Before 2015, I generally thought The Beach Boys made white picket fence, early 60s shiny happy people surfer-lite tunes. I didn’t hate it with a burning passion, but with all the classic rock and grunge music I consumed as a 12 year old, the Boys of Beach never ever once crossed my mind. The Beach Boys was too pop, too safe. (Of course, I now know the truth, that “too pop” isn’t a bad thing, if you know how to do it right, and that all music in general doesn’t need to be SERIOUS all the time.) I just wasn’t getting genius, tortured, rock and roll spirit vibes from them (the rock and roll spirit is something that can transcend genre and something I’m ALWAYS talking about) and I had no desire in listening to “Help Me Rhonda” the same way I’d listen to “Last Nite” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, because it just wouldn’t make me want to scream for the whole world to hear, or break a table. It wouldn’t give me that energy. I knew that because I’d heard the song at Goodwill a million times already, and it had never done anything for me.
But then, I found Pet Sounds.
With my classic rock, Beatlemania background, you’d think I would’ve found The Beach Boys simply because it was 60s music or because you could find it in the same section of the library / same station on circa 2009 Pandora. Which is how I found music then. (Do people still use Pandora???? Real questions!!!!)
But in reality, I found the masterpiece that is Pet Sounds through this trippy YouTube video of an album by vaporwave group Blank Banshee (stylized as ฿lank ฿anshee.) In January 2015, I was very into vaporwave, for ironic purposes only, but it became sort of a serious investigation soon enough. All music, even music I hate, fascinates me to a degree, and I was like, what the hell is vaporwave about? And the song “Purity Boys”, struck me.
Vaporwave is just essentially distorted samples. It’s not some grand feat or artistic breakthrough, but there can be very interesting results. This being so, I found so much interesting about “Purity Boys.” The desolate aural landscape. The big whoosh in the beginning of the song. The beat (which is a sample of Purity Ring’s “Obedear”, which is a pretty great song too) and most importantly, at least to a lyric hound like me, that pained boy’s voice singing Where can I turn when my fair weather friends cop out / What’s it all about?
It immediately haunted me, as it hit REALLY close to home. I’ve always been someone who’s felt out of my element. Out of place. And I don’t think I’m special or anything, namely, I feel inferior to most people despite having a natural flamboyance and extroverted air. I have a strange sort of confidence, strange ideas. A strange sad little person, I am, and this song spoke to me, damn it! I immediately went on the ol’ WhoSampled.com and found out that the song with the beautiful, yet so disconsolate lyrics came from the same guys responsible for “Little Deuce Coupe”, of all songs! I immediately was like, Honey, WHO!?!? and binge-listened to Pet Sounds. Needless to say my life changed forever.
I can now, in the year of Our Lord 2017, say that Pet Sounds is in my top 10 albums of all time, which is no small feat because I love music! Pet Sounds is that important to me because I love music that can talk to me like a friend, because I have no friends, and Pet Sounds not only talks to me like a friend, but there’s a song on Pet Sounds for every emotionally wrought time in my life from January 2015 to now! Emotionally wrought, of course, can mean good OR bad, but you know for me, it’s mostly bad.
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is about initial true love, your first true love, and while I connect this song to that, I also connect it to childhood innocence, that with love in your heart and unchallenged optimism up to your eyeballs, every day can be a wonderful sun-shining day, and you’ll fall asleep next to the one you love every night then wake up the next day to have a good day ALL OVER AGAIN. Pet Sounds revolutionized the concept album, and here’s where it starts, the rise and fall of both the hero of the story’s, and my own life story.
“Don’t Talk” reminds me so much of how I hated high school (more on that on another post), because I would skip class to go to the nurse’s office and cry to this bc I did a CDrip of Pet Sounds to my old phone for Emergency Purposes. I ended up dropping out of high school, something I’m still ok with, a decision I’m glad I made, even though I still feel the stigma/get judged for it a LOT. But this song was like a friend encouraging me to cry on thier shoulder. I’ll never forget it.
“Caroline No” is the most painful song on the album for me to listen to. It’s one of the few songs that can NO FAIL make me cry. It’s about devastation, the loss of innocence, things falling apart and you not knowing how to put them back together again. In about a month or so it will be the one year anniversary of the WORST time in my life, the time in my life where I attempted suicide and just was propelled to the bottom of life’s sea by so many things. I lost my innocence and my trust and belief that the world was a good place in many ways in that time (even though with some of the fucked up things that had happened to me before then, I should have known way better!) The dogs, barking at the end of this absolute masterpiece are Brian Wilson’s own, and the dogs barking after the train is what really gets me. The futility of chasing and barking, screaming after something that is never going to stop, almost mentally begging for it to go back to the way it was, just so you can feel safe and like yourself again. The impermanence of situations, places, life itself, people, humans, being. Existing. It’s absolutely devastating. This song is the antithesis of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, and that makes it perfect. Perfect as the last song on this album and perfect by itself even. This song is beautiful.
After my “Caroline No” period, I briefly went through a “That’s Not Me” time in my life. I’d gone through so many changes and didn’t feel like myself at all, and it was such a confusing time. My life has always been confusing but nonesomuch as then and I guess that is what I’d say that song is about really, the ultimate confusion, failing, trying, failing.
Finally we are at where I find myself now, aged 19, still guilty of being sad, still wondering when my “real” life will begin, still wondering if life is just continuous disappointment and if there isn’t something better….”I Know There’s An Answer”, a vastly underrated Pet Sounds song that was originally about acid (“Hang On To Your Ego”), but was changed because Mike Love didn’t like the “doper” lyrics originally written by Brian. While I don’t go out of my way to agree with Mike Love (Brian was the real Beach Boys talent, and Dennis was OK before he started hanging out with Charles Manson), the result here is phenomenal, really. “I Know There’s An Answer” is just something that rattles, I know there’s an answer / But I have to find it by myself and right now, that couldn’t be more applicable to my life. I feel that I’m missing something, and I don’t really know what, but my sick of using the external as a crutch, and I have to find it by myself. Within myself. But the point of the song, and my life, is who knows WHAT the answer is?
When this album came out, absolutely nothing was like it. The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band (which by the way is 50 years old this year, as Pet Sounds was last year) was heavily inspired by it. Future concept albums would be made, by Pink Floyd, The Who, Radiohead. The chamber pop of Mazzy Star owes to Pet Sounds‘s woozy rhythms and unique instrumentals (shouts out Wrecking Crew.) Its even been said that Pet Sounds was a precursor to emo, and honestly? I can see a lot of American Football in there. (Jesus, if you get this unintentional joke, a million hats off to you, sirlady.) Mike Kinsella, I KNOW you’ve been listening to some Brian Wilson! This is your callout post!
Is Pet Sounds the best album of all time? God only knows. All I know is, it’s an album weaved into the fabric of my life, forever.