The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds — 50th Anniversary DVD
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
It seems strange that the “classic album” series of music documentaries hasn’t produced one of their professional, always enlightening programs on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds until its 50th anniversary. After all, this was a project lauded upon its 1966 release by the high profile likes of Paul McCartney and only a music curmudgeon would not put this in the top 10 records from the ’60s — and some would claim, ever — despite the somewhat tepid reaction it had commercially, at least initially.
But now that it’s here, this superb hour long doc dives into the making of this monumental work with its typically intensive values. Interviews with all the surviving Beach Boys (Brian is particularly forthcoming and even Dennis appears in earlier filmed segments), along with producers, record company execs, members of the famed Wrecking Crew ensemble that actually played the fastidiously crafted music and, arguably most interestingly, seldom seen lyricist Tony Asher combine to tell the story of how Pet Sounds was built from the mind of Wilson up. He used the studio as an instrument, bringing in the rest of the Beach Boys only as overdubbed voices after the music was laid down.
This was a massive, multi-month task, especially with the relatively primitive studio and recording methods available in 1966. Director Martin R. Smith does a terrific job delving into the details of the recording process, as well as the specifics of some of the better known tunes, in particular “Sloop John B” (a folk song originally brought to Wilson by Al Jardine, a big Kingston Trio fan who had an early hit with it), “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” and the magnificent “God Only Knows.” Although Brian was the brains, it’s fascinating to hear that Mike Love felt so uncomfortable singing the acid-inspired words to “Hang on to Your Ego” that he wrote new lyrics to the tune that eventually became the far less edgy “I Know There’s an Answer.” Love later sued to get his name listed as co-composer on the song.
Some of the (awful, even embarrassing) videos originally made for the songs are also included, but they just reinforce how little Capitol Records understood the importance of Pet Sounds, almost killing its commercial momentum with the insipid cover photo and by releasing its first Beach Boys best of collection only a few months after Pet Sounds hit the streets.
The DVD also features over 30 minutes of extras about a third of which explore the making of “Good Vibrations,” a cut not on Pet Sounds but that was generated at about the same time with the same Wrecking Crew band. Hearing how it was pieced together over months of meticulous work that stretched over a variety of studios provides a fascinating glimpse into Brian Wilson’s methods and the genius that fashioned the incredible Pet Sounds.
Even if you are not a Beach Boys enthusiast, this documentary will help you appreciate Brian Wilson’s vision and sheer musicality as he created one of the most elaborate, extravagant and respected works in the history of American pop.