"Wouldn't It Be Nice"
Lead Vocal: Brian on the verses, Mike on the bridge.
"Wouldn't It Be Nice," Brian once noted, "has a very special and subtle background. One of the features of this record is that Dennis sings a special way, cupping his hands. I had thought for hours of the best way to achieve the sound, and Dennis dug it because he knew it would work."
(For this release, I recently asked Brian for capsule descriptions of each track, so that we would have a brief "historical highlights" guide to the record.)
Brian, 1996: "Listen for the rockin' accordions...also, listen for the ethereal guitars in the introduction...Tony Asher and I had visualized a scene; we saw that. It was just a place. We put it into music, and it found its way onto tape. We had a feeling in our hearts, like a vibration. We really felt good about that record."
"You Still Believe In Me"
Lead Vocal: Brian
This song, a classically-trained musician once explained, "compositionally embodies the unique manner in which Brian writes music. In a sense, Brian created a new way of using the scale. His progressions are always going up, then pausing before they go up _again, like they're going towards God. As you'll hear clearly on this song, Brian doesn't come down in the middle of a progression."
HISTORICAL NOTE: This track is a remnant from a song called "In My Childhood" (listen for the bicycle bell and horn) that Brian decided not to finish.
PRODUCTION NOTE: To get the unique sound on the opening of this track, Tony Asher explains, "one of us had to get inside the piano to pluck the strings, while the other guy had to be at the keyboard pushing the notes so that they would ring."
Brian, 1996: "A little 'Boys Choir'-type song with me doing the soprano. Very, very spiritual."
"That's Not Me"
Lead Vocal: Mike on the verses (with Mike and Brian on the choruses)
Great percussion, an incredibly fat bass line, ethereal background vocals and surprising key changes highlight this track. In general, on this album, Brian's use of percussion was brilliant.
Brian, 1996: "This showcased Mike Love's voice pretty good. Listen for the twelve string guitar right after the lyric 'I'm a little bit scared 'cause I haven't been home in a long time'."
"Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)"
Lead Vocal: Brian
When recently asked about how the lyric "Listen to my heartbeat' melts into a superb string arrangement, Brian said "I felt very deeply about that line. One of the sweetest songs I ever sang. I have to say I'm proud of it. The innocence of youth in my voice, of being young and childlike. I think that's what people liked."
"I'm Waiting For The Day"
Lead Vocal: Brian
Brian's use of dynamics on this track is particularly dazzling. After the powerful introduction, the track abruptly shifts into a beautiful English horn line that echoes the lead vocal. Listen for the symphonic sound of the flutes, an incredible series of tempo changes, great background vocals and the warmth of the strings near the tag.
HISTORICAL NOTE: According to copyright records, two versions of "I'm Waiting For The Day," credited to Brian, were registered in 1964.
Brian, 1996: "I like the song; it's a very romantic song. But I did not like my vocal performance of it."
"Let's Go Away For Awhile"
"Let's Go Away For Awhile," Brian stated in 1967, was "the most satisfying piece of music I've ever made. I applied a certain set of dynamics through the arrangement and the mixing and got a full musical extension of what I'd planned during the earliest stages of the theme. I think the chord changes are very special. I used a lot of musicians on the track--twelve violins, piano, four saxes, oboe, vibes, a guitar with a coke bottle on the strings for a semi-steel guitar effect. Also, I used two basses and percussion. The total effect is 'Let's Go Away For Awhile,' which is something everyone in the world must have said at some time or another. Nice thought—most of us don't go away, but it's still a nice thought."
Within this very serious project, there were some amusing moments. "Let's Go Away For Awhile" was the focus of one of them, as Tony Asher recalls. "There was an album out called How To Speak Hip...a lampooning of the language instruction albums. I played it for Brian, and it destroyed him, killed him. He picked up a couple of references on the album. One of them was this hip character that said if everyone were 'laid back and cool, then we'd have world peace.' So Brian started going around saying, 'Hey, would somebody get me a candy bar, and then we'll have world peace.' Asher notes that Brian even had an acetate made of this track with a label on it saying "And Then We'll Have World Peace."
A friend of Brian's once expressed her amazement at how Brian came up with this track and asked him how he did it. Brian smiled and said, "Here's a good way to describe it. Try to hum it.' Good luck.
HISTORICAL NOTE: Brian once said he intended for the released version of this to be the backing track for a vocal, "but I decided to leave it alone."
Brian, 1996: "That is a great 'Burt Bacharach' type of thing."
"Sloop John B"
Lead Vocal: Brian and Mike
It was folk music fan Alan Jardine (he had loved the Kingston Trio's version of this circa 1927 West Indies tune) who suggested to Brian that the group cover "Sloop John B."
Reportedly, an acoustic version was recorded by The Beach Boys in 1965, but we weren't able to locate it. The final version is especially noteworthy for the a cappella break, something that was uncommon for a pop record in 1966. (Engineer Chuck Britz: "They could sing a cappella and make tears come to your eyes.")
HISTORICAL NOTE: As was record industry custom at the time, even though "Sloop John B" was not recorded specifically for the Pet Sounds album, it was included because it was the Beach Boys' current hit single.
Brian, 1996: "The idea to drop out the track happened spontaneously."
"God Only Knows"
Lead Vocal: Carl
Brian: "Carl and I were into prayer. We'd pray together, and we prayed for light and guidance through the album. We kind of made it a religious ceremony."
In the booth, Brian relied on Carl's ear, but it was on "God Only Knows" that Carl's angelic voice made its biggest impression. Without question, it is one of the prettiest vocals ever recorded.
HISTORICAL NOTE: "God Only Knows" was a top-five hit in England, and thanks to Pet Sounds and "Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys became so popular in England in 1966 that they even edged out the Beatles in New Musical Express's year-end poll as the most popular vocal group in the country.
PRODUCTION NOTES: 1) Brian had trouble getting the instrumental break on "God Only Knows" right, and when one of the musicians (pianist Don Randi) suggested that it be played staccato, that gave Brian exactly the feel he needed. 2) Instrumentally, the magnificent French horn, the sleighbells, the clip-clop percussion, the harpsichord and the strings are most prominent, but Brian also used flutes, bass clarinet and accordion to enhance one of his most beautiful recordings.
Brian, 1996: "Listen for the French horn and the violins in the second verse."
"I Know There's An Answer"
Lead Vocal: (Mike and Alan on the verses, Brian on the choruses.)
HISTORICAL NOTE: Terry Sachen, who co-wrote the lyric to this song, was the Beach Boys' road manager in 1966.
Brian, 1996: "A better example of how Al Jardine sings. A good honest record...a good honest vocal sound. Mike sang the first half of the verse, Al sang the second half, and I sang the choruses. Al and I sounded a lot alike."
Lead Vocal: Mike
This track is notable for its tempo changes, horn arrangement and bass guitar sound, but it's probably most talked about because during the instrumental bridge, there is a conversation (about cameras). Then, you hear Brian saying "Top, please," which was his instruction to the engineer to stop the tape and rewind it to the beginning of the song in order to do another take. The almost unintelligible background chatter on this cut is one of those happy studio accidents that enhances the record and gives the listener a real sense of intimacy, as if you were in the recording studio with your friend while the record was being made.
(NOTE: These comments were probably recorded on earlier takes and don't indicate dissatisfaction with the final vocals.)
Steve Douglas: "I remember when Brian turned in Pet Sounds...1 was working as a producer at Capitol at the time. It was full of noise. You could hear him talking in the background. It was real sloppy. He had spent all this time making the album, and zip, dubbed it down in one day or something like that."
Brian told music journalist Ken Sharp: "I wanted to conceive the idea of a bass guitar playing an octave higher than regular and showcase it as the principal instrument in the track."
Brian, 1996: "Another great showcasing of Mike Love's voice. Really good lyrics. Also, be listening for that trombone in the choruses."
"I Just Wasn't Made For These Times"
Lead Vocal: Brian
Brian: "It's about a guy who was crying out because he thought he was too advanced, and that he'd eventually have to leave people behind. All my friends thought I was crazy to do Pet Sounds."
PRODUCTION NOTE: It was on this track that Brian first experimented with the Theremin, probably the first time it had been used on a rock record. Shortly after the track was recorded, Brian used the Theremin extensively on "Good Vibrations."
Brian, 1996: "That is such a good song, I can't believe it."
The title cut and the LP title have a double meaning. The sounds that are on the album could be considered to be Brian's "pet sounds." And Brian's pups (Banana and Louie) can be heard on the canine coda to the album's final track, "Caroline, No." Brian credits Carl with coming up with the title, Carl credits Brian. Other reports say it was Mike's idea. Will somebody step forward with the truth?
PRODUCTION NOTE: Brian once demonstrated how they used two empty soda cans to get the percussion sound.
Brian: "Caroline, No' was my favorite on the album. The melody and the chords were like Glenn Miller...a Glenn Miller-type bridge. The fade-out was like a 1944 kind of record."
HISTORICAL NOTE: "Caroline, No" was issued as a Brian Wilson single, the only time-his name graced a record as a solo artist during the Capitol years.
Brian, 1996: "Caroline, No' is the prettiest ballad I've ever sung. Awfully pretty song. Listen for the flutes in the fadeout."
This session is the source of the verse on the finished track.