The question of whether or not Pet Sounds is one of the greatest pop music albums of all time isn’t tied specifically to Capitol deciding to release a 50th anniversary edition. That point is supported by the fact that millions of people still enjoy the album. Music critics consistently rank it highly and the harmonies of the Beach Boys and musicianship of the Wrecking Crew displayed throughout produced some of the sweetest sounds ever to oscillate through speakers. Capitol has dedicated a box set to the album’s sessions before in 1996 for its 30th anniversary as well as various other reissues on various formats over the years by not only Capitol, but also high end labels like Analogue Productions.
Capitol released a handful of variations in celebration of the reissue on June 10th. A two-CD offering collects the mono and stereo album on the first disc and the instrumental version and some previously unavailable live recordings of the tracks (alongside a live recording of “Good Vibrations”) on the second disc. Additionally, separate reissues of the album in mono and stereo on 180-gram vinyl have been made available. Completists might also be sure to visit their local Best Buy or HMV to find an exclusive 45 on yellow vinyl of “God Only Knows” backed with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. In addition to all of those variations, a 4-CD + 1-Blu-Ray Audio of the album in 5.1 surround sound rounds out the offerings.
On the 50th anniversary deluxe CD edition, it’s by far the most eye-pleasing of any previous release of the album. The package comes in a roughly 12″x10″ hardbound book, whose pages are mostly printed on the album’s classic color palette of green and yellow, collecting an introductory essay by noted reviewer David Fricke, various photographs from the album cover shoot and other period photos (including a beautiful black and white double page spread of the group huddled around a microphone), lyrics, and a sessionography that outlines the various players across the album’s sessions. There are two other important distinctions of this set compared to its 30th anniversary counterpart. The reissue’s producer, Mark Linett, who has been involved in numerous other Beach Boys offerings over the years notes that the mono master included here is the “highly regarded 1972 Brother/Reprise” version, which was personally overseen by Carl Wilson at the time, making its CD debut. Secondly, there are 11 previously unreleased live performances from the group of songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B.”, “God Only Knows”, and “Caroline No” to name a few that range from 1966 to 1993.
However, if you own the 30th anniversary Pet Sounds sessions, don’t head straight to your local reseller to offload it should you decide to purchase this new edition. Even with overlap on both sets of the album and a couple of discs worth of the sessions’ highlights, backing tracks, Stack-O-Vocals (which are basically a cappellas), the 30th anniversary set contains a lot of information on mixing notes, additional song-by-song notes, and other essays that aren’t included with this new version. From the perspective of cannibalizing their previous reissues, it’s understandable why Capitol didn’t include all of that information here, but it certainly would have been a more encapsulating experience to make a definitive statement.
By all means if you’ve never heard Pet Sounds, you should make it a priority to hear it sooner rather than later. The pomp and tempo shifts contained within “I’m Waiting For the Day” are magical; the sweetness of “Caroline No” is breathtaking (Brian Wilson calls it “the prettiest ballad I’ve ever sung”); and the part harmonies on “Sloop John B.” are jawdropping. Oh, and there’s also that song called “God Only Knows”, which is only one of pop’s most recognizable songs of all time. Capitol has made it available at various price points, so cost shouldn’t be an issue if you’re looking to buy and not stream it. If you’re interested in how an album is created and songs are birthed in the studio, the deluxe edition is surely the way to go.
Fifty years on, Pet Sounds is still celebrated. One hundred and 50 years from now, it still should be. Brian Wilson wrote that he just wasn’t made for these times. He was right. He and his bandmates were made for all times with beautiful songs like they created in 1966.