“A genius is someone who possesses an exceptional
innate capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and
original work in art, literature or music; a person, in short, whose
contribution to the culture of his era is unique, definitive and
spiritually momentous. Such people do not come along every day.
“It is ridiculous to suppose that the history of art rises in a
continuous progression of great achievements from Giotto to Picasso.
There are many arid, mediocre stretches, some uplands and a few summits.
“These last, it must be said, have invariably been characterized by a
profound commitment to the human individual’s nobility, integrity and
irreplaceable importance, and it has always been the foremost concern
of genius to add to the sum of mankind’s reverence for mankind.”
Author of A Giacometti Portrait and Picasso and Dora: A Personal Memoir
“If there is one person that I have to select as a living genius of pop music, I would choose Brian Wilson.”
– George Martin, 1996
Producer, The Beatles
“I’m not a genius. I’m just a hard-working guy.”
– Brian Wilson, 1966
The artist's protestation and charming modesty aside, Pet Sounds has long been regarded as a work of genius, as true a labor of spiritual love as has ever been recorded. And thirty years after its initial release in May of 1966, it is held in even higher regard now than it was then. And back then, as you'll read, the royalty of the pop music world were completely bowled over by it.
A perfect combination of genius and hard work, inspiration and perspiration, of symphony and church choir, Pet Sounds is the result of a simple declaration of artistic intention. Thirty years ago, he told his wife, "I'm going to make the greatest album, the I greatest rock album ever made." And many think that's just what he did.
The "he" of course is Brian Wilson, composer, arranger, singer and record producer, the man most responsible for one of the most beloved catalogues of music ever created. But standing above all of that revered work...like the star on top of the Christmas tree...is Pet Sounds, an album that his peers, his fans and the critics all agree is one of the greatest lights in the musical galaxy. There is hardly a classic or contemporary pop musician who, having heard this album, hasn't acknowledged its greatness.
None of this, I suspect, is surprising news to you. Having purchased this box set, you're probably already more than just a little familiar with both the Beach Boys' story as well as the music of Pet Sounds, and I think it's fairly safe to assume, a big enough fan of the record that you wanted to learn more about the making of this extraordinary album. That's why this box set exists. If we agree that Pet Sounds is one of the most momentous achievements in the history of recording, then it makes sense that we would want to know everything we could about its gestation, from conception to birth.
Short of the invention of a working time machine, we'll really never know what it felt like to be in the studio during those four months in early 1966 when Brian Wilson and his creative team were crafting this record. However, we can do the next best thing, and this set is the result, an aural and oral compilation of the music and memories from the people directly involved in the making of the record.
Because there is so much to learn, the box has two stories to tell--one you'll hear and one you'll read. The listening one, I know, will be the more pleasurable and repeatable experience--there are so many moments of sheer joy in the music.
The first three CDs of this box set are designed to give you a sense of how Brian and the studio musicians cut the tracks and also to give you a unique glimpse into the harmonic magic of the Beach Boys singing. The collection opens with the first ever true stereo mix of the album, and the "bonus" CD is the original Pet Sounds LP in mono as it was originally mixed by Brian, remastered using "state of the art" technology.
You'll hear the highlights from the tracking dates for every song, the final instrumental takes in stereo without vocals and the vocals without the tracks. There are also over a dozen earlier mixes that were shelved, some for obvious reasons, others for cause more cosmic.
These books, like the CDs, are designed to give you a wealth of information about and impressions from the Pet Sounds sessions. By talking to as many of the participants as was possible, we've assembled as rich and varied a tapestry of remembrances associated with the making of this record as has ever been collected. While this isn't intended to be the final word on the subject, it is certainly designed to be an exhaustive historical document that will allow musicologists, musicians and just plain music lovers like myself luxurious insight into a record that in the past few years has frequently topped critics' and readers' polls in England as the greatest album of all-time.
Additionally, this booklet features two wonderful treasures that were born in 1990 as a direct result of the first American release of this LP on CD. One comes from Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury cartoon strip, who surprised and delighted all of us with his completely heartbreaking tale of Andy Lippincott's last days alive, moments which were enriched and made joyful by the mere existence of Pet Sounds on CD. Like hearing Brian's vocal sans track on "Caroline, No," I can't read the final installment without choking up.
The equally powerful and emotional if more cerebral addition to the history of Pet Sounds is an interview with Paul McCartney that was intended for inclusion in the 1990 CD package but didn't make it due to production problems. I think there has never been a more heartfelt endorsement of any work of art by a creative peer, and we are indebted to Mr. McCartney for his contribution.
In 1990, when I had the honor of talking with Paul about Pet Sounds, he said that he had given each of his children a copy of the album because he believed that nobody's musical education is complete until they've heard Pet Sounds. As that is the truth, then this box set is designed to be our post-graduate degree in music history, and, if it is possible, given how we already feel about this record, a quantum leap forward in our understanding of and appreciation for this remarkable musical achievement. Listen. Laugh. Cry. And feel Brian's love. As he always says about his music, "I'm there for you if you need me." There is no other place in which that comes across stronger, so just listen to his Pet Sounds heart...beat.
For the past few months, as we have been assembling this box, it has consistently amazed me how impossible it is to tire of this wondrous music. As I write this, I can't believe how excited I am by the approaching release of this set so that I can just sit down and endlessly enjoy it, as I hope you will. It is time for our re-induction. On this, the 30th anniversary of the creation, welcome back to the special world of faith, hope, love and mercy that is Pet Sounds.
- David Leaf