The Albums That Changed My Life: #8, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

by Rick Krueger

The good Dr. Birzer did a fine track-by-track survey of this milestone album for its 50th anniversary in 2016.   While I’m tempted to say “just read his article,” it wouldn’t answer the implied question this series poses.  How did hearing Pet Sounds change my life?

Though I always liked the Beach Boys, I didn’t glom onto Pet Sounds until I was in my 30s. My older brother had a few of their early records; I remember borrowing the In Concert album and subjecting my family to repeated plays on one vacation.  Some of their songs from the 1970s filtered through to FM rock radio in my high school years, too; “Sail On Sailor” was particularly popular.  I even arranged a medley of the band’s 1960s classics for my final choir concert at Lutheran High School East.  But I typically thought of the Beach Boys as a group with cool harmonies, a Chuck Berry fixation, and decent songs about surfing, cars and girls.

Then, on a whim, I picked up the 30th anniversary edition of Pet Sounds in 1996.  Which included liner notes featuring Paul McCartney quotes like “this is the album of all time” and “no one is educated musically until they’ve heard that album.”  I figured I’d better give it a serious listen.

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PET SOUNDS, 1966-2016: Fifty Years of Prog

Arguably, the very first prog album.

Though I’m sure someone could make the case for either REVOLVER or SGT. PEPPER’s being the first prog album, I’ve always turned to PET SOUNDS by the Beach Boys.  I’m sure there’s a bit of the American in me that desires this to be so, so I can’t completely claim to be unbiased.  I know English proggers–understandably–think of Prog as one of their many national gifts to the world, somewhere above the Magna Carta.  And, it is!  Still, it’s conceivable that it came about in California but then was perfected by the English.  Maybe.  Maybe not.


As Brian Wilson has noted, he found his own inspiration for the album in RUBBER SOUL by the Beatles.  Is it possible the influence went both directions across the Atlantic?  Most certainly.

Regardless, PET SOUNDS is fifty years old.  And, what an extraordinary achievement it is.  Though one might regard it somewhat probably as a Brian Wilson solo album, it came out under the name of the Beach Boys, and it carries with it many of the trademark Beach Boy sounds and touches.

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