In 1965 while the rest of his band was on tour, Brian Wilson, a founding member of the Beach Boys, challenged himself to stay home and create a masterpiece. The results of that challenge, Pet Sounds, has become one of the most revered and influential works of pop music.
"Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened," recalled longtime Beatles' producer George Martin in Rolling Stone. "Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”
Paul McCartney agrees, saying, "I've often played Pet Sounds and cried."
I recently became infatuated with Pet Sounds, and I have to admit, that’s a little weird. I’m old enough to have seen the Ramones perform live, but I’m not that old. To me, The Beach Boys was music that just kind of always existed in the background. Something my parents tapped their fingers to on the steering wheel when we were stuck in traffic. Not something that I loved or hated, something that was always there.
But lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to things that seem to have always existed -- cellphones, Batman, America -- and here’s the thing, they didn’t! Someone, or a group of people, created these things out of thin air. They had an idea and got to work.
I’m no music critic, but listening to songs such as “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” with fresh ears, I couldn't stop thinking, "What made him even think of doing that?" There are not many top hits before or after "Sloop John B" with lyrics about eating all of a shipmate's corn that I can think of, can you? You start to understand why the “genius” word gets thrown in Brian Wilson's direction, and why it sticks.
This past weekend, I jumped at the chance to see Brian Wilson, alongside Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine and a tremendous backing band, play the entirety of the groundbreaking album track by track at Radio City Music Hall. (Additional Pet Sounds: The Final Performances Tour dates can be found here.) Hearing these songs live -- more than 50 years after the guy sitting at the piano first heard them in his head -- was incredible and inspiring. I left the theater not sure that in my lifetime I’ll be able to create something that remains relevant and groundbreaking for half a century, but certain that I am going to not stop trying.