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The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums

Nov 17 2021 • 54 mins

In early 1966, the Beach Boys arrived at Los Angeles’ Western Studios to hear what Brian Wilson had been up to. The touring version of the band – Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson – had been on the road in Japan, singing surf hits like “Fun, Fun Fun” and “I Get Around.” Wilson, after suffering a mental breakdown on a plane the year before, stayed home, opting to work on instrumental tracks with studio musicians.

What the band heard stunned them. Using instruments like harpsichord, harmonica, strings, and even sleigh bells, Wilson had written a spiritual album that captured heartbreak, insecurity, pain and sadness of entering adulthood. According to legend, the Beach Boys did not like "Pet Sounds", and its commercial failure led Brian Wilson to lose confidence in himself and descend further into mental illness. As the band explained to Rolling Stone in this week's episode of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time podcast, the truth is more a little more complicated.

While "Pet Sounds" didn’t sell, it inspired generations of musicians, beginning with the Beatles, who, according to George Martin, said ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ “never would have happened” without "Pet Sounds". The album was voted number two on Rolling Stone's rebooted 500 Greatest Albums of All Timelist, the spot it held in 2003.

Rolling Stone’s Jason Fine narrates the episode, which includes archival interviews with Brian Wilson, members of Wrecking Crew and more, as well as new interviews with several Beach Boys, plus members of Brian Wilson’s touring band, who brought the music of Pet Sounds to life on stage for the first time in 2000.

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