The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds – 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition

For certain musicians, creativity is sometimes fueled by a deep desire to impress their peers. That was certainly the case with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and Paul McCartney of The Beatles, two members of an exclusive cross-continent mutual-admiration society who made adventurous music for the masses with an additional “can you top this” flair.

It’s not hard to see why Macca and his fellow Fabs were impressed by Wilson and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds upon its May 16, 1966 release. After Wilson heard The Beatles’ game-changing studio-driven template of December 1965’s Rubber Soul, he doubled down and composed indelible Pet Sounds gems like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” and “Caroline No.” And once McCartney heard Pet Sounds at a May 1966 listening session in London alongside Beatlemate John Lennon and Beach Boy guitarist/bassist/background vocalist Bruce Johnston, he conjured up “Here, There and Everywhere” for August 1966’s Revolver and subsequently began formulating the band’s full album-length response, which ultimately begat June 1967’s magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Lends a deeper meaning to the seemingly straightforward Peppersong sentiment, “It’s getting better all the time,” doesn’t it?)

Capitol has since been waiting for the day to recognize the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, culminating in a five-disc Collectors Edition box set comprising four CDs and one Blu-ray. The first three CDs contain the album’s remastered mono and stereo mixes plus scores of alternate mixes and session outtakes, many of which appeared on The Pet Sounds Sessions box set commemorating the album’s 30th anniversary in 1996. Disc 4 contains 11 unreleased live tracks and 11 previously released “Stack-O-Vocals” takes, the latter grouping essentially creating an a cappella blueprint for anyone looking for the aural grail of how to compose, sing, and layer lead and harmony vocals. Just cue up “I Know There’s an Answer” and “I’m Waiting for the Day” to commence the lesson plan for Vocal Genius 101.

Many people assume the singular, soaring sonic achievement known as “Good Vibrations” is on Pet Sounds proper, but its release as a standalone single followed the album 5 months later on October 10, 1966. That said, a pair of in-progress takes usher in Disc 3, and an unreleased partial-vocal take closes Disc 4. Take 1 rolls for 37 seconds on Disc 3 before Wilson chimes in from the control room, “Hold it, please! Let me hear the organ.” Larry Knechtel noodles a bit with the tone of his organ riffings before Wilson requests, “I’d like to start it out this time with the organ, Fender bass, and bongos, [which] will come in on the second half like everything else… and piccolo.” Carol Kaye’s bass line anchors in the right channel, while Knechtel’s organ rules the left along with Jim Horn’s piccolo. “That was a good sound; very good,” Wilson says toward the end, satisfied with the song’s progress. Hearing the maestro at work on this and many other tracks as the gears are literally turning in his head is beyond fascinating.

Disc 5 contains the stellar Blu-ray surround mix from Mark Linett, the producer/engineer who helped helm the definitive resurrection of the lost SMiLE Sessions in 2011. Linett also did the DTS Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes of Pet Sounds back in 2002 for DVD-Audio, which were also included on a limited-edition double-disc release honoring the album’s 40th anniversary in 2006. In direct comparison, the updated surround mix on Blu-ray sounds much fuller than its DVD-A counterpart. On Blu-ray, Carl Wilson’s angelic lead vocal on “God Only Knows” is absolutely heavenly, with his emotional inflections much more evident when he extends “the “aww” sound at the end of the phrase “go on” into two syllables or the pure melancholy he brings to the elongated final word in the phrase, “so what good would living do me.” Depth is indeed the key word here, as you’ll be enveloped by the resonant clatter of the clip-clop percussion that dominates the front left and rear left channels, not to mention the enmeshed sleigh bells, flutes, harpsichord, bass clarinet, and piano during the song’s brief but resonant staccato section that also includes a select few well-placed fills from ace session drummer Hal Blaine.

Ultimately, this Collectors Edition is worth the investment to both analyze and enjoy how a classic was born, from conception to completion. Wilson was onto something when he declared he “just wasn’t made for these times”—he’s basically right, though I’d amend that to say he and his fellow Beach Boys have made an album that unquestionably was made to stand the test of time. God only knows what popular music would be without Pet Sounds.

CD & Blu-ray
Label: Capitol/UMe
Audio Formats: 96-kHz/24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 96-kHz/24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (Blu-ray); 192-kHz/24-bit and 96-kHz/24-bit Mono and PCM Stereo (Blu-ray and download); 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo (CD)
Number of Tracks: 104 on 4 CDs, 18 on 1 Blu-ray
Length: 5:56:02
Producers: Brian Wilson (original album, outtakes, and live material); Mark Linett (box set and Blu-ray 5.1 mixes); Matt D’Amico, Michael Murphy (box set)
Engineers: Chuck Britz, Larry Levine, F. Bowen David, Ralph Valentin, Bruce Botnick (original album and outtakes); Stephen Desper and 10 others (live material); Mark Linett (outtakes and live material)