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The influence of Pet Sounds

post brought to you by: dyson

bb_pet-sounds(Ready for the most cliche line ever? Ready, set, go…)
44 years later, the work of musical genius Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds remains as influential as it was the day the record it was released.
(was I right or what?)

That line can be found splattered around thousands of places in print and on the web. But it’s only 3/4 true. The impact Pet Sounds has had on music is actually more prevalent now than it was when it was released. And to confuse you further, that last statement is probably only 1/2 true. Stick with me…

On it’s release, Pet Sounds got some pretty negative reviews. But today if an album comes out and it has great production (or at least a focus on production), it get’s marked up as being influenced by Pet Sounds. If an album comes out that has harmonies on it, well, you can probably guess what’s next. It was supposedly influenced by Pet Sounds.

To give some background, I am one of the many who heard Pet Sounds and debated throwing in the towel when it came to producing and engineering records. It’s a masterpiece. (cliche line #2) Picture being around in ’66 and opening up that vinyl to hear the background vocals on ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ smack you in the face!? Shit, I can’t even imagine.

Beach Boys – Wouldn’t it Be Nice (Stack-O-Vocals)

Every new album that comes out now is influenced by a record or sound that already exists. This can’t be debated. No musician has turned to music, written music, and not listened to any other music before. A lot of artists like to say “Our sound is completely original and like nothing else out there“. Sorry to be a downer for truly creative artists, but you’re going to sound like something that already exists. And please don’t be offended by that. It just can’t be avoided.

pet_soundsThe reason Pet Sounds is behind this post is because the more you look, the more you will see it as the album everyone references as the one they are influenced by. It’s almost like artists saying “This product is ‘fair trade’ or ‘all natural'” to make you feel good about liking it. You can slap a guarantee that your album is not terrible by saying Pet Sounds influenced it. (I’ll most likely buy it)

But I’m seeing the increasing trend of this happening and it gets me a bit peeved. If you claim your album is influenced by Pet Sounds and can’t name the last track on the album without blinking an eye, then I call bull. To be truly influenced by an album you must have lived and breathed it. Otherwise your music would not have that influence in it.

Sorry, this is a very touchy subject for me. But please don’t use Pet Sounds as a way to make the album more credible (and this goes for artists, reviewers, and bloggers) by saying it was influenced by Pet Sounds. This is one music fan who will take that claim very seriously.

I’ll finally leave you with one example. Fleet Foxes self titled was made out to be completely influenced by Pet Sounds. Holy crap! They have harmonies on the album!! There is literally one song and only about 1 minute of it that I can safely say “Yes, this is influenced by The Beach Boys”. And notice I used The Beach Boys for the example. That’s because it’s actually influenced by ‘Smile’ and not Pet Sounds. Give it a listen and go forth and prosper. (what?)

Fleet Foxes – Quiet Houses (example)

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (40th Anniversary)

3 Responses to “The influence of Pet Sounds”

  1. Tart says:

    Ok, Mr. SmartyPants, you’ve hit my bugabear! This is maybe the worst thing about music blogging and music crit. People feel compelled to compare music to some commonly known sound or band just to tell the reader what the hell they’re writing on sounds like. It’s either this or you have to stick to a purely genre-specific description and not many of us feel confident enough to do that. So, the easy way out is to pull out the handful of bands or albums that everyone knows and line up the comparisons. It’s dreadful and boring and thoughtless. And as you say, often wrong.

    On the other hand, how do we know what inspired what? Just because someone can’t name every song on the album and their music might not have the sound you’d expect it to, doesn’t mean it’s not influenced or inspired, eh? xo

  2. Ryan says:

    Interesting – not sure whether this is ultimately a Beach Boys piece or an editorial that uses the Beach Boys as Exhibit A…

    For conversation’s sake, I want to think about the record for a second – but only based on it’s pulling factor (like the wind on a sail) both past and present. Pet Sounds was an iconic release – a polarizing one for popular music, for sure. But you can make the clear argument that Pet Sounds period of influence came before the album came out (most pronounced in the efforts of the Beatles who were going tit-for-tat with The Beach Boys at the time – whether McCartney readily admits it or not..) and now long after – in sweet, perfect, reflection.

    Now is when we can return to the aspects of your piece that were far more editorial. I don’t completely disagree with you on the “bullshit” meter when bands list 14 prominent influences. This means different things to different people. I tend to take these things seriously; if someone is an influence, they have changed me in some way. I suspect that’s your perspective as well.

    But that’s not the way everyone thinks. There are lot of people making music out there today who couldn’t make the records they are making in 2008, 2009, 2010 that wouldn’t have the license or perception to do what they do without bands like The Beach Boys and albums like Pet Sounds. Most of these kids probably never heard the albums straight through but they can appreciate where they are – and recognize, that the road was blazed by someone else. Ultimately, you and I can’t understand their seemingly vacant devotion to someone they don’t seem to appreciate it – but there are many ways to do the things we do.

    Ironically, the selection of the Beach Boys may have not been the best example to prove your point since this esoteric album of exploration on Pet Sounds, and Smiley Smile – evidence that the music was really self indulgent and meant for artistic minds. If the public got “it,” then it was fine – but it was going to be a happy accident at best. Maybe that’s how the best art gets made, you know – by divine accident influenced by a number of factors…. Just ask the kid that doesn’t know any songs from Pet Sounds. He likes it. He just can’t tell you why.

  3. dsdasdsa says:

    It’s such a terrible album to LISTEN TO, though. You know, LISTEN TO with your EARS. With the exception of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Pet Sounds”, there’s barely a decent melody on it. It goes on and on and on and on. I don’t remember wanting an album to end so badly since “Sgt. Pepper’s…” and, recently, “Yeezus.” I’ll take “Surfin’ U.S.A.” or “All Summer Long” any day. Or even “Beach Boys Party.”

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