I keep looking for a place to fit in
where I can speak my mind
I’ve been trying hard to find the people that I won’t leave behind
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They say, I got brains but they ain’t doing me no good
I wish they could
— I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, The Beach Boys
Each week here at earworm a ‘classic album’ will be listened to and (re?)assessed to determine whether it truly deserves its place in the fabled pantheon of all those Best Albums Of All Time lists music magazines love to publish. Feel free to join the debate.
1966’s Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys is an album steeped in music history lore. Lead singer-songwriter Brian Wilson’s undoubted musical genius was fraying at the edges as his mental health took a turn for the worse.
Wilson was beginning to realise the expanded potential of new recording studio techniques and had never enjoyed touring so decided to retire from the road to solely concentrate on writing songs for the successful surf rock group. Wilson subsequently had a nervous breakdown, due in some part to feeling The Beatles had managed to outdo him with their Rubber Soul album, and spent the next decade or so in isolation while his colleagues toured varying versions of the band around the world.
The music press loves the myth of the troubled artist pouring his emotions into his work but putting all that aside does Pet Sounds now stack up as a great album? And can opener Wouldn’t It Be Nice ever be disassociated from those irritating Cadbury chocolate ads? (Short answer: no)
Listening now, it’s an album which has songs that fall into two distinct camps. Saccharine love songs like the plodding Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) and mawkish I’m Waiting For The Day haven’t aged well. On the plus side, some of the tracks here show why Pet Sounds is so highly regarded. Wilson’s blunt assessment of his psychedelic scenester peers on I Know There’s An Answer (‘They come on like they’re peaceful/But inside they’re so uptight/They trip through their day/And waste all their thoughts at night’) and the frankly magnificent God Only Knows would easily sit alongside the contents of most Beatles’ albums no matter what Wilson thinks.
Ultimately though, if Pet Sounds is to be compared with the likes of Rubber Soul, it’s a pity so many of its tracks are in the same ball park as lacklustre Beatles efforts like Michelle rather than the high watermark of In My Life. (While I’m getting all Indonesian abattoir on sacred cows – a tortuous metaphor that will date quicker than a dated album – ‘everyone’ knows that 1966’s Revolver is superior to 1965’s Rubber Soul…)
I don’t think Pet Sounds is a truly classic album. Like Wilson in 1966, it just wasn’t made for these times. There’s a few great songs but the whole doesn’t convince.
Tell me I’m wrong or right. I know there’s an answer.
Next week’s ‘Classic Album?’ to listen to and review is 1972’s Harvest by Neil Young as suggested by Daniel Bond. There’s been a few others already mentioned that will also feature soon. Get your nominations in.