The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” for weeks has received justifiable attention on its 50th anniversary, but the wonderful album didn’t spring full-blown from Lennon’s and McCartney’s heads. It owes a lot to Capitol Records “teammates” the Beach Boys, especially their own ground-breaking 1967 release, “Pet Sounds” – scheduled to be performed live by Brian Wilson and group at the Peoria Civic Center Oct. 8.
Also, a post-“Pet Sounds” boxed set was released in recent days: “1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow.” It features rarities and unreleased material gleaned from recording sessions that produced “Smiley Smile” and “Wild Honey.” Disc 1’s 31 tracks are highlighted by studio and live recordings of “Darlin,’” plus a new stereo mix of “Wild Honey.” Disc 2’s 34 tracks include “Heroes and Villains,” five live songs from Hawaii shows where Wilson joined the touring troupe, other live recordings from Boston and Washington stops in their Thanksgiving tour featuring Bruce Johnston again, along with Daryl Dragon (later of Captain and Tennille), a previously unreleased live set titled “Lei’d in Hawaii” and a magnificent rendition of “God Only Knows.”
Speaking of live Beach Boys, the group has played Peoria several times in various lineups, including at Glen Oak Park in 1976, at the Heart of Illinois Fair in 1977, at the Civic Center in 1995, 2009 and 2016. Personally, I’ve also enjoyed them at the State Fair in Springfield, at the Mall in Washington, D.C. and at WIU in Macomb where they played in 1974 and 1987.
Back to “Pet Sounds”: It benefited immensely from Brian Wilson getting off the band’s grueling tour schedule and refining his use of the studio creative process, which he mastered as a consummate composer/arranger.
“Pet Sounds” became a bold and original production, experimental and moody, yet uplifting and visionary.
Author and journalist David Wild, in the hour-long documentary directed by Martin R. Smith currently being cablecast on Showtime, “The Beach Boys: The Making of ‘Pet Sounds’,” says the record was “where rock ‘n’roll became a religious experience.”
Songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “Caroline No” and particularly “God Only Knows” bookend a superb collection of 13 tracks.
“Pet Sounds” inspired John Lennon and principally Paul McCartney and was a catalyst for “Sgt. Pepper” (as well as Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention’s “Freak Out” to a lesser extent).
Bruce Johnston, who replaced Wilson onstage starting in 1965, in the film says after the album was finished “I took two copies of ‘Pet Sounds’ with me [to England]. Derek Taylor was our publicist and he just set up about 25 interviews for me.” Then Lennon and McCartney went to his hotel and asked to hear the record.
“I played them the album and they heard it two times and they were just delightful,” he added.
Wilson and the Beach Boys had started to move away from their successful formula of songs about surfing, hot rods and young love starting in 1965 with “Beach Boys Today,” followed that year by “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)” – featuring the popular “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls” – and then the acoustic “Beach Boys Party!” with mostly cover songs. “Pet Sounds” came next, taking six months to finish and released a year before “Sgt. Pepper.”
To be fair, the Beatles were evolving, too, releasing the more-challenging “Rubber Soul” (1965), “Yesterday and Today” (1966), and “Revolver” (also 1966) immediately before “Sgt. Pepper.”
“Pet Sound’s” melodies and arrangements, structure and chords, harmonies and performances, instrumentation and lyrics (by Tony Asher on eight of 11 tracks; two are instrumentals) are still breathtaking.
“If you can pop all of those together in one album, I figure you’ve got it,” McCartney said in a 1990 interview with David Leaf. “It may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of this [20th] century, but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways.”
McCartney conceded that “it was ‘Pet Sounds’ that blew me out of the water. I’ve often played ‘Pet Sounds’ and cried. It’s that kind of an album for me.
“ ‘God Only Knows’ lyrics are great,” McCartney continued. “Those do it to me every time. Very emotional. Always a bit of a choker for me. It’s a really, really great song. [In my] top 10 favorite songs [it’s] at the top of my list.
“If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed ‘Pepper,’” McCartney added. “And my influence was basically the ‘Pet Sounds’ album.”
Wild reminisced about “Pet Sound’s” impact.
“A half a century [later] – this is how good this can be,” he said.
The Civic Center says sales for its Oct. 8 Theater concert “Brian Wilson Presents ‘Pet Sounds’ – The Final Performances,” featuring guitarists vocalists Al Jardine and Blondie Chapman, are going well, and good seats remain available.