In the greater scheme of the universe, 50 years is the blinking of an eye; but for most people on the planet in 2016, 50 years is another world away. We can certainly idealize the world of 1966, but in many respects it was also a divided, sometimes fearful place then…Vietnam, the Cold War, apartheid, fears of nuclear war. It wasn’t necessarily a better place, just a different place. Certainly, the arrival of a new Beach Boys album wouldn’t have been greeted with tweets and Facebook posts, and be instantly dissected online on fan forums.
But no doubt, the arrival of a new album by one of the top groups in the UK and USA would have been discussed by fans. No doubt some may have found it surprisingly downbeat from a group that was churning out “surf and turf” hits two years ago. A few may have noted some continuity from the production values from the Today album, a year before that. No doubt, they would have heard some sounds that they wouldn’t expect on a rock-and-roll record. Some may have listened to the lyrics, and felt an immediate connection with their own lives.
It didn’t burn up the charts -at least in the USA. But gradually, it would appear that the critical consensus was that Brian Wilson’s genius was an even more indisputable fact, and that the Beach Boys were leading the production race against the Beatles. Pet Sounds was reputation was born, and grew over the 50 years, to the extent that it has become statistically the most acclaimed album of all time.
And what is the reason for all the acclaim? Maybe it comes down to what the NME stated in 1993 “proof that swooning emotions, pearling harmonies and lines about missing your girl are still valid.” It certainly runs the gamut of emotions from joy to despair, doing that through music that is innovative, melodic, harmonic and simply beautiful. There is surely not a life on earth who cannot identify with the hope of Wouldn’t It Be Nice, the romantic ideal of Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) and the disappointment of Caroline, No. 2016 has certainly provided the world with plenty of disappointments, and some hopes. No doubt 1966 was the same for those around on the day Pet Sounds was released. Over the 50 years, it has been the soundtrack for many people to give a voice to their hopes, and to share and sometimes even heal those painful moments.
So happy big 50th birthday Pet Sounds. You’re not getting older, just more relevant. And you were made for these times.