That’s Not Me

I’ve never got on with The Beach Boys Pet Sounds.  I tried again tonight, as I’ve tried a good few times since buying this in ’96.  I know, I know, that puts me in a little club of one and I’m not being a little iconoclast for the sake of it, this time.  I genuinely just don’t get it.  I appreciate that for some folks out there this is something akin to deciding oxygen is a bit passé, I know how much this LP has been feted, praised and revered and I can hear and understand how it slots into the pop continuum, but it ain’t me babe…

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I’m not totally Beach Boys averse, I like all their knock-off Chuck Berry summery hits but my interest, with the exception of ‘Good Vibrations’*, wanes pretty fast the further away from the beach they strayed.  By the time Pet Sounds was written the Beach Boys were a really interesting proposition, the band toured his material, Brian Wilson stayed home and wrote to all intents and purposes (barely) tolerated as an idiot savant golden goose by them all.  God only knows** what the band thought when they returned to base in 1966 wanting more good-time-teeny-dance-fodder to be presented with Pet Sounds, and its collection of mostly downbeat ruminations on love and proper relationships.  Who’d want to dance to that?

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For once I’m with the majority here, ignoring my disinclination to side with the, at best, emotionally abusive guys in the band I can see where they were coming from. Yes I understand that we have the fault-line between pop music as worthwhile art and pop music as disposable fun running through the whole episode, but on this evidence alone – sign me up for the fun.  I can hear the craft and cleverness in the poppy ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Sloop John B’, but there is something in this sound I don’t like.  There is an overly trebley quality here that makes the album sound an awful lot like a child’s music box produced by Phil Spector.

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I have often been struck by the way in which animals who don’t have a predator/prey, competitive or co-operative relationship react to each other with a puzzled disinterest – a cat and a hedgehog, to take an example from last week in my garden.  that’s exactly the way I feel about Pet Sounds, it’s there, it’s fine, I can see what it is but it has no bearing on my musical life – I don’t want to eat it, mate with it or mark it with my distinctive musk.

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Paul McCartney, no stranger to penning a diverting melody or two, I know, wishes he had written ‘God Only Knows’ and described it as a complete song.  It’s fine, but I don’t hear anything in it that moves me.  Paul’s wrong, I’m right^. True story.

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One final gripe I have with Pet Sounds is the album cover, Paul McCartney (him again) told Brian Wilson that they really should have taken more care with their LP covers.  Not a trivial matter, as all manner of obsessives of my acquaintance will testify to and again it is that transition between LPs as disposable consumables to a lasting cultural object.  Going to San Diego Zoo to take cover pictures was a pretty weird thing to do anyway, but the photo is Godawful, the colour’s all wrong and a bit murky; who put the big white goat front and centre? that’s just bad composition; sticking five men in a paddock of goats is a bit of an odd one too – especially when four of them exude a simmering resentment about the whole thing and Brian, seemingly simultaneously half-oblivious and half-spooked by his, rather frisky goat – but by that point I fear that Brian had begun to see and react to the dark goats of the soul that no-one else could see.

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Wouldn’t it be nice to like Pet Sounds as much as everyone else seems to, still that’s not me.  But if you do, then please tell me what it is I can’t hear in this perennial poll topper, I’d appreciate that.

461 Down.

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P.S:  Everyone, even if they feel as I do about the whole phenomenon, should read Nick Kent’s masterful piece ‘The Last Beach Movie Revisited’ in his collection The Dark Stuff.

*simply an astonishing and sublime piece of music by anyone’s standards.

**see what I did? #Welshcomicgenius.

^still, what does he know about partying? or anything else!

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19 thoughts on “That’s Not Me

  1. Pet Sounds is in my top 5, but it wasn’t always. It took me a while, and then one day I listened to it and poof, away I went up into the clouds. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) is the song my wife and I danced to at our wedding.

    Coming of age in the mid-80s, my preferred listening is still the original punk wave (especially Buzzcocks and The Damned) and original post-punk (Joy Division, The Chameleons, The Church, Siouxsie, and so on). I sort of reacted against anything made in the ’60s out of principle, but as I got older I really started to get into “the classics” from the ’60s and the ’70s, eating them up slowly but surely. Right now I’m onto Donovan and pretty much anything in the psychedelic arena. Sunshine Superman is fucking great!

    I don’t like everything that everybody tells me is supposed to be good, though, so I totally understand why you don’t dig Pet Sounds.

    1. Hiya, thanks for stopping by my place of nonsense.

      Its great to hear from everyone who likes it so much too. It may well end up just being music I can appreciate historically and intellectually but not feel, myself.

      I can 100% agree with you pn Sunshine Superman though – i was raised on Donovan by hippie parents.

  2. The only time I truly enjoyed Pet Sounds was with the aid of an hallucinogenic drug and a bottle of Ripple, ever since then it’s been a bummer of trip that I’ve learned not to ride anymore.

  3. Smashin’ post, although I firmly believe this to be one of the very best albums ever. There’s just so much I love about this … the slightly off the map instrumentation, melodies (not to mention the harmonies) and the range of songs and emotions. A truly exceptional record.

    There’s a smashin’ book about it you might be interested in – I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times: Brian Wilson and the Making Of Pet Sounds. Really pretty excellent and lit up the corners of the album a bit more when I was really immersing myself in it.

    1. Thanks J. It is interesting to hear the advocates’ views on Pet Sounds.

      I found myself singing God Only Knows to my cat yeaterday, so maybe it has sunk in a little more now.

  4. Terrific review – and that’s from someone who holds Pet Sounds in considerably higher regard, likely in my top 10!
    Splendid song puns along the way, quite enjoyed.

    Why do I like Pet Sounds so? Probably because the girls girls girls/dance dance dance/fun fun fun was like nails on a chalkboard for me, styrofoam being rubbed together. Less than no interest!

    I think I was introduced to this at a pivotal life stage (graduating university) and so perhaps if you combine:
    – my initial intense dislike for the group
    – really getting into the record at a transitional stage
    – not really being able to articulate why the individual tracks are excellent but it somehow works exceptionally well as a whole, horrendous cover art notwithstanding

    and that may explain why I’m such a fan.

    Good for you for not feeling the need to praise the record – I’ll be happy to write a piece with more reverence somewhere around album #992!

  5. I remember, years ago, some ‘important’ musician/critic/factotum waxing lyrical about how sublime “Caroline No” is. I rushed to my CD of Pet Sounds and sat, prepared to be transported, entranced, receive enlightenment.
    Brian, No. You’re whining about a girl cutting her hair. It’s not romantic, it’s creepy. Brian, it’s HER hair, fuck off and get a life.

    Thank you for creating a platform to get that off my chest.

    PS. Pretty much in total agreement with your views. The cover absolutely sucks, the album is (IMnotHO) over-rated and a sacred goat because of the reverence in which Mr Wilson is held. When I want Beach Boys, I go to Heroes and Villains, which still does it for me. But usually that’s enough.

    1. (Checks around carefully, dons unconvincing false beard and hat)

      Brilliant! Couldnt agree more about Caroline and its great to know im not out here alone.

  6. Well! I’ll say! I don’t know if I have ever heard Pet Sounds discussed with anything less than total reverence!

    What can I say, I like the classic Beach Boys stuff. It’s not my favourite thing in the world, but “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is so damn good.

    Interesting comments too about the cover art. I’ve never really noticed!

    1. I know, I fear I’ll have to leave for a safe house immediately.

      It’s the big white goat on the cover. I feel goat positioning (GP) is really important on LP covers. I mean you mess up on GP and you lose half your audience. Probably.

      Wouldn’t it be nice is, umm, nice but, its just nothing more to me. It’s probably just a goat thing.

      1. I wouldn’t want to drain all your advance in one go. Besides, i think im booked out to various Norwegian black metallers for most of 2015!

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