The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, originally released in 1966, holds an unassailable position in popular culture. That's what happens when your record is a substantial volley in what amounts to a musical arms race between your band and The Beatles. Besides the Beatles-related notoriety, Pet Sounds also benefits from its sheer existence, unlike the resuscitated "lost" album Smile, the recently released, official Brian Wilson version of which is not only revelatory but also hamstrung by not fulfilling the boundless universe of possibilities the actualization of a legendary unreleased record necessarily dispels. That sentence was a long way of saying that once Smile was finally defined as one thing with Nonesuch's 2004 release, it could no longer be everything else.
The Beach Boys' influence is more than sufficiently documented, and even in the realm of indie rock one regularly encounters familiar, beachy sounds on records from bands as wide-ranging as Kelpie and even Wilco. Because it is a four-decade milestone being noted here, and because we don't pretend that we will make the definitive statement about such a thoroughly examined record as Pet Sounds, we'll provide instead our own chronological context. We were born eight years after the seminal set was released. And it was probably about 20 years after the record was issued that we finally heard it end-to-end. Our initial impression was that the music was just too pop and too innocent to suit our tastes. We recall thinking something along the lines of "Don't those harmonies sound like the Andrews Sisters?" and "Where are the guitars?" ("Oh, yeah, the title track"). It was probably another eight or 10 years before we developed some decent listening skills and ascertained that the record was filled with amazing, well, sounds. As we got deeper into the album we began to develop some favorites, particularly "That's Not Me."
Never having owned Pet Sounds on CD, listening to the hi-fi, stereo version on this reissue's DVD is particularly gratifying, as everything is rendered in ultra-lush aural color and shape. Watching Brian Wilson and Sir George Martin execute live mixes of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows" on the DVD throws back the curtain on the minute compositional details of Beach Boys' songs; Al Jardine jokes that he and Carl Wilson were never sure of some of the vocals because the song was recorded and re-recorded for periods of weeks and perhaps even months. Such context is what makes this reissue invaluable. The CD comes with mono and stereo versions of the album, and the DVD comes with hi-fi and 5.1 mixes and a lot of video content, as noted supra. The set also comes in a limited vinyl issue, but you'll have to be a real go-getter to snatch one of those up. There is an ongoing series of podcasts and tons of additional information at PetSounds.com, but there are no advance MP3s (like you've never heard this stuff before...). Capitol issues Pet Sounds 40th Anniversary reissue Aug. 29.