Why May 16, 1966 Is One Of Rock n’ Roll’s Most Important Dates In History
An Absolute Work of Art
May 16, 1966 may seem like another day for others but it was during this time that The Beach Boys released their magnum opus, “Pet Sounds.”
It was a groundbreaking, revolutionary album that changed rock ‘n roll in more ways than one – from the production to its influence on all the other artists that followed, it was above everything else. Interestingly, the US and UK audience had different responses to this monolithic record but we’ll get to that later.
LSD played a significant role in the creation of “Pet Sounds.” In 1965, Brian Wilson was consuming large doses of psychedelic drugs which somehow helped shape various concepts and ideas in his brain. He even dabbled with marijuana – well, dabbled is a bit of an understatement. He said:
“I wrote Pet Sounds on marijuana—not on it, but I utilized marijuana now and then for Pet Sounds. … It gave me the ability—carte blanche—to create something, you know what I mean? And that’s where it’s at; drugs aren’t where it’s at. But, for me, that’s where it was at in 1966.”
Brian, even with his drug-fueled state at the time, was at his creative peak. And it showed in his works. Most of the songs were products of his collaboration with lyricist Tony Asher.
Most critics referred to this as the first ever concept album. Brian wanted “Pet Sounds” to be cohesive and consistent. He wanted something like The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul”:
“I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It was a challenge to me … It didn’t make me want to copy them but to be as good as them. I didn’t want to do the same kind of music, but on the same level.”
The whole production wasn’t a walk in the park. As expected with masterpieces like this, there were fights and arguments among band members. Pet Sounds was mostly Brian Wilson and so when he presented the album to the others, they were dumbfounded and stunned because it was clearly different from what they used to do.
They raised several issues. How would they perform the highly complex songs live? What kind of direction were they actually headed? Can’t they just keep thing simple? They had objections to pretty much everything and so recording sessions were marred by tension and conflict. Some eventually grew to appreciate Brian Wilson’s genius but others resisted and weren’t shy about voicing out their dislike.
The album was progressive, psychedelic, and experimental. And Brian Wilson admitted that he only “wanted to make an album that would stand up in ten years.” Obviously, he achieved that goal.
In the US, the response was lukewarm at best and Brian was disheartened. But in the UK, it cracked the top 10 upon its release and stayed there for months. Press and critics were all singing their praises.
A lot of people didn’t realize back then that Pet Sounds was way ahead of its time. Over the years, however, retrospective reviews finally gave the album the credit and recognition it deserved.
Brian Wilson wanted an album that would stand the test of time – he accomplished more than that. He crafted something so revolutionary that it became a template for other rock ‘n roll bands. It wasn’t a massive commercial success but its lasting legacy proved that it was one of the greatest records ever made.
What’s more amazing is the fact that while Brian was inspired by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Paul McCartney also claimed that it was Pet Sounds that became his inspiration for the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“Pet Sounds blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life – I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard this album.” – Paul McCartney
It didn’t just influence rock but other genres as well – pop, jazz, hiphop, punk, and folk. “Pet Sounds” easily became the standard by which all others were measured.