just about everything, rendered politely of course, in a low-key manner. These two tunes, like the rest of the record are great not only because of the lush, dramatic arrangements, but because the strangest of the brothers Wilson has his psyche on the pulse of universal subjectivity. Being extremely aware of fantasy himself, Brian knows how most people think.

Three cuts are impossibly dated and don’t even enter into consideration: a boring cover of “Sloop John B.” that had some success as a single (with all the genius on this record, Capitol Records chose this as the single because it probably sounded truest to preconceptions about the Beach Boy “formula”). The two instrumentals, “Pet Sounds” and “Let’s Go Away For Awhile,” are pretty mood pieces and that’s all.

The final episode of Pet Sounds is “Caroline, No,” three minutes of heartbreaking pathos, a haunting ballad that is the guts of hapless melancholy, the hollow and incredulous feeling at the loss of a lover.

Ah, Pet Sounds. Ah, the wonderful 20 second trailer right out of Thomas Hart Benton with the barking dogs, the signal bells and at the railroad crossing as a fast diesel roars by towards where you are not, the barking in the distance again and then silence. Ah, Brian.

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, allmusic
There’s little arguing that Pet Sounds is one of the greatest albums in rock & roll, and its cult, if anything, has only grown in the decades since its intial release. Part of the fascination with Pet Sounds lies in its detailed, multi-layered arrangements, in which all the parts blend together into a symphonic whole. The richness of the music is one of the reasons hardcore fans have desired a set like The Pet Sounds Sessions, a four-disc box that presents an abundance of working mixes, alternate takes, instrumental tracks, and rarities, as well as the first true stereo mix of the album. Certainly, a set this exacting is only of interest to serious fans, and even they might find the endless succession of work tracks tedious. Nevertheless, there’s something fascinating about hearing the album broken down to its individual parts; after hearing horn lines, vocals, and percussion tracks out of their original context, the scope and originality of Brian Wilson’s vision becomes all the more impressive. (Make no mistake about it, Pet Sounds is entirely Wilson’s project, despite what Mike Love states in his self-serving liner notes.) The original mono mix of Pet Sounds (included here in a minature, cardboard record sleeve) remains the best way to appreciate Wilson’s gifts, but for fans already convinced of his genius, The Pet Sounds Sessions.

All songs by Brian Wilson/Tony Asher, except where noted.

Disc one
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Stereo Mix) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:33
“You Still Believe in Me” (Stereo Mix) – 2:36
“That’s Not Me” (Stereo Mix) – 2:31
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (Stereo Mix) – 2:58
“I’m Waiting for the Day” (Stereo Mix) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 3:06
“Let’s Go Away For Awhile” (Stereo Mix) (Brian Wilson) – 2:24
“Sloop John B” (Stereo Mix) (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 2:59
“God Only Knows” (Stereo Mix) – 2:54
“I Know There’s an Answer” (Stereo Mix) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love/Terry Sachen) – 3:18
“Here Today” (Stereo Mix) – 3:07
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (Stereo Mix) – 3:21
“Pet Sounds” (Stereo Mix) (Brian Wilson) – 2:37
“Caroline, No” (Stereo Mix) – 2:53
“Sloop John B” (Highlights from tracking date) (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 1:04
“Sloop John B” (Stereo backing track) (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 3:18
“Trombone Dixie” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson) – 1:26
“Trombone Dixie” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson) – 2:50
“Pet Sounds” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson) – 0:57
“Pet Sounds” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson) – 2:48
“Let’s Go Away For Awhile” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson) – 2:20
“Let’s Go Away For Awhile” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson) – 2:51
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 7:20
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:34
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Stereo track with background vocals) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:34
“You Still Believe in Me” (Intro – session) – 1:39
“You Still Believe in Me” (Intro – master take) – 0:15
“You Still Believe in Me” (Highlights from tracking date) – 1:11
“You Still Believe in Me” (Stereo backing track) – 2:37

Disc two
“Caroline, No” (Highlights from tracking date) – 4:16
“Caroline, No” (Stereo backing track) – 2:53
“Hang on to Your Ego” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson/Terry Sachen) – 4:47
“Hang on to Your Ego” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson/Terry Sachen) – 3:23
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (Brian’s instrumental demo) – 2:20
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (Stereo backing track) – 3:11
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (String overdub) – 1:48
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (Highlights from tracking date) – 2:59
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (Stereo backing track) – 3:47
“That’s Not Me” (Highlights from tracking date) – 1:52
“That’s Not Me” (Stereo backing track) – 2:46
“Good Vibrations” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 2:41
“Good Vibrations” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 3:15
“I’m Waiting for the Day” (Highlights from tracking date) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 5:25
“I’m Waiting for the Day” (Stereo backing track) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 3:14
“God Only Knows” (Highlights from tracking date) – 9:25
“God Only Knows” (Stereo backing track) – 3:06
“Here Today” (Highlights from tracking date) – 6:37
“Here Today” (Stereo backing track) – 4:55

Disc three
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (A cappella) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:37
“You Still Believe in Me” (A cappella) – 2:47
“That’s Not Me” (A cappella) – 2:28
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (A cappella) – 3:07
“I’m Waiting for the Day” (A cappella) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 3:02
“Sloop John B” (A cappella) (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 3:09
“God Only Knows” (A cappella) – 2:49
“I Know There’s an Answer” (A cappella) (Brian Wilson/Mike Love/Terry Sachen) – 2:19
“Here Today” (A cappella) – 3:29
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (A cappella) – 3:22
“Caroline, No” (A cappella) – 1:54
“Caroline, No” (Promotional Spot #1) :32
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Mono alternate mix) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:29
“You Still Believe in Me” (Mono alternate mix) – 2:23
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (Vocal snippet) – 0:56
“I’m Waiting for the Day” (Mono alternate mix, Mike sings lead) – (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 3:02
“Sloop John B” (Mono alternate mix, Carl sings lead) (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 3:05
“God Only Knows (Mono alternate mix, with sax solo) – 2:49
“Hang On to Your Ego” (Brian Wilson/Terry Sachen) – 3:13
“Here Today” (Mono alternate mix, Brian sings lead) – 3:07
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (Mono alternate mix) – 3:11
“Banana & Louie” – 0:05
“Caroline, No” (Original speed, stereo mix) – 2:24
“Dog Barking Session” (Outtakes) – 0:34
“Caroline, No” (Promotional spot #2) – 0:28
“God Only Knows” (with a cappella tag) – 2:56
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Mono alternate mix) (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:28
“Sloop John B” (Brian sings lead throughout) (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 3:04
“God Only Knows” (Mono alternate mix, Brian sings lead) – 2:42
“Caroline, No” (Original speed, mono mix) – 3:03

Disc four (Original mono Pet Sounds)
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love) – 2:33
“You Still Believe in Me” – 2:36
“That’s Not Me” – 2:31
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” – 2:58
“I’m Waiting for the Day” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love) – 3:06
“Let’s Go Away For Awhile” (Brian Wilson) – 2:24
“Sloop John B” (Trad. Arr. Brian Wilson) – 2:59
“God Only Knows” – 2:54
“I Know There’s an Answer” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love/Terry Sachen) – 3:18
“Here Today” – 3:07
“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” – 3:21
“Pet Sounds” (Brian Wilson) – 2:37
“Caroline, No” – 2:53



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