"It was around Summer Days that it became very evident to me that Brian was evolving very rapidly on many different levels. His music was gaining a great depth...somehow, there were a lot of levels going on at the same time. If one song offered a big clue that he was taking pop music to a new level, it was 'Let Him Run Wild.’ I remember first hearing the track; in the verse, there are so many different parts and themes and lines. The chord progression was very advanced, very different than the three or four chord structure that had been so much a part of pop music songwriting until then.
"As a writer, Brian had such freedom and an enormous chord sense; and he was writing bass lines that were so free from the norm...not on the root. 'God Only Knows' is the classic example that takes it to a new plateau. The bass wasn't played in the same key in which the song was written. It was inverted.
'Sloop..,’ also had a brilliant bass line, the kind of line that musicians really loved.
"At that time, he seemed to be influenced by the classics, by the masters. We all had been turned on to different masters' works; I remember when I asked him about Beethoven. It was nearly incomprehensible to him how great that music was, but his hearing and musicality...what he heard...was far greater than most people. So, listening to somebody like Beethoven, he would get the whole shot right then and there. So it impacted him more. Most of us would have to listen to it over and over to hear as much as he did."
ON THE WAY TO PET SOUNDS
"We did the Party! album to get Capitol off our back. We knew we were going in to make a record [meaning Party!] to get time to make the real record. To us, it was sort of a source of humor; we were surprised that 'Barbara Ann' became such a big hit. We had enjoyed the feel of the song, but then we had to sing it every night. Sort of became the bane of my existence. [laughs] Party! was the fastest and easiest record to make. But it wasn't what we wanted to do.
"You see, by that time, recording had become church to us. We were really in awe of the fact that you could record something, and it would have a healing effect and soothe the soul. That meant a lot to us [the Wilson brothers] because of our rough and tumble upbringing. The idea of making music that could really make people feel better became like a crusade. That was really thrilling to us, because we had already been successful, been around a good part of the world; the idea that we could make sounds that would have a higher purpose and could also be hits...what a high."
IN THE STUDIO
"The way it worked in those days is that we were really touring a lot, and Brian was making the records. Then, when we would get off the road, we would get together to do the vocals. Back then, he and I were really close. Naturally, when we were on the road, he would always know where we were, and sometimes, he would wait for the show to be over and then call me at the hotel and play the latest track over the phone. I remember it was when we were in North Dakota. He called to play the first track for 'Good Vibrations'. [Note: That track is on Disc 2.] It sounded great but so strange; the drums were a lot louder. Eventually, instead of trying to give it more muscle, he refined it, it became more gentle. By the way, that's Dennis playing the organ on the first bridge of the song..
"Anyway, when we would return from a tour, usually I would go right from the airport up to his house on Laurel Way. I have a vivid memory of going up to hear 'Sloop...' on a big Scully 4-track tape recorder. He had these 604 studio monitors in this little playback room off the dining area. Because the space was so small, the sound was more enormous than it would normally be. It was just incredible, especially in terms of his hearing.
"He would play me stuff, and of course, I loved every minute of it. He could do no wrong. He could play me anything, and I would love it. You see, he would record different versions of the same thing; one would be slightly slower or lighter. And it was difficult to choose because they were all so beautiful to me.
"One of the great things about his music is dynamics; he really enjoyed using dynamics as a musical technique. For example, on 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' the way it starts gently with the harp and then the snare drum lands really big just before the verse. Or the way the track drops out on 'Sloop John B' and it's a cappella for four and half bars. Or 'I'm Waiting For The Day' where the intro is very big, then it gets quite small with the vocal in the verse with just a little instrumentation and then, in the chorus, it gets very big again, with background harmonies against the lead. It is perhaps one of the most dynamic moments on the album.
"One of the things that always amazed me about the sessions was when, during a take, if out of a whole studio full of musicians...a big rhythm section, horns, percussion, etc...there would be one little thing happening wrong in the arrangement, he would stop it immediately. 'So-and-so missed their entrance.' Or they didn't come down exactly the way he had told them. A lot of people said, 'It sure sounded good to me.' To us, it did sound incredible; it was easy to get lost in it. But if one of his 'little children' wasn't in line, he heard it right away.
"I didn't play that much guitar on the Pet Sounds sessions, although I do remember playing 12-string direct right in through the board. My playing wasn't as consequential as it had been before and would become later, because everything had became more of an orchestra, part of the whole. It wasn't that simple form, like our early records, with a little song and little lead break and drive home the chorus. It was more symphonic. It really wasn't appropriate for us to play on those dates; the tracking just got beyond us. We learned it later.
"His talent was very apparent to those of us who had been close to him, so watching him work with the musicians seemed real natural. When I was eight years old, he was teaching me arrangements. It was literally, 'Mom, make Carl sing! I learned how to do very complex harmonies and voicings when I was very young, and I learned how to do them quickly so I could go out and play."
His vocal arranging started when we were kids. As a twelve year old, he was heavy into the jazz vocals of the Four Freshmen. He would listen to their records and play the harmonies on the piano. What he would do is sit at the piano and figure out each individual part; then he would teach Mom and I a part. He would sing the third part, record the three of us singing together, and then he would sing to the playback to hear the fourth part.
"I think that's why I always found the vocal sessions to be fun. That was my cup of tea; I had been trained from the time I was a little kid to do that. I could hear my part one time and do it exactly. And that was really easy and fun. "The vocal parts on Pet Sounds were fascinating, so beautiful and maybe mixed more subtly than on some of our earlier records. The one song that sticks out in my mind the most is 'Wouldn't It Be Nice.’ Brilliant parts. It was hard to sing without getting tears in your eyes. We all seem to remember singing it a lot. Many times. Many days.
In fact, I don't think we ever got 'em right. It still feels a little rushed. I wish they were sung more on time, not so on top of the beat. Dennis did the bass vocals in the verse, and he did a great job on it. He was thrilled at the way it sounded, so proud that it came out so cool. Of all the songs, I think that song hit home the most. We were all starting our adult lives...in courtships, getting married, having babies.
"It was during that time, we had prayer sessions. It was very impromptu; Brian would actually write prayers down on paper. I remember being very impressed by that. I guess he wanted to see it, rather than just go inside himself. We prayed for guidance, to make the most healing sounds."
"God Only Knows": "It was on a Sunday afternoon, at Columbia Records studio...Sunset and Gower...the big studio where the Byrds and Paul Revere & The Raiders recorded. I was honored to be able to sing that one. It is so beautifully written, it sings itself. Brian said something like, 'Don't do anything with it. Just sing it real straight. No effort. Take in a breath. Let it go real easy'. I was really grateful to be the one to sing that song. I felt extremely lucky.
'It might have been that same night when we did the tag of 'God Only Knows' and everybody got in on it. It was like 'Come on out here into the studio.' Brian would make up a little part. That was fun; we listened to it endlessly." [Note: This alternate tag can be heard on Disc 3 of this collection.]
"Sloop John B": "Brian had me do the first verse. He wanted another texture, and so I did it. It sounded okay, but maybe it was a little too soft. Brian sensed he needed a little more edge there, so he sang the first verse him self." [The version with Carl on lead is on Disc 3.]
NAMING THE RECORD
“I’m not sure who came up with the title. I think it was Brian. The idea he had was that everybody has these sounds that they love, and this was a collection of my 'Pet Sounds.' It was hard to think of a name for the album, because you sure couldn't call it Shut Down Vol. 3."
“Capitol didn't understand Pet Sounds, they felt uncomfortable with it. We knew that this was really good music. We also knew that music was changing, that the business was changing. But Capitol had a very set picture of us, and nothing we could do would change that Even Pet Sounds couldn't alter their image of us. So, instead of letting us grow, they put together a greatest hits album and didn't really promote Pet Sounds properly. Then, when Pet Sounds didn't sell as well as our previous albums, they were vindicated, and could say 'See, we were right.' They also felt they didn't have to promote it; that our records would automatically sell because we were getting so much airplay. Brian was disappointed that it didn't sell better in the U.S.
"In November, 1966, Brian was at work on Smile, and being a homebody, he didn't go on tour with us to England where our music was being so well-received. It's a shame he wasn't there to experience how much excitement the records were causing, because all his hard work was being rewarded in full measure and he didn't get to enjoy the full impact of the success first hand. I wish he could have been with us, because it was really a thrilling time."
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ALBUM
"More than any other Beach Boys album, this one was Brian's baby. I am grateful to have been part of a record that brought pop music to a new level. It was certainly a groundbreaking album. At the time, it sure seemed like one. It was just so much more than a record; that's why it had such a spiritual quality. It wasn't like going in and
doing another top ten. It had so much more meaning than that A lot more of life has passed since we did it, but that was our best achievement. I feel honored to be part of it. It was like going to church and a labor of love."