Pet Sounds is the eleventh studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys. Released on May 16, 1966, it initially met a lukewarm critical and commercial reception in the United States, but received immediate success abroad, where British publications declared it “the most progressive pop album ever”. It charted at number two in the UK but number ten in the US, a significantly lower placement than the band’s preceding albums. In later years, the album garnered enormous worldwide acclaim by critics and musicians alike, and is regarded as one of the most influential pieces in the history of popular music.
The album was produced by Brian Wilson, who also wrote and composed almost all of its music. Sessions were conducted several months after he had quit touring with the Beach Boys in order to focus his attention on writing and recording. Collaborating with lyricist Tony Asher, Wilson’s symphonic arrangements wove elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, coupled with sound effects and unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans and barking dogs, along with the more usual keyboards and guitars. Together, they comprised Wilson’s “pet sounds”, incorporating elements of jazz, exotica, classical, and the avant-garde.
A heralding work in the emerging psychedelic rock style, Pet Sounds signaled an aesthetic trend within rock by transforming it from dance music into music that was made for listening to, elevating itself to the level of art rock. Beyond pop and rock, Pet Sounds expanded the field of music production. It is frequently cited by both critics and musicians as the greatest rock album of all time. Advocates include Mojo magazine and Paul McCartney. Artists and musicians have revered the album as a remarkable milestone in the history of popular music. These have included the Beach Boys’ contemporaries Pink Floyd, Cream, The Who, and The Beatles.
In 1993, it was named the greatest album of all time by NME magazine and The Times, and in 1995 by Mojo magazine. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it second on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2004, Pet Sounds was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”
“Pet Sounds took everyone by surprise. In terms of musical conception, lyric content, production and performance, it stood as a landmark in a music genre whose development was about to begin snowballing.” -Beat Instrumental & International Recording, 1971
“[…] by God if this little record didn’t change only the course of popular music, but the course of a few lives in the bargain… Nobody was prepared for anything so soulful, so lovely, something one had to think about so much.” -Stephen Davis, Rolling Stone magazine, 1972
“[The Beach Boys] brought expansions in harmony, instrumentation (and therefore timbre), duration, rhythm, and the use of recording technology. Of these elements, the first and last were the most important in clearing a pathway toward the development of progressive rock.” -Bill Martin