Ophelia hesitated on the long pathway up to the Vasile Mansion, she’d borrowed yet another dress from Dany’s extensive collection; a elegant black number, quite lady-like in comparison to her usual wardrobe, and she found herself questioning not for the first time; what on earth she was doing here. She grunted under her breath before turning on her heels - intending to leave before she even arrived.
The Beach Boys "Carl and the Passions-So Tough and Pet Sounds"
This is a double album and a gatefold! The first thing I noticed about it was this note on the front of it written on masking tape: “Alex- please have this/these records. Your life will work.” And there’s a little drawing of a heart on there. Alex told me that he came home from work one day back in 1998 or 1999, and his roommate Fred had left that on his bed for him. (Alex talks about Fred in this post too.) This story of male friendship really warms my heart, and makes this album feel very special to me.
I’m already aware that “Pet Sounds” is thought of as The Beach Boys’ best album by a lot of critics and also one of the greatest albums of all time, and that “Carl and the Passions-So Tough,” is an album that nobody ever talks about. So which one do I listen to first? I’ve given this a lot of thought and decided, in the immortal words of Vanessa Williams, to “save the best for last.” Also “Carl and the Passions - So Tough” is on the left side so it seems like it’s meant to be listened to first.
The first song on this album doesn’t sound like the Beach Boys AT ALL. The vocals are kind of deep and raspy and there is barely any harmonizing. It kind of just sounds like run of the mill 1960s music, a little bit like The Band or something, but not as good. It’s definitely not what I was expecting after just having listened to “Smiley Smile.”
Song two is called “Here She Comes,” and again, if someone put this song on and told me to guess the band, I would never in a million years have guessed The Beach Boys! I think I would have said, Crosby, Stills and Nash? Their voices are just much deeper and 70s sounding. It sounds a little bit like they’re trying to be a band that they’re not. I am enjoying the piano though, and there’s a pretty soulful guitar solo towards the middle of this song too.
Huh. The third song “He Come Down,” (the last ten seconds of this youtube video are worth watching btw) seems to have religious lyrics and breaks into a gospel sounding chorus which mentions the Maharishi and Krishna. The next song, “Marcella,” is the first song on the album that sound like the Beach Boys I know. It has dense vocal arrangements and they harmonize and sing in a round sometimes. It has that surf-rock sound. It’s my favorite song on this album so far.
Side two starts with “Hold on Dear Brother,“ a slow country blues sounding ballad that I’m enjoying. It’s one of those sad sounding songs that makes you really want to listen to the lyrics and maybe close your eyes a little bit.
“Make it Good,” the next song, is VERY different. It has what sounds like a full orchestra with strings and horns and builds in this dramatic and angelic way. At first it was reminding me of the Beatles, especially with the vocals in this one, but then it sort of goes off into it’s own thing, sounding very classical and then fades away. That was a surprising interlude!
Overall, I’m actually liking this album. I feel like the songs from “Marcella” through “All This Is That” are pretty good- it had a little bit of a rocky start for me, and “Cuddle Up,” is making me feel a little uncomfortable with it’s earnestness, but I think this would be a totally fine thing to listen to again. Unfortunately, Alex’s copy is SUPER scratchy, so if I was going to put it on again it would be on a computer.
Okay, I’m ready for “Pet Sounds” now. I love how “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” starts with one drum beat and then a burst of full on vocals. The sound is really energetic and pleasing and makes you want to sing along from deep in your diaphragm. This song is so YA, as in it reminds me of the things young adult novels are made of. It’s sweet and high school and the sentiment of the lyrics is so old fashioned, how could you not like it, really? I think it’s a great first song for an album to start with too. It’s really the first song you want to hear.
I can’t help but feel like the vocals sound a little whiny in the next song, “You Still Believe In Me.” It kind of sounds like a Christmas carol actually. With a random bicycle horn at the end. Toot, toot!
I really like “I’m Waiting For The Day,” especially when the background singers and a lot of instruments come in, including a flute. The string orchestra that keeps coming into these songs really give in an old fashioned fee, like a musical from the 50s, but are also such a change in the structure of your average rock song that it feels pretty innovative at the same time. I’m pretty sure I wrote something similar about "Smiley Smile” too. “I’m Waiting For The Day” and “Let’s Go Away For A While,” really bleed into one another nicely. You definitely want to listen to these songs in a row and I think they’re my favorite songs on the album so far, after “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
“Sloop John B,” has always felt like one of those fun sing-a-long songs to me, even though I guess I barely know any of the lyrics. The way that this song builds makes me feel really happy. And then when the music cuts out and it’s just the vocals for a few notes it feels magical and a little spiritual even. This song is much more spiritual feeling than “He Come Down” from the last album, which was basically a gospel number. This song actually has spirit behind it and feels really special. It makes me want to join a choir. I wish it didn’t just fade out at the end though, I feel like I need a more concrete ending to that masterpiece!
The first song on side two is “God Only Knows,” which Alex started singing at the top of his lungs, very passionately. He knows all the words. So, that’s adorable. This is one of those songs that I feel like I’ve heard a million times but never really listened to that closely. Honestly, it’s not my favorite on the album so far, but I did appreciate Alex’s accompanying vocals. The next song, “I know There’s an Answer,” is a better song in my opinion.
I want to point out that I think the name “Pet Sounds” is a really good name for an album. It’s just weird enough, like you kind of know what it means but also have no idea what “pet sounds” is supposed to mean. I also like the ring to it and it’s easy to remember. If you hear someone say “Pet Sounds,” you know they’re talking about the Beach Boys, even if you don’t really know anything about The Beach Boys.
I love the line, “I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.” It sounds a little sad and defeatist, but also like a little bit of an F-you because the layers and beauty of the song feel pretty timeless to me. This song really seems to exemplify the overall wistful feel that all of the songs on this album appear to have. Like a good young adult novel, there’s heartbreak and longing and coming of age.
The instrumental song, “Pet Sounds,” definitely makes me want to be sipping on a martini. It sounds like something Holly Golightly would play at one of her parties, like it has a Henry Mancini feel to it. I love Henry Mancini, but I’m surprised it’s the title track. It kind of breaks the flow a little bit.
And, with the sound of a train speeding by and a dog barking, that’s the end! I really liked this album, but I think I might have liked “Smiley Smile” better! I guess I could just see myself being in the mood for the weirdness of “Smiley Smile” more often than being in the mood for “Pet Sounds.” I am already pretty familiar with this album, because Alex plays it pretty often, but this was the first time I really sat down and listened to it on my own. I had heard the singles before we were together, but I had never heard the whole album. I’ll be happy to keep listening to this album pretty often.
The Beach Boys and all their interpersonal turmoil seem pretty interesting, and Brian Wilson definitely appears to have a mythology about him. I’m going to read his very long wikipedia article aloud to Alex in bed tonight until we fall asleep.