First off: a Pet Sounds documentary that doesn’t even mention You Still Believe in Me, Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder), or Caroline, No? Come on, at least mention all 13 songs from the album! And if not that, at least try to take a deeper look, or offer a new perspective, but this documentary is the same old rehash. If you’ve seen any Beach Boys documentary, you’ve seen everything and more than this doc has to offer.
But the main bone I have to pick with this documentary (and with most Beach Boys documentaries) is how they tell the story leading up to Pet Sounds.
The Beach Boys myth that everyone from the management, to Capitol Records, and even band members love to propagate is that Brian Wilson, after years of pumping out trite songs about surfing, cars and girls, suddenly decided to be a “real artist” in 1966 with the release of Pet Sounds. They do themselves, and especially Brian, an injustice when they continue spreading this myth. From at least 1963, when a 20-year old Brian Wilson took over the production reins on the Boys’ recordings, he was constantly foreshadowing Pet Sounds. In addition to the near endless supply of smash hits, he would always sprinkle introspective ballads, and progressive production and arrangements across their albums and singles. They even had hits with introspective ballads like The Warmth of the Sun, In My Room, and Don’t Worry Baby. It was the other side of the coin from hits like “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Surfin’ USA,” and “I Get Around.” It was an established part of their formula.
Showtime’s doc didn’t even mention the Side B of The Beach Boys Today! (1965) which features a string of songs that could have fit perfectly on Pet Sounds. Please Let Me Wonder, She Knows Me Too Well, Kiss Me, Baby, and In The Back of My Mind all include the lush arrangements and introspective lyrics that would become a hallmark of the Pet Sounds album.
But you can go all the way back to 1963’s Surfer Girl album (the first which Brian produced) with songs like Lonely Sea that suggest a much deeper, spiritual side to the music that Showtime (and the Beach Boys themselves) like to suggest came out of nowhere during those magical Pet Sounds sessions. I think it would make a much more fascinating documentary to really show the journey Brian and the Beach Boys took to arrive at Pet Sounds. Maybe get Brian talking about how he’d been chasing this sound since the early Beach Boys records, and finally felt the confidence in the studio and as a writer to devote himself fully to these type of songs. There would be so much more to dig into, to see Pet Sounds as something Brian has been building towards over the course of the 4 years (and 12 albums!?) leading up to it.
This is not to say Pet Sounds is not special, it is perhaps the most special album. It is where Brian Wilson finally combined all his most idiosyncratic styles into one masterpiece, with the help of the strong lyrics of Tony Asher. In the past, there was only a handful of songs like these on any given Beach Boys release, and with Pet Sounds he devoted a whole album to these sounds and emotions. There’s a number of different stories about where the title Pet Sounds came from, but I’ve always liked to think of the word “Pet” in its adjective form: “denoting a thing that one devotes special attention to or feels particularly strongly about.” Brian’s favorite, special sounds, filling an album for the first time.
I’ve created a playlist so you can clearly see the line that Brian carved from Surfer Girl to God Only Knows.
BEACH BOYS: PATH TO PET SOUNDS