The box set begins with the first-ever stereo mix of Pet Sounds.
Long requested by fans of this album, you will hear Pet Sounds in a completely new way. Not better. Not definitive. Just different. Some will find it preferable to Brian's original mono master, others will dismiss it as tampering with perfection. It is, in some ways, worse than colorizing "Citizen Kane." However, it should be noted here that this is not presented as a "superior" version of Brian's masterwork but just as an educational, interesting, entertaining and fresh way of listening to the album.
One day, given developments in interactive technology, there might be a Pet Sounds CD-ROM on which you could endlessly play with the various possibilities to achieve your preferred mix. But until then, our creative approach on this collection was to come up with the kind of mix that would have been done in 1966 if today's technology existed then and would have allowed it to be done.
Think of the stereo mix as a 3-D version of a Monet or a Picasso--the side view allows as to separate the layers and look "into" them. Thus some construction will show. Some textures and colors will appear to change as they separate. It is, in some ways, a completely new listening experience, and it will take some getting used to.
But that's just the result, not our intention. Our only goal was a stereo mix that would be consistent with Brian's original vision and create the same feeling that he did. Due to the nature of stereo, this mix doesn't sound exactly like the mono album. When Brian first heard the rough stereo mixes, his excited reaction was, "It's fuller. More of what was there is there. It's different. (laughing) The magic of stereo."
Now, what should also immediately be apparent is that the sound quality of the stereo version of the album is staggering in its clarity. Very simply, we were able to return to the actual multi-track session masters. So sonically, on this collection, we are at least two and in some cases three generations closer to the original recording than any other previously released version of the album. By constantly doing "A-B" comparisons with the original mono mix and these new mixes, we attempted to duplicate both the overall sound and feel as well as the details, from the volume of a percussive effect to the length of the fades. No part of this project was more difficult. However, I believe, we now have what we've long wanted--a new, not better way, to listen to Pet Sounds.
Now, on to the question as to why Pet Sounds was never mixed in stereo. The simplest answer is that Brian always mixed in mono. As to why, there are two reasons. First of all, since early childhood, Brian has been almost completely deaf in his right ear, so he can't totally comprehend stereo. Secondly, and more importantly, Brian explains that he always wanted his records to be in mono so that he would be in control of the listening experience. With mono, the listener hears it exactly with the balance that the producer intended. With stereo, however, the listener can change the mix, just by the turn of a balance knob or speaker placement.
(NOTE: For additional information on this aspect of the project, read Mark Linett's technical notes section to learn exactly how he accomplished this mix, and why, for example, the lead vocal on the bridge of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is different from the one on the released version.)
Now, back to the discs. Following the stereo mix of the album, we begin our audio documentary. For the balance of disc one and all of two, you'll be present at the creation, hearing (where they exist), the highlights of each tracking session.
[Unfortunately, we couldn't find the tracking sessions for "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)," but what you'll hear in its place is Brian's recently-unearthed (and quite remarkable) piano demo without vocal.]
Starting with "Sloop John B" in July of 1965, you'll eavesdrop on Brian as he and the musicians meticulously record each track; you'll hear how the arrangements are born, grow up and reach maturity. And finally, for every song on the album, you'll hear the finished backing track in stereo, without vocals, so that you can listen to almost every subtle nuance behind Brian's arranging and producing technique...orchestrations that were sometimes not completely audible because of the vocals.
- (NOTE: As the stereo mix of the entire album on Disc One already includes the two instrumentals in stereo, we didn't repeat them. Instead, we have included the finished tracks minus a significant overdub -- in the case of "Let's Go Away For Awhile," it's the track without the strings ...for "Pet Sounds," you'll hear the track without the Leslie'd guitar solo.)
Also, for a number of reasons, we could not include every second of every session. First, we just don't have the space; many of the tapes from the sessions clock in at wt over a half-hour. Another problem we faced was that some sessions tapes were recorded over. On "Trombone Dixie," for example, there were upwards of forty takes attempt recorded.
However, when they got to the end of the reel, knowing that they didn't have any usable takes, the tape was rewound to the beginning, and they started recording from the top. That also happened on "You Still Believe In Me"; Brian recorded over the early part of the session tape for his and Tony's ringing piano notes intro.
What has been selected from the sessions are moments that provide important musical insight into how the arrangements of the tracks developed. They have been edited together in a way that is both informative and listenable and are included to give you a capsule version of how these records were made...an idea of what it was like to be in the studio, working with Brian. It is also perhaps noteworthy to mention here that given the intricacy of the Beach Boys background vocals on the hits from 1963-1965, most of the basic tracks were comparatively simple because, in essence, they were functioning as rhythm beds. On this package, as you listen to the tracks stripped of the vocals, you'll hear just the opposite because the tracks on Pet Sounds were perhaps Brian's most complex yet. In part, that might have been necessary because on much of Pet Sounds, unlike any previous Beach Boys record, in keeping with the more individual emotions being expressed, there were fewer background vocal parts. So the basic tracks, in essence, were "picking up the slack," and their sophistication was yet another indication of Brian's growth as a creator.
Now, besides the thirteen tracks from the album, there are two unexpected treats in this chronological journey. The first is what Brian calls a "happy instrumental." It is known from the 1990 CD release of Pet Sounds as "Trombone Dixie," a descriptive title that was scrawled on the tape box; it was recorded November 1, 1965. Brian doesn't recall there either being lyrics written for it nor vocals recorded. It was cut just two weeks before "Run James Run," which was the working title for the instrumental that I became "Pet Sounds." It is, perhaps, one of the tracks that Brian and Tony Asher listened to and decided not to finish.
So even though it essentially predates the official Pet Sounds sessions by two weeks, "Trombone Dixie" is presented as the only surviving, unused track from that period. Its quality, and the fact that it is the only contemporaneous example of his developing arranging talent, makes it worthy of inclusion here. Besides, even though Brian never did do anything with it [it was first released in 1990 as a bonus track on the Pet Sounds CD], it appears, from what you will hear during the session, that at least part of the song was used in "Wouldn't It Be Nice."
The other bonus "song" on this box set is "Good Vibrations." Most people don't realize that Brian first cut a track on it in February of 1966. That first, original session is excerpted here because it took place right in the middle of the Pet Sounds sessions. Tony Asher (as you'll read in his interview) actually wrote lyrics for it (which can be heard on disc 5 of the 1993 Beach Boys box set). However, while Brian did significant work on "Good Vibrations" during the making of Pet Sounds, he never pieced together a version with which he was happy.
So, realizing he would need more time to finish it to his satisfaction, he temporarily put it aside and didn't return to "Good Vibrations" until the second week of April when, with the exception of a little vocal work, Pet Sounds was virtually completed. (NOTE: Capitol intends to release a 30th anniversary "Good Vibrations" collection in October of 1996...an audio journey into the making of the record that forever changed the music business.)
The rest of Discs One and Two really need no further explanation, other than that you will be able to hear for yourself how and why the musicians in the business regard Brian as one of the masters of arranging and producing. As you listen to him interact with the musicians from the booth, you get a sense of his work ethic as well as his personality.
Part cheerleader, part taskmaster, occasional joker--everything he did was aimed at achieving the best possible final result. Basically, all the work in the studio was designed to get sounds out of his head and into the musicians' so they could put the right sounds into the air and onto tape. Sadly, no tapes are known to have been made of the portion of the recording sessions when Brian was actually in the studio, teaching the musicians their parts, one at a time.
Disc Three focuses on the Beach Boys' vocal work. We begin by presenting the final vocals (without the tracks), in order, for all the songs (except, of course, for the two instrumentals). One can't help but marvel at and be moved by the beauty of their harmony singing, and with the vocals isolated and presented in stereo, you'll hear ample additional evidence as to why the Beach Boys are considered to be among the best " vocal groups in rock history. Also, as you listen to the background voicings, keep in mind that Brian's vocal arrangements, inspired by the jazz-oriented Four Freshmen, were often designed to mimic the sounds of horns. (NOTE: As on tracks like "Here Today" there is a long instrumental break; rather than present "dead air," the instrumental track has been made audible at a level similar to what the Beach Boys might have heard in their headphones when they were recording the vocals.)
Unfortunately, there are basically no out-takes from those vocal recording sessions because if a take wasn't satisfactory, it would be immediately erased by the next one. However, what did survive are some alternate versions, and those are noteworthy for their different vocal arrangements, mixes and/or lead vocalists.
Perhaps the two most remarkable surviving vocal fragments are the unused piece from "Don't Talk..." and the discarded vocal tag for "God Only Knows." (Bruce Johnston and Carl Wilson describe that session in their interviews.)
The "alternate" album presentation on Disc Three is designed to present the most interesting unused finished mixes. Sometimes subtly different, sometimes initially off putting (the reversed lyrics on the first verse of "Wouldn't It Be Nice"), sometimes completely unexpected (Mike's lead on the first verse of "I'm Waiting For The Day," "Sloop John B" with Carl on lead) and sometimes historic ("Hang On To Your Ego" with the original lyrics), these mixes are a lot of fun. Little else need be said. Discover for yourself the variations in these "not quite final" takes.
The closing portion of Disc Three features a handful of surviving alternate mixes that are examples of the kind of vocal work Brian might do in the studio while he was waiting for the Beach Boys to return from the road. It is in essence, a mini-solo album.
You'll hear an early version of "Sloop John B" on which Brian sings the entire lead as well as Brian's lead on "God Only Knows."
And finally, Disc Three ends with an historic, never-before-released version of "Caroline, No." Back in 1966, at Murry Wilson's insistence, Brian's version of "Caroline, No" was sped up so that, in Murry's words, Brian would sound younger. That is the way we've always heard the song.
This collection, however, concludes as Brian wanted the album to end back in 1966, with "Caroline, No" in mono, at its original speed, in the correct key and with a tempo that imparts the true feeling of Brian's composition.
"I've often played Pet Sounds and cried." - Paul McCartney