jane the virgin: meta
the 100, season three finale

music friday: beach boys, not pet sounds

Pet Sounds is generally considered the best album by The Beach Boys ... it is #1 on the Acclaimed Music list of the top albums of all time (they collate critical opinion). It has some of my favorite Beach Boys songs ... “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows”. And the 50th anniversary of its initial release is upon us, meaning it’s getting a lot of attention, including a massive reissue.

But this post isn’t about Pet Sounds. To understand why, I’m going to talk about my childhood.

I’m going to rely once again on memory, that most fallible of tools. Much of the music I listened to in the early 1960s came from the records my older brother owned. Yes, the radio was the biggest influence, but when you just wanted to play records, he had a pretty large portable player, and he had what seemed at the time to be a LOT of records, both albums and 45s. The Rolling Stones were one of his favorites, perhaps his #1, and he was on them from the beginning. But he was six years older than I was, graduated from high school in 1964 and went off to college (when I was 11), and while he came back home for a bit a couple of years later (another story for another time), it was those years through the summer of 1964 that I associate most with the records of his teenage years. And he had what seemed like every Beach Boys album, because they were very popular, because they were California (although we were NorCal), I don’t know why. And The Beach Boys were there quite early ... their first album came out in 1962.

Looking at the covers for their first five albums (the best way to jog that fallible memory), I get the feeling he owned all of them. At least the covers look familiar. The fifth of those albums, Shut Down, Volume 2, was released in March of 1964 ... the next album, All Summer Long, came out in the summer of ‘64, and maybe by then he was already on his way to college, because that one doesn’t ring a bell.

What I’m trying to establish is that my brother’s collection was foremost in my experience of Beach Boys albums. Their hits still played on the radio after he left, but their albums quit showing up at our house.

By this time, I was tentatively beginning to buy my own albums, and The Beach Boys weren’t necessarily my favorites. I liked them, and “Good Vibrations” is probably my favorite of their songs. But my favorite band, outside of The Beatles, was The Yardbirds, and I remember buying Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds. And Revolver. And, to be fair, Herman’s Hermits On Tour. The one Beach Boys album I bought was ... Beach Boys Concert, which came out in late 1964.

There are reasons why this album stands out. It was “recorded” just before Brian Wilson quit touring with the band ... since it was the only “live” album they released in their early years, it was the only place to hear the classic lineup of three Wilsons, Al Jardine, and Mike Love in a live setting. It featured several “non-Beach Boys” songs like “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena”, “Monster Mash”, “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”, and “Johnny B. Goode”.

And, unfortunately, it sounds like crap. I’m listening now to a remastered version, and it still sounds like crap. The biggest problem is the crowd noise, for this was the heyday of screaming fans. The recording of the band isn’t any good, either ... better than a bootleg, I don’t want to exaggerate, but if you only know the band from the time when Brian Wilson used the studio like a master, you’ll be startled by how thin it sounds.

Also, I didn’t know anything about doctoring live recordings when I was 11 years old, but it sure sounds obvious, now. Doesn’t really help, either.

There was an updated version released last year, called Live in Sacramento 1964, which utilizes all of the material recorded for the original album. I confess I don’t have the heart to listen to it at the moment ... I’m listening to Concert as I type this, and those 32 minutes are enough memories for one day.

Before I link to a couple of tracks, here’s the cover. It made a big impact on me at the time ... I had shirts that looked like the ones they are wearing on the cover:

I love how, just like I did above, they put scare quotes around “LIVE”.

These songs aren’t worth taking up lots of space, so I’ll skip the embed and just include a link. This is “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”:


Finally, just as a corrective to the “Pet Sounds Is the Greatest of All Time” narrative ... well, this has little to do with that album, but The Beach Boys cranked out a lot of albums in their first years: one in 1962, three in 1963, three in 1964, three in 1965. You know there’s going to be filler. But their filler was supremely awful. So when someone tells you The Beach Boys were great, nod your head in agreement, but then ask them if they’ve ever heard this one:

(May I add that the entire album is only 27 minutes long, and the above track takes up 3 1/2 of those minutes.)



This is going to sound convoluted, so I'm sorry. But...

When I look at that "Acclaimed" list there aren't many in the Top 10 who are not first studio albums that also don't give you much of an indication before the chart ranking album that they had that kind of greatness in them. Like, not counting the first studio albums of the Velvet Underground, Hendrix, and Nirvana that are on the list ("Nevermind" wasn't their first-first, I know, but you know what I mean), the rest have a record of production before the album that ranks. All of them except the Beach Boys show they had it in them to do a great album before the great album. Or maybe stuff like "Good Vibrations" is enough of a tell.

Steven Rubio

This is fascinating, I've never looked at the list that way before.

I find myself at odds with critical consensus re: music when it comes to what I think is an assumption of artistic progress. Thus, Revolver is the most-acclaimed Beatles album ... well, Sgt. Pepper's is #5, which is a load of nonsense far beyond everyone's love of Revolver ... their four best albums in that list are all post-Rubber Soul. I think it was Greil Marcus who once wrote that at the time, every Beatles album by definition had to be better than the one before, so Revolver had to be better than Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's had to be better than Revolver. (Magical Mystery Tour put an end to all that.) While I think he's correct in a cultural sense (it really did seem like that back then), he (and I) misjudged the critical love for Revolver, which seemed a bit of a drop off from Rubber Soul in 1966, at least to my ears. (Still does, of course.)

Anyway, I've gone off track a bit ... if you believe these artists start out raw and gradually become great artists, then it makes sense that you believe Pet Sounds and Revolver etc. are the pinnacle of their achievements. My favorite Beach Boys album is probably Endless Summer because it has hit singles, and I prefer their singles to their albums. My fave Beatles song changes daily, but as often as not it's "There's a Place", which came out in 1963.

Perhaps The Clash are the best example. Of COURSE London Calling is their highest-ranked album ... it represents the moment when they had expanded beyond their gnarly beginnings. I probably even agree it's their best, but the debut album is a veryclosesecond. Or Exile on Main Street, which is the culmination of one of the great runs by any band ever. It's a great album, but I'm not fully convinced it's better than Beggar's Banquet or Let It Bleed.

Anyway, I'm not disagreeing with your central point, which is that albums like Pet Sounds didn't come out of nowhere ... the possibilities were already established. Makes me want to make a list of "whoa, where did that come from?" albums ... I guess that's what you get when you see a list of best debut albums. Just rolling down that list, the Velvets, Hendrix, Patti Smith, Television, Doors, Ramones ... all came out of "nowhere", so to speak.

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