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.