Friday, January 9, 2015

Pet Sounds: A Rant

For Christmas this year I asked for the CD Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. It was an album that in the Sixties made a very small impression on me, as in a dimple on the fender of a car. Two singles from the album were memorable, though -- "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" -- so I figured that even if my feelings about the album remained lukewarm, I at least had two songs that I could add to my iTunes playlist.

Sloop John B makes a connection with a special memory of my father. I was playing the 1966 single on our record player in the living room and noticed out of the corner of my eye that Dad was down in the foyer enjoying the song. When I played it again he came up into the living room (we had a split level home) and listened to it with me.

The album itself has never been one that really sparked an "I gotta have it" reaction. The primary reason I caved in though and wished to own Pet Sounds was that I kept seeing it listed as one of the top rock albums of all time by Rolling Stone. At one point in time I saw it listed as number 5, and in another reference it is listed as number 2. So I decided to ask for it in order to discover what I had been missing.

Fifteen or so listens later and I find myself at the same place I was in the beginning. Why is this supposedly such a great album? I mean no disrespect, but it's just another Beach Boys album for crying out loud.

In a comment on YouTube a person called Nick Brown stated: "I love the album, but everyone calls it psychedelic rock.. in what way is this psychedelic? Just sounds like typical pop from the Beach Boys!"

That's my problem with Pet Sounds. When people laud it as a psychedelic album I have to reflect on the real psychedelic albums of the Sixties. Just looking at the album covers on this website you can see what psychedelic music is about.

OK, integrity requires that I also include this link to a site that declares Pet Sounds the Numero Uno psychedlic album of all time. That still doesn't leave me convinced. The songs themselves are no more psychedelic than Lulu's "To Sir With Love."

Another comment from the YouTube page: deathtokoalas wrote (edited)

i suppose that, standing in 1966, this would have been really radical and different.

but, standing in 1996, and beyond, what defines the record is how simplistic and boring it is relative to the other psychedelic rock of the period. reality: zappa, beatles, hendrix, moody blues, floyd did it better. this may have been first, but it just doesn't cut it, in comparison.

Some of the praise for Pet Sounds comes from critics who note the way Brian Wilson and company incorporated the "wall of sound" approach to many of the songs. This strikes me hardly significant as Phil Spector, Wilson's friend, had been doing it for years. (Listen to his 1963 production of The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" as an example of the form.)

* * * *
psychedlic music, wikipedia
A number of features are often included in psychedelic music. Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common.[2] Songs often have more complex song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones than contemporary pop music.[3] Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics are often used.[4][5] There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental solos or jams, typically featuring a heavily distorted electric guitar as the main instrument.[3] Electric guitars are used to create feedback, and are played through wah wah and fuzzbox effect pedals.[6] There is a strong keyboard presence, in the 1960s this especially using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven 'sampler' keyboard.[7] Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning, phasing, long delay loops, and extreme reverb.[8] In the 1960s there was a use of primitive electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin.[9][10] Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.[11]

* * * *
After chewing on these things a while, I started wondering who decides what makes an album great? I'm sure this phenomenon occurs in every sphere of endeavor. Whether it be books, architecture, art or poets, some body of anointed individuals establishes their authority and pontificates. Since "the public" is too ignorant to decide what's "great" we discredit record sales as a real measure, though if you're curious here's a relatively current list of the best-selling albums of all time.

I then wondered who decides what gets listed on the Rolling Stone list and I decided to ask the Oracle. That is, I Googled it. Guess what? They are very transparent about all this. And if one had more time, and one were sufficiently motivated, he or she could contact each one and ask what it was like making their selections, and how close or far the actual final list diverges from their own picks.

Here is the list of people who determine the Rolling Stone "Greatest Albums of All Time" list.

I can't be overly critical of these "experts." Dylan and the Beatles are well represented in the top twenty. Nevertheless, I just can't get past the feeling that it's just the Beach Boys.

Meantime, life goes on.... 

No comments: