The Personal Accounts of The Beach Boys Make This Documentary Worthwhile

Classic Albums: Pet Sounds expands the mythos of one musician to an entire group, and in doing so, allows us to see the project in a different, equally compelling light.

The Beach Boys

Classic Albums: Pet Sounds

Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
US Release Date: 2016-09-23

Few albums deserve the “classic” tag more thoroughly than Pet Sounds. Whether discussing its rich composition, spirited themes, or massive influence, the hallowed Beach Boys record has become a rite of passage for anyone who fancies themselves a music aficionado. It's also one of rock’s most famous sleeper hits -- a commercial dud in 1966 that took two full decades to reach platinum status.

Whether or not BBC did so intentionally, this slow burn process gets mirrored with the release of Classic Albums: Pet Sounds, the latest addition to the long running documentary series. Arriving in step with its 50th anniversary, BBC finally tackles the hallowed album, and gives a detailed look back at the boys who made it all happen.

Brian Wilson’s troubled childhood opens up Classic Albums, a topic that provides no new information, but allows the film to set up it's stunning interview roster; among which include living Beach Boys Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, David Marks, and Wilson himself. Now aged men, they seem only too pleased to reflect on the magic and the meteoric rise they experienced in the early '60s. This is where filmmakers Martin R. Smith and Matthew Longfellow manage to make band history feel utterly new. From discussing influences like The Everly Brothers and The Four Freshman to the band’s first ever song, aptly titled “Surfin”, the first hand accounts offer an intimacy that distinguishes well-known content.

Especially when the conversation turns towards Pet Sounds. Instead of focusing solely on Wilson’s genius, Classic Albums shares the microphone with his bandmates and gets their perspective on the esteemed project. The decision is not an accidental one, either, as aligned edits of Wilson confirming that it “brings back good memories”, and Al Jardine calling things “a total stress” quickly affirm.

Jardine’s account of “Sloop John B”, and how he brought the tune to the band’s attention, is specifically shown with a retelling from all parties. He recalls the excitement he felt when Wilson ran with the song, while simultaneously voicing his disappointment in being left out of the recording session. “It was kinda rude,” he admits, though it's obvious from Wilson’s jovial account, there was no ill intention. These contrasting viewpoints are littered through the documentary, and while they suggest a less-than-stellar working environment, they do little to diminish the awe-inspired results.

If anything, they paint a far better picture of how Pet Sounds came to be. When Bruce Johnston dubs Wilson’s studio antics as a cross between “a hipster and a tough British General”, it's a frank, fun reflection of the accompanying (and rare) video footage. “He demanded everything from everybody,” Johnston goes on to say, a comment that’s equal parts admiration and exhaustion. Elsewhere, Mike Love bats down the rumor he disliked the album (“an absolute falsehood”) and affirms his discomfort with the drug lyrics in “Hang on to Your Ego”.

In covering the full Pet Sounds experience, however, Classic Albums does make sure to highlight just how impressive Wilson’s vision truly was. Audiophiles will be delighted when Wilson and engineer Mark Linett get behind the boards and proceed to isolate each of the album’s tracks for a mono reconstruction. In watching each section slowly build upon another, additional vocals and overlooked textures come to the foreground in stunning detail. It's here that Wilson’s composing skills are most evident -- dense soundscapes retain their pop charm for a listen that's both breezy and melancholy. Elaborated on by lyricist Tony Asher, Pet Sounds’ departure from surfing themes was another point of contention for the band that the film addresses.

But even in the light of disagreements and bickering, The Beach Boys remain steadfast in their support of Wilson. Each repeatedly praise his abilities and their pride in the album, with Jardine going as far as to state “he sees things we don’t see, and he certainly hears things we don’t hear.” Humbled by the reception the album has gotten over the years, Wilson affirms that he couldn’t have made it without the support and vocal prowess of his bandmates.

Journalists like David Wild, Lucy O’Brien, and Keith Altham join in on the love-fest, but it's the personal accounts of The Beach Boys that make the documentary a worthy commemoration. Classic Albums: Pet Sounds expands the mythos of one musician to an entire group, and in doing so, allows us to see the project in a different, equally compelling light.

Eagle Rock Entertainment’s BluRay comes with a plethora of bonus material. Additional interviews and studio sessions are among the treats that were cut from the broadcast edit, as is the recording of “Good Vibrations”, which shows brief glimpses into the ill-fated SMiLE project. The documentary is a worthy addition to any Beach Boys collection, but with the addition of 30 more minutes, Classic Albums is a musical must.





Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.


Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.


LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.


'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.


Punk Rock's WiiRMZ Rage at the Dying of the Light on 'Faster Cheaper'

The eight songs on WiiRMZ's Faster Cheaper are like a good sock to the jaw, bone-rattling, and disorienting in their potency.


Chris Stamey Paints in "A Brand-New Shade of Blue" (premiere + interview)

Chris Stamey adds more new songs for the 20th century with his latest album, finished while he was in quarantine. The material comes from an especially prolific 2019. "It's like flying a kite and also being the kite. It's a euphoric time," he says.


Willie Nelson Surveys His World on 'First Rose of Spring'

Country legend Willie Nelson employs his experience on a strong set of songs to take a wide look around him.


Gábor Lázár Is in Something of a Holding Pattern on 'Source'

Experimental electronic artist Gábor Lázár spins his wheels with a new album that's intermittently exciting but often lacking in variety.


Margo Price Is Rumored to Be the New Stevie Nicks

Margo Price was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots. But she was always more rock than country, as one can hear on That's How Rumors Get Started.


DMA'S Discuss Their Dancier New Album 'The Glow'

DMA'S lead-singer, Tommy O'Dell, discusses the band's new album The Glow, and talks about the dancier direction in their latest music.


The Bacon Brothers Deliver Solemn Statement With "Corona Tune" (premiere + interview)

Written and recorded during the 2020 quarantine, "Corona Tune" exemplifies the Bacon Brothers' ability to speak to the gravity of the present moment.


Garage Rockers the Bobby Lees Pay Tribute to "Wendy" (premiere)

The Bobby Lees' "Wendy" is a simmering slice of riot 'n' roll that could have come from the garage or the gutter but brims with punk attitude.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.