"Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

Jonathan Skufca

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






It‰’s hard to believe that this is the last column I‰’ll ever write for WVAU. As my graduation approaches and I reflect on all I‰’ve written about, I found it hard to believe I‰’ve never written about my favorite album ever made. I kinda spoiled it with the title, and it is kind of a hot take given my stance that The Beatles are the best band of all time, but I am firm in my opinion that The Beach Boy‰’s 1966 record Pet Sounds is the best album ever made. In any genre. It is the only album that I can listen to and say has absolutely zero flaws. And I‰’m going to tell you why I believe this album is, and likely will forever be, the best album ever made.

First of all, if you haven‰’t listened the original mono mix of Pet Sounds, please stop and do so. It‰’s on Spotify and is the version embedded above. It‰’s only around 35 minutes long, but they are the best 35 minutes one could ever spend. Seriously. Stop. Go listen and come back in 35 minutes.

So, for those that don‰’t know the history behind the Beach Boys, I‰’ll try to summarize their history up to 1965 very quickly. A band consisting of the Wilson brothers (Carl, Dennis, and Brian) and their neighborhood friends got signed to Capitol records in the early 1960s and got famous singing songs about surfing, cars, and girls. However, Brian Wilson, the primary creative force behind the band, hating performing live and stopped doing so after an in-flight panic attack. This allowed him to focus all of his time on songwriting and production, and the Beach Boys‰’ output in 1965 shows the beginning of this shift. While “California Girls‰” is still in the band‰’s subject matter wheelhouse, the composition and arrangement was a sign of things to come. Their last single before Pet Sounds, “The Little Girl I Once Knew,‰” actually features multiple seconds of silence—something unheard of in pop music at the time.

Responding to The Beatles‰’ Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson then set out to create “the best rock album ever made,‰” and I fundamentally agree that he succeeded. In an era where the industry was still based on 45 rpm singles, Brian wanted to create an album with no filler—an album that would stand on its own. Capitol wasn‰’t super hot on the new record‰’s sound, and it has frequently been reported that the rest of the band wasn‰’t terribly in favor of it either. At the very least, the rest of the band wasn‰’t sure quite what Brian and his co-writers (Tony Asher and Van Dyke Parks) were quite writing about.

But that‰’s because Pet Sounds is by far the most personal records the band ever put out. Opening with “Wouldn‰’t It Be Nice,‰” a song that on its face is a typical boy/girl love song in the band‰’s style, has a very progressive orchestration featuring the perennially talented Wrecking Crew session musicians. The very next track, “You Still Believe in Me,‰” has Brian ripping his heart open and sharing his flaws with us:

I know perfectly well I‰’m not where I should be
I‰’ve been very aware that you‰’ve been patient with me
Every time we break up, you bring back your love to me
And after all I‰’ve done to you, how can it be?
You Still Believe In Me

And musically, the song is incredibly distinct and a huge gap from the surf-rock of the band‰’s past. The lead instrument is a harpsichord, and bicycle bells are utilized as percussion instruments throughout. This is the forward-thinking orchestration that fundamentally advances the record past anything released at the time.

These personal themes continue throughout the flawless “That‰’s Not Me,‰” “Don‰’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder),‰” and “I‰’m Waiting for The Day,‰” and after an incredible instrumental “Let‰’s Go Away for Awhile,‰” we reach the only cover song on the record, Caribbean folk song “Sloop John B.‰” While at first this may seem out of place, when one views it as the centerpiece of the album, literally surrounded by the personal feelings of Brian Wilson, we can see that the lyrics parallel Brian‰’s life quite well: “I feel so broke up, I wanna go home. Brian was never happy touring and never felt that he ever fit in with that lifestyle. It is this song that provides Pet Sounds with its main motif and, arguably, concept. The entire album, lyrically, is based around this concept of wanting to be safe and sound on “dry land.‰” To Brian, this was at home or in the studio with his music.

Continuing along with the record, we have one of the best pop songs ever written and recorded, “God Only Knows.‰” Similarly to the album opener, this track has subject matter similar to the band‰’s previous output—being in love—but features some of the absolute best vocal harmonies not only in the band‰’s catalog, but also in the entirety of recorded music. The counterpoint in the outro is so damn beautiful I sometimes catch tears welling up in my eyes when I listen to it. I could count on one hand the number of songs that have made me do that.

I honestly could keep going track-by-track on how much I love this record, highlighting things like the theremin solo on “I Just Wasn‰’t Made For These Times‰” and the Coke bottle Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine used on the intro of “Caroline, No,‰” but the last track I‰’ll talk about in depth is “I Know There‰’s An Answer.‰” Originally titled “Hang On To Your Ego,‰” this track details Brian‰’s complicated relationship with LSD. This was initially alluded to in one of the lyrics changed in their version of “Sloop John B:‰” (“This is the worst trip I‰’ve ever been on,‰” changed from “This is the worst trip since I‰’ve been born‰Û) but was more deeply explored in this track. While it was written while Brian was on an acid trip, it shows his complicated and hypocritical feelings towards those who habitually use the drug:

I know so many people who think they can do it alone
They isolate their heads and stay in their safety zone

Now what you tell them?
And what can you say that won‰’t make them defensive?

I know there‰’s an answer
I know now but I have to find it by myself.

However, that wasn‰’t always the song‰’s chorus. With its original title, Brian thought that we should tell them to “Hang On To Your Ego/Hang on but I know that you‰’re gonna lose the fight.‰” The rest of the band had absolutely no idea what Brian meant by this, and this concerned him, so he rewrote the chorus. And while some people don‰’t like the re-write, saying it conflicts with the song‰’s opening line, I believe it shows how complicated Brian‰’s views on LSD were. While he was critical of those who wanted to isolate themselves, he also frequently did just that and ultimately turned to drugs when he was struggling. (On a lighter note the song features an absolutely BITCHIN‰’ bass harmonica solo)

I honestly could keep going and going about this record. But, like all good things, my time writing for WVAU must come to an end. It was by far one of the most enjoyable aspects of my time at American University. However, I don‰’t plan on stopping writing about music just because I‰’m graduating. Watch my blog closely in the next few months for my future musings on music and other forms of entertainment.

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Primavera Sound

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Primavera Sound: Music Lover‰’s Paradise

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    “Iron Lung or Eyes of Love?‰Û: A Review of the Misfits‰’ Static Age (1978)

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Rock Music Has Never Heteronormative

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Across the Pond, I Find a Poetic Powerhouse

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Nature and the Subconscious

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Why You Should Definitely Be Listening to Post Animal and a Breakdown of Their Debut LP, "When I Think of You in a Castle"

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    “X-Offenders‰Û: Blondie‰’s Musical Bombshell

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Over/Under 3: On the Origin of the Acoustic Cover

  • "Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made

    Current Columns

    Flowers and Fury: Mitski, Lorde, and the Melodrama Tour

AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio
"Sometimes I Feel Very Sad:" Why Pet Sounds is the Best Album Ever Made