For this book, almost all of the living participants shared their memories of the making of Pet Sounds. What they have to say significantly deepens our appreciation for the confluence of people, experience and creativity that was necessary to bring about the birth of this album.
As we look back for the source, we start at the same place where all great musical ventures have their origins...with the composer. Because for Pet Sounds, Brian finally wrote and recorded an entire album the way he always had felt music...in the manner of an impressionistic painter, creating sounds to express specific emotions.
Clearly, "feeling" was paramount. Brian once explained his approach to songwriting: "This art form...can draw out so much emotion and channel it into notes of music in cadence. Good emotional music is never embarrassing...the stimulation I get from molding it is like nothing else on earth, approach my music-making as something pure from the spirit to which I can add dynamics and marketable reality...I find it possible to spill beautiful melodies in moments of great despair...a lot of the songs are the result of emotional experiences, sadness and pain...or joy, exultation in nature and sunshine.
"I go to the piano and play 'feels) 'Feels' are specific rhythm patterns, fragments or ideas. Once they're out of my head and into the open air, I can see them and touch them firmly. Then the song starts to blossom and become a real thing."
To Tony Asher, the co-writer of eight of the songs on Pet Sounds, those "feels" were what fueled their songwriting sessions. Brian would play some pattern or lick that they would develop into a song, and by the end of a day, they would have, as Asher once recalled, "a pretty complete melody, partial lyrics and a kind of bridge and some other stuff. I'd go home at night and work on the lyrics a little bit and bring them back the next day." As Asher explains, Brian would then do "a lot of editing on them. The general tenor of the lyrics was always his...I was really just his interpreter."
Fans of the record have long yearned for Pet Sounds to have been "autobiography'I..the story of Brian's search for love and acceptance. While Asher insists that from his point of view, there wasn't a premeditated concept to the lyrics, the final result was a body of songs that reflected both of their concerns as young adults.
The album seems to be a journey: it begins with hope and love ("Wouldn't It Be Nice"), recognizes that earthbound love is imperfect ("I'm Waiting For The Day"), acknowledges the divine spirit ("God Only Knows"), searches for a solution ("I Know There's An Answer"), bemoans the tenuous nature of love ("Here Today"), accepts that he's a human anomaly ("I Just Wasn't Made For These Times") and ends with the expression of lost innocence on "Caroline, No". Along the way, there are romantic moments ("Don't Talk..."), never-before-dreamed-of possibilities ("You Still Believe In Me") and fantasy escapes ("Let's Go Away For Awhile").
How did these remarkable songs get written? We begin our reconstruction of the album's origins with conversations with the creators whose recollections give us new insight into their historic collaboration.
BRIAN WILSON INTERVIEW
(On February 1, 1996, nearly thirty years to the date when they began writing together, Brian Wilson and Tony Asher joined compilation co-producer David Leaf at Capitol Records to share their memories from the Pet Sounds era.)
Interviewer: Pet Sounds was considered a departure, but if we listen to "Kiss Me Baby" or "She Knows Me Too Well" or "Let Him Run Wild" or "The Little Girl I Once Knew," we certainly hear you going in that direction. But in 1965, we also heard "California Girls" and "Help Me Rhonda" and the Party! album. Do you remember when and why you decided to do something different?
BRIAN: "Well, you wanna know the real story behind that? I wanted to create something that I thought would bring an adequate amount of spiritual love to the world. And there was a lot on my shoulders back in those days, you know. Life was tough. It really was. But I did it. We did it. I guess you can be proud of yourself."
Interviewer: Let's start by talking about each song. Tell me what you remember, either about the writing of it or the tracking or the vocal session.
"WOULDN'T IT BE NICE"
BRIAN: "Wouldn't It Be Nice' was not a real long song, but it's a very 'up' song. It expresses the frustration of youth, what you can't have, what you really want and you have to wait for it."
Interviewer: You once said that you showed Dennis a special way to cup his hands on the vocal session. Could you tell me about that?
BRIAN: "Well, he had a lot of trouble singing on mike. He just didn't really know how to stay on mike. He was a very nervous boy. Very nervous person. So I taught him a trick, how to record and he said, 'Hey Brian. That works great. Thank you!' And I said, 'It's okay, Dennis: He was really happy. I showed him--not how to sing, but I showed him a way to get the best out of himself--just 'cup’ singing."
"YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME"
"You Still Believe In Me' was more of what I would call a man who would not be afraid to take all of his clothes off and sing like a girl because he had feelings for people from that perspective. I was able to close my eyes and go into a world and sing a little more effeminately and more sweet--which allows a lot more love to come down through me, you know what I mean?... It's like Kenny Rogers. There's an example of a guy who has a fairly masculine sounding voice. 'You Still Believe In Me' was quite the opposite."
"THAT'S NOT ME"
"A very Mike Love-ish kind of a trip. He just really nailed it, real powerful voice, very souped-up kind of a sound. Tony and I actually didn't even really realize who we were writing it for. We didn't really write for anybody; we just wrote the songs. So we had full carte blanche to create these songs."
"DON'T TALK (PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER)"
"(Whistles) Oh boy, that's a beautiful song. Some of these songs just came real fast... That's wonderful, a lot of love in it. Tony had remarked to me many times while we were writing that he very much liked how I sang... People say, 'Hey Brian, you sound good. You're doing good.' That helped me out, got me going.
"[Don't Talk] was something that I think was the result of the fact that there are so many different ways to tell somebody you love them, and I think that we had a real special kind of grip on that kind of thing. No one walked in the room and said, 'Hey, you two, break it up.' There was nothing like that at all. It was like God had given us something to do together. Like, (stentorian voice) 'Hey, Wilson and Asher, get out here."
"I'M WAITING FOR THE DAY"
"Vocally, I thought I sounded a little bit weird in my head. That's the one cut off the album I didn't really like that much. But, you know, it's okay, it's not a case of liking or not liking it; it was an appropriate song, a very, very positive song. I just didn't like my voice on that particular song."
"LET'S GO AWAY FOR AWHILE"
"If you want to know the truth, I think Burt Bacharach had influenced me a little bit with that. If you really analyzeit and you think about it, there were a lot of chord changes similar to the way he would put something together. And I think that his music had such a profound thing on my head; he got me going in a direction. I'm definitely proud of that tune."
Interviewer: It is a spectacular cut. Talk about the dynamics of that track.
BRIAN: "We used kettle drums toward the end of the song where it goes (sings). We used dynamics like Beethoven. You know, Beethoven, the dynamic music maker."
Interviewer: Speaking of the kettle drums and the dynamics, this album really has incredible percussion on it.
BRIAN: "There are dynamics throughout the album, and if you want to know the truth, I think I was trying to emulate Phil Spector in some ways with my tracks."
Interviewer: Before we get back to the album, let's talk about that just for a second. There is a clarity of instrumentation on your records vs. the "Wall Of Sound." Can you tell me what it was about Spector's work that impressed you?
BRIAN: "Well, he had it in his mind. He knew in his head what he wanted before he got to the studio, obviously. What had happened was, I'd been called down to Gold Star a couple times by Phil Spector, and I think he really wanted to teach me a little bit about production. I didn't know that at the time because I was just a young, naïve little guy. But later on I realized he was there to help me, and he was there to teach me about something."
Interviewer: Of what you watched, observed and learned, how did it specifically influence you as a producer?
BRIAN: "I learned that he would say 'Let's hear the electric piano,' and he'd walk toward the window in the booth and he'd look and [he'd listen and] he'd go, 'That's what I want' 'That's good'. 'All right, let's do this.' Like in Creation. 'It is good.' What it really came down to is he taught me how to create records."
Interviewer: So it was that you learned how he did it, not the result, because your results were obviously very different from his.
BRIAN: "I think that he was there just to let me know how to create a record versus how you go in and try to make a record. He taught me more how to do that.'
Interviewer: You once talked about how you learned from him that if you had a piano and a guitar and combine them together that created--
BRIAN: "A third sound. You get a different sound."
Interviewer: Tell me about that.
BRIAN: "Well, I used that in Pet Sounds. 'I Know There's An Answer--you'll hear an organ and a tack piano together. It's really neither of those sounds. It's like a completely new sound. A different sound. Combining one thing to make another thing. It's amazing."
Interviewer: Let's get back to our "song by song" discussion. We were up to "Sloop John B," the one song on the album you didn't compose. Tell me about it.
BRIAN: "Al Jardine called me up and said, 'I want the Beach Boys to do 'Sloop John B.' The Kingston Trio had a version, and I'd never heard it so he brought The Kingston Trio record over, and he played it for me. I learned the song and I arranged it."
"GOD ONLY KNOWS"
"That was a vision that Tony and I had. It's like being blind but in being blind, you can see more. You close your eyes; you're able to see a place or something that's happening."
Interviewer: There are two different versions of the song on the box...one where you sing the lead and then the one from the actual album, with Carl on lead. How did you decide whose voice was right for that one?
BRIAN: "Well, I thought I was gonna do it. As the song progressed, I said, 'Hey, I feel kind of natural doing this.' But when we completed creating the song, I said my brother Carl will probably be able to impart the message better than I could, so I sacrificed that one. But he had a good time singing it."
Interviewer: "I Know There's An Answer" began life as "Hang On To Your Ego..." Were you having trouble hangin' on to your ego? Is that what that song was about?
BRIAN: "Yeah. I had taken a few drugs, and I had gotten into that kind of thing. I guess it just came up naturally."
BRIAN: "Here Today' was probably one of the mystery songs on the album. I don't really know what it's about. I liked it, but yet I didn't. I don't really identify with that song like I do with 'You Still Believe In Me', or 'Caroline, No.' It was just one of those songs in there, one little song."
Interviewer: But it fit in with the album?
BRIAN: "Yeah, it fit in good."
"I JUST WASN'T MADE FOR THESE TIMES"
BRIAN: "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' had what I would call a fairly behind-the-beat-- not 'behind-the-beat' meaning in back of the beat, but getting behind the beat and being able to create a song like that from a place."
Interviewer: Where did the idea to use the Theremin come from?
BRIAN: "I was so scared of Theremins when I was a kid, the thing about the '40s mystery movies where they had the (sings) 'uh-uh-uh-uh-uh' those kind of witchy, bewitching sounds. I don't know how the heck 1 ever arrived at the place where I'd want to get one--but we got it."
BRIAN: "The instrumental called 'Pet Sounds'? That was [originally] 'Run James Run! It was supposed to be a James Bond theme type of song. We were gonna try to get it to the James Bond people. But we thought it would never happen, so we put it on the album."
BRIAN: "Whew! Boy, there you go. That's something that stood over the years. Obviously, probably my favorite cut on the album. Just absolutely blew my mind away. The song itself was taken and put in a context, musical context over at Western Recorders. We gave it life. Gave it new life, like a breathing person, like the life of a song or something. And quite a heavy experience for me. I liked my voice on that one. My dad said, he goes, 'You know what, son?' he said. 'You oughta speed that up a whole note; it'll sound better] So that's what we did. So 'Caroline, No' as people hear it is actually not really the sound that we did when we recorded it. That's kind of a weird story."
Interviewer: Tell me about Banana and Louie.
BRIAN: "Oh, my two dogs. Oh, I loved them. [Quieter] They both died. I took a tape recorder and I recorded their barks. And we went down and we looked through some sound effects tapes and we found a train. So we just put it all together."
Interviewer: Do you remember what effect you were looking for to end the album?
BRIAN: "I'm not really sure. I can't answer that question."
Interviewer: Do you remember how the album came to be called Pet Sounds?
BRIAN: "Yeah. Carl had thought of that."
Interviewer: It's now thirty years later. How does it feel when people still come up to you on the street and say--
BRIAN: "They say this, invariably, all the time. I run into people and they go, 'Brian, Pet Sounds is my favorite album. I love all your music.' Thanks buddy, thanks a lot! Really, unbelievable."
Interviewer: Can you relate to that...that you're the guy who did that record?
BRIAN: "Yeah. Of course."
Interviewer: We all know that Tony wrote a lot of the lyrics. From your point of view, was there a musical contribution as well?
BRIAN "From Tony? At the time I was writing, I wasn't aware of anything called an interchange on a higher level of music, I didn't know about that. I don't know, but it seems like when I wrote with him, it went in a whole different direction."
Interviewer: Let's talk about the contributions of a few of the musicians who played on Pet Sounds...HAL BLAINE.
BRIAN: "He was like the drum beat, the tempo man. He gave the right tempos. As a matter of fact, he came up with more of the tempos than I did. I just said, 'Look. I want it to feel like this. I want it to be happy, I want it to feel 'up' happy and very straight ahead' and we would move around, he would move his hands and I went, 'Yeah, there we go' and he'd just take it from there."
BRIAN: "Carol Kaye was the greatest bass player I've ever met."
BRIAN: "Besides being a friendly guy, Lyle also had a hell of a grip on his bass-playing and everybody wanted him. He was one of the regulars in Hollywood. And Ray Pohlman, of course, too."
Interviewer: I think Hal Blaine told me that Ray was one of the guys who might help you work out a chord chart.
BRIAN: "Yeah! He did. I would write one thing and then he would--we didn't have a way to Xerox then, so we had to write 'em all out. So he did it the long way. He had to write each one and gave 'em to the guys."
Interviewer: You would have written it on the piano and then he would transpose it for the guitar...for the other guitar players?
BRIAN: "He would do that. Yeah."
BRIAN: "Whew, he was dynamite. Just a really amazing guitar player; that guy was dynamite. He played the RUN introduction on 'Wouldn't It Be Nice: Whew! Jazz guitar, any kind of guitar you want, he could play."
BRIAN: "Oh yeah! He was-- he had what do you call it, dano [Danelectro] bass? Six-string bass. He was great. He played really good bass. I got the best out of him. A dano bass, you can get a little higher bass sound, and you can double with Ray Pohlman, put Ray Pohlman down on the bottom and put Bill Pitman on the top and you've got two bass parts. That's how we got Billy Pitman to cook. We got him cookin.’"
AL DE LORY.
BRIAN: "Oh wow. Great harpsichord player, really good harpsichord player, the best. Good keyboardist."
BRIAN: "Larry Knechtel was a bass player, and he also played organ. He was on 'California Girls' I think, on the organ."
Interviewer: On saxophone you had Steve Douglas...
BRIAN: "Yeah, Steve Douglas was also my contractor, and he played, I think, saxophone for Phil Spector. Luckily, I got a hold of the guy. He was a great player, he was really good. He was the tenor. Jay Migliori was the baritone player on our sessions."
BRIAN: "Oh! Don Randi! Great keyboard player. One of Phil Spector's best musicians. Really, really, really heavy dude."
Interviewer: What made him so good?
BRIAN: "Well, he just had a good smile and a very bright face you know and everybody used to like him. He'd tell jokes. Hal Blaine and Don Randi were your cut-ups, the cut-up guys, Abbott and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy."
BRIAN: "Oh! Billy Strange! Do you remember 'Sloop John B?' Do you wanna hear what happened? I cut the track, right? Billy Strange was playing direct in the booth. Guitar. Direct in the booth. He was not in the studio. And after it was done, I went 'Well, that's a wrap, guys! That's it!' He goes, 'Hey, wait a minute. What if I played a third above that (sings) do-do-do-do-doot.' And we overdubbed that onto it and the whole track started to sparkle! I couldn't believe it, you know? It was like the difference between night and day. Really something."
Interviewer: I've talked to many of the musicians who played on your sessions, and they said you would come in and play them the song and individually work out their parts with them. Tell me how would you interact with the musicians.
BRIAN: "Well, I was sort of a square, you know? 1 got there and I go, 'Oh, let's see, um uh--'Yeah! We would try each one separately. We usually started with keyboards-- you know, the basic, keyboards. Then we'd go to drums. Then we'd go to horns, then violins if they were live. We usually didn't do live violins. We'd overdub the violins."
Interviewer: Glen Campbell played on Pet Sounds. What did you like about his playing?
BRIAN: "I think it was just that his energy was present in the room. I think we got a lot of that out of him, besides just his guitar."
Interviewer: At the start of the session, you would come in with a finished song and an arrangement?
BRIAN: "Sometimes I'd just write out a chord sheet and that would be for piano, organ, or harpsichord or anything. Keyboard charts."
Interviewer: So you had the arrangement in your head and now you had to teach it to them?
BRIAN: "Well, yeah. They'd play it. They had a chord sheet. I wrote out all the horn charts separate from the keyboards. I wrote one basic keyboard chart, violins, horns, and basses, and percussion. I'd say-- we'd start with Julius Wechter. 'Can I please hear the sleigh bells?' (choo, choo, choo, choo) 'Nah, throw 'em away. Let's hear-- how 'bout some tambourine, maybe? Let's hear a tambourine. Yeah, that's it! We'll take a tambourine:"
Interviewer: Hal Blaine told me he carried something he called his "bag of tricks"?
BRIAN: "Yeah! That bag of tricks, He'd have like 20 different things. He'd pull out all kinds of stuff...like a tambourine, sleigh bells, he'd pull out a-- (sound effects)"
Interviewer: What was it about these musicians that made you feel so comfortable?
BRIAN: "Well, for one thing, I was very comforted by the fact that they were Phil Spector's musicians, so I felt very at home with them. You know, as much as I loved his records, I loved his musicians, too. So, we had a thing going, where I used to joke about it. I used to say, 'You guys would rather play on a Brian Wilson session than a Phil Spector session.' They'd laugh; all they'd do is laugh. They wouldn't answer. And they'd laugh at me, you know. I was just kiddin' around."
Interviewer: You once said that during this album, you and Carl had prayer sessions.
BRIAN: "Well, not a whole bunch of 'em,’ we had a couple prayer sessions. I told Carl that--I believe I told this to Tony-- I'm not sure if I did or not. I told Carl that I wanted to create or make an album that would bring love to people where they don't really realize that they're being loved at the level that we were doing it. And he and I would pray for people, we'd pray for the album-- it was quite a ritual we got going, you know. It's really quite the album project."
Interviewer: There's a true spiritual feeling to the record.
BRIAN: "Oh, absolutely. The record was meant to be spiritual, like I told Carl. It was meant to be. That album was meant to be a spiritual type of thing. Now, this new repackaging and box set of Pet Sounds--it feels good in my heart. It's like, right on time, you know what I mean? Of all the things we could be doing in the whole darn world, we're here, kinda like, slowly, just getting this Pet Sounds thing to come into being, you know, and it's really quite amazing."
Interviewer: Some people are going to be discovering Pet Sounds for the very first time.
BRIAN: "That's what I told Melinda [Brian's wife] the other night. I said that people that never, ever knew of that kind of music, they're going to listen to the record and they're gonna go, 'Gee whiz, I never knew that there could be that kind of record!"
Interviewer: So you're going to be bringing a whole bunch of new love to the world.
BRIAN: "Yeah. Absolutely. This is gonna be a good year."
Interviewer: In 1966, the response to Pet Sounds, particularly in England, was overwhelming, but it wasn't a big seller. Did it bother you that more people didn't hear the album?
BRIAN: "In 1966, they [the Beach Boys] were received by the British people very, very highly, they were received very warmly. And the people over there seemed to have had an affinity with our music. But, actually, I was very heartsick. I was very, very, very upset that it didn't sell like I thought it would. But let's put it this way-30 years is a long time in the music business, in the recording industry and when you cycle-- an album cycle-- a 30 year cycle has got to mean a lot more than if we did it in 1970, even. Because that album has been bouncin' around for years, and these people that'll pick up on it for the first time, good for them! I want that to be. I think it's a good thing."
Interviewer: One of the things that we're going to have in the box set is an interview with Paul McCartney in which he talks about his love for the album.
BRIAN: "Boy, I've heard a million stories from Paul McCartney. I heard that he thought it was the best album ever made, I heard that 'You Still Believe In Me' was his favorite cut. I've heard a bunch of stories about that. Well, it's mutual admiration. Right?"
Interviewer: Is there anything I haven't asked you about the time when you made the record that comes to mind when we're talking about Pet Sounds.
BRIAN: "Let's put it this way. For the first time in my life, I did something that I wanted to do from my heart-- what my real music is. You know what I mean? The first time in my whole life that I really, really, really did something that I thought was good. Not listening to 'Be My Baby' or 'Ten Little Indians' or, you know, 'Amusement Parks USA'-- Pet Sounds was something that was absolutely different. Something I personally felt. That one album that was really more me than Mike Love and the surf records and all that, and 'Kokomo.' That's all their kind of stuff, you know?"
Interviewer: Is there anything in particular that you think is the coolest musical invention that you came up with, or one vocal that you think is the best?
BRIAN: "If it's a case of spiritual love-- I'd have to go with 'Caroline, No."
(In between their individual interviews, the creative team was in the studio together to discuss the album.)
Interviewer: Brian, you were just telling me about how you and Tony experienced "God Only Knows."
BRIAN: "You never know when two people get together. As you grow mentally, I had recalled saying to myself that I think Tony had a musical influence on me somehow. After about ten years, I started thinking about it deeper, my mind got a little more--you know, because I had never written that kind of song. And I remember him talking about 'Stella By Starlight' and he had a certain love for classic songs. I think he saw something-- like being blind then in your head you see a place or a song-- I think we saw that song together. I was, like, how do you explain it? It's a place."
TONY: "That's interesting. I had forgotten about the 'Stella By Starlight' thing. It was just an example of a rich kind of songwriting, and I think I mentioned it to him and that's interesting 'cause ['God Only Knows' is] a song that's right up there with that kind of song."
Interviewer: Brian, why did you pick Tony Asher?
BRIAN: "Oh, a lot of reasons. One, I thought he was a cool person. Two, anybody that hung out with Loren Schwartz was a very brainy guy, a real verbal type person. I just felt that there was something there that had to be, you know, that really had to be."
Interviewer: So to a certain degree it was instinctive?
BRIAN: "Oh yeah. It's like none of us looked back. Tony and I did not look back to Spector. We went forward, kind of like on our own little wavelength. It wasn't like we were thinking, 'Okay, let's beat Spector,' let's out-do Motown.' It was more what I would call exclusive collaboration not to specifically try to kick somebody's butt, but just to do it the way you really want it to be. That's what I thought we did."
Interviewer: What was it about this guy that it worked so well? How did those writing sessions go?
BRIAN: "As I recall, each song, we kind of got fired up about it. I'd plunk a few things out and he'd say, 'Hey! What's that? Wait a minute, what's that?' and I'd say 'I dunno, I'm just playin' around' you know, sort of a spontaneity sort of thing-- little scary, but what isn't scary?"
Interviewer: Did you play Rubber Soul for him or did he play it for you?
BRIAN: "I think he played it for me. When I heard Rubber Soul, I said, 'That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album.' Not to try to out-do Rubber Soul 'cause nobody can out-do Rubber Soul' it's a thing of its own. But you can do your own thing. You don't have to panic and say, 'I can't do as good as the Beatles' you know."
TONY: "You know, there's something that I wanted to ask you that was related to what David asked you a minute ago-- did you and I write differently from the way you wrote with other lyricists? Was there anything different about it?"
BRIAN: "Well, we had our own little chemistry."
TONY: "Oh, of course."
BRIAN: "Each collaboration was absolutely different. Can't compare one to the other at all. No way to compare it."
Interviewer: Early on, when you were starting out together, you played Tony the tracks that you had recorded. Do you remember what they were?
BRIAN: "No. I did the tracks after we had completed the songs. One at a time, I think I went one at a time."
TONY: "With the exception of 'You Still Believe In Me.'"
BRIAN: "Right. I think 'You Still Believe In Me.. I did a track to that and we wrote to it. But-- God! That's amazing, how you can remember things."
TONY: "Do you remember, it was called 'In My Childhood' and had that little bicycle bell on it?"
BRIAN: "Yes. I remember that. I know."
Interviewer: Anything else about Tony Asher that we should say to his face, or should we wait to talk about him after we get him out of here?
BRIAN: "Real good. Real funny, David. Oh no, actually, it was quite a vibration, a very, very heavy vibe, like he said. With this new reissue thing, with the box set, it ought to do real well. Oh, yeah, I could say something about Tony. I would like to write with him again and do something, see what we could come up with."
TONY: "Yeah, that sounds like a great idea."