Pet Sounds was an album that I used to play regularly when I was younger. Friends would come over and we’d sit around and listen to it together; I thought it was absolutely wonderful.
More than four decades after it was first released, there are many reasons why it’s such an influential and timeless album. First and foremost The Beach Boys had lovely voices. And secondly, unlike just about everyone else, they didn’t just sing in harmony.
Without getting too over-analytical, they used a lot of elaborate cross-vocal lines. If you listened carefully there were often two or three melodies going at once and this album’s God Only Knows is a very good example of that. What they had was a very simple kind of complexity.
Another reason that Pet Sounds worked so well was Brian Wilson’s ingenious production. I liked the fact that if it suited the song he would just use a tambourine as percussion instead of a regular drum-kit.
The rest of us would be laying down the bass, drums, guitar and keyboards, and then singing over it. But the Beach Boys were never afraid of stripping things back to use a capella vocals.
The album’s final song, Caroline, No, even features the sound of an oncoming train and barking of Wilson’s dogs. For somebody like myself that also made records, that was a very, very adventurous thing to do. In some ways we were all sheep and The Beach Boys were the leaders.
The album is renowned for its hit singles and the songs that are still played on the radio, things like Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows, but it also has incredible depth. Sloop John B, for instance, was a traditional folk song rearranged only the way that Brian Wilson could have done.
Wilson gave up touring shortly before the album was released in 1966 and I never got to see the Beach Boys during the Pet Sounds era, but in later years I ended up working with them on the road. They still sounded good. But it was the records that I really liked.
Oddly, Pet Sounds wasn’t one of the band’s biggest sellers at the time, which I believe deeply disappointed Brian Wilson.
Full of well-crafted pop songs, Pet Sounds influenced me as a musician, albeit subconsciously, but as implied by the testimonies of Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Eric Clapton and a thousand journalists that call it the best album of all time, it had a resounding and everlasting impact upon music as a whole.
Manfred Mann was speaking to Dave Ling.