By 1966, Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys had retired from the road. Fueled by the pressures of competing with the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, among other things, he had a nervous breakdown on one of the band's flights. What could have been catastrophic for many other bands turned out to be a stroke of luck for The Beach Boys, however, as Wilson's retirement from live performances gave him time to focus on his true love, making music in a recording studio.
Wilson also instinctively knew that he couldn't keep writing surfing and car songs forever if he wanted to stay relevant, so while the band toured the hits, Wilson tinkered away in the studio. Like The Beatles, he viewed pop albums as a piece of art and the results of his time in the studio, Pet Sounds, would certainly qualify as such. In honor of the landmark record's 50th anniversary, the Classic Albums series takes a look at Pet Sounds.
The documentary mixes archival footage of the band with current interviews with the surviving members. Also interviewed, among others, are recording engineers Mark Linnett and Bruce Botnick, who, along with Wilson, break down the album's densely layered songs into their basic tracks. It is fascinating to hear these rich songs stripped to their bare elements and, of course, to hear the Beach Boys' amazing harmonies unaccompanied.
Wilson had been influenced by Phil Spector and his Wall of Sound and tried to recreate that in the studio on his own albums, calling in many of the same musicians and utilizing the famed Wrecking Crew on the album. While the music was Wilson's, he had help in achieving his vision. Fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine suggested the band record "Sloop John B," a song by the Kingston trio, presenting it to Wilson in a more Beach Boys style. Here Jardine demonstrates how he played it for Wilson and that is contrasted against the Kingston Trio's version. In addition, while Wilson's usual writing partner, Mike Love, wrote some of the lyrics, an advertising jingle writer named Tony Asher, who had become friends with Wilson, wrote most of them. Asher is also interviewed for the documentary.
Much has been made of the band and, especially, Love's aversion to changing the formula when Pet Sounds was first released. Indeed, the album was not as commercially successful as past records, which seemed to validate the group's "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude. Love denies these claims in the documentary, though he does admit to not liking some of the lyrics. It's not an area given much time in the documentary, but it is one that still clearly bothers Love 50 years later when asked about it.
The video is presented in 1080i High Definition Widescreen 16:9 with the modern clips looking great. The archival footage is very clean for what it is, but obviously not High Definition either. Audio options include LPCM Stereo and DTS HD Master Audio. Over 30 minutes of interviews cut from the broadcast version, including a lengthy segment on "Good Vibrations," are included as bonus features.
Today Pet Sounds is considered one of the best rock albums ever made, validating Wilson's belief that he was onto something greater all those years ago. The album set the band on a vastly different course than the one they were on and showed Wilson to be a peer of anyone in the pop world. Classic Albums: The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds takes an in-depth look at this great record and is well worth a look for fans of the band or of popular music in general.