Pet Sounds — the 11th studio album by the Beach Boys — was released in May of 1966. It’s number two on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and is still widely regarded as one of the most influential albums of the rock era. Many songs on the album — including “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” and “God Only Knows” — have become iconic in pop culture.
Brian Wilson has just announced a world tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the album, including an Oct. 10 stop at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. At each show he’ll perform Pet Sounds in its entirety, for what he says will be “a final time.”
In order to fully appreciate the album live, it’s important to note the context surrounding its inception, production, reception, and overall legacy. Here are ten things to know about this classic album.
1. While Pet Sounds was a chart-topping hit in the U.K., it initially received only moderate attention in the Beach Boys’ home country.
2. It’s a highly personal album for Brian Wilson, and often considered more a solo album than a true group effort.
3. It’s also widely regarded as a huge transition point for the Beach Boys’ touring career. It was during the production of the album that Brian Wilson decided he didn’t want to tour any more — and it’s also complex enough that other members of the band were nervous about how the music could be reproduced in a live setting.
4. Throughout the production of the album, Wilson makes use of unique if not bizarre sound effects — from Coke cans to harpsichords to bicycle bells. At the beginning of “You Still Believe in Me,” the opening notes were made by plucking the inside strings of a piano.
5. It has a heavy psychedelic influence. Wilson experimented with psychedelics while he wrote the songs, and many consider the album a psychedelic rock record. “I Know There’s an Answer” was previously called “Hang On to Your Ego” — an elliptical reference to drug-induced consciousness expansion — but the title and some lyrics were changed due to concerns that it sounded, in the words of Mike Love, “a doper song.”
6. Tony Asher, who co-wrote eight songs on Pet Sounds, is considered Wilson’s interpreter. Before the album, he wrote advertising jingles. His tryout for Wilson is called “You Still Believe in Me.”
7. Though Pet Sounds isn’t a “concept album” in the traditional sense, with its ambitious and meticulous production, it helped make albums the most important means of artistic expression in rock. Before Pet Sounds, it was more common to release hit singles meant for live performances than an album conceived as a cohesive listening experience.
8. Pet Sounds has a lot to do with the Beatles. Brian Wilson’s conception for the album was heavily influenced by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. In turn, when Pet Sounds came out, it raised the bar for the Beatles themselves. According to the Beatles’ producer Sir George Martin: “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened.” The only album that ranks higher than Pet Sounds on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time is Sgt. Pepper.
9. At the end of the song “Caroline, No”, you can hear Brian Wilson’s dogs — Banana and Louie — barking. The Beatles included a police dog whistle on “A Day in the Life,” in what some consider a Beach Boys homage.
10. The making of Pet Sounds is dramatized in the recent Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy — directed by Bill Pohlad, a Minnesotan.
Mackenzie Martin is a podcast enthusiast and senior at Macalester College, where she majors in media & cultural studies.