Pet Sounds: Most Overrated Album of All Time?

Try as I might -- and I have tried very hard -- I just don't get the "genius" of this album. I know that George Martin said that Sgt Pepper would have never happened without Pet Sounds, but I don't think the two are even in the same league. What am I missing?
Pet Sounds was the Beach Boys answer to Rubber Soul. In turn
the Beatles were very impressed with Pet Sounds and it was an influence for SPLHCB. I like both albums but neither is my favorite work by either group.
God Only Knows may be the most beautiful ballad of the rock era. Sloop John B, Wouldn't It Be Nice, et al. are flat out great songs. It's hard to understand what you don't understand. The record holds a special historical place because the "sonic palate" inspired the Beatles (as noted above), but even putting that aside, the songcraft is pretty self evident. I guess, you either get it or you don't.

BTW, in the same vein, I don't "get" Hendrix. I understand his music, and appreciate his contribution in the abstract, but I just don't love it. In this instance, I just don't "get it". So, join the club.


Pet Sounds has some great songs but I don't consider it a great album.
If you don't "get" Hendrix, you haven't heard it under the right "circumstances". Rock on.
The album is very good and I suppose overrated; personally I prefer "Surfin USA" and "Surfer Girl".

However, it's a marvelous showcase for Brian Wilson's production and vocal arranging skills.

That is the "genius" of the album IMO.
Pet Sounds is not overrated at all. It was one of the few albums at its time that was visioned as a complete work. Before that time, only Sinatra (another performer not recognized for his musical smarts) was putting together thematic albums. The genius of the work is one of those things that you either get or not get or more importantly, like or not like.

Part of considering any album from 40 years ago is understanding what was going on at the time. The Beach Boys were primarily a singles group doing surfer ballads and pop and they came up with a symphonic type work that lit a fire under the Beatles. Look at the top 15 Cash Box Albums for 1966 to see what was popular at the time (source Lillian Roxon's "Rock Encyclopedia"):

1. Sound of Music - Soundtrack
2. Whipped Cream - Herb Alpert
3. Going Places - Herb Alpert
4. Dr. Zhivago - Soundtrack
5. South of the Border - Herb Alpert
6. Best of Herman's Hermits
7. Best of the Animals
8. What Now My Love - Herb Alpert
9. Lonely Bull - Herb Alpert
10. Why Is There Air - Bill Cosby
11. Fiddler on the Roof - Original Cast
12. If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears - Mamas & Papas
13. Big Hits - Rolling Stones
14. My Name is Barbra, Two - Barbra Steisand
15. September of My Years - Frank Sinatra ...
33. Pet Sounds - Beach Boys


its still being played regularly 40 some years after the fact on my stereo for sure. however my favorite beach boys albums are sunflower(tremendous), 20/20(pieced together with sinles. b sides, and relics from the unreleased 'smile' it hangs together, and is still great,and friends(one of the great sunday morning albums ever)...i've heard friends is brian's as, the beach boys hold my personal record for live concert events. i saw them 19 times beginning in 65. after carl died, i called it quits....couldn't imagine the band playing on without him.
one more sounds was a commercial failure at the time..the poorest selling lp the band had released to date(1966). it would years before many of their fans would come back to the band....and new lp sales never did. like hendrix, the stones, and others, you either 'get' the beach boys, or you don't. if you don't its not a high crime....thats just rock n roll.
"What am I missing?" Well, for starters - just how old are you? If you weren't around then that explains a lot...

We're all a product of our experience, and the collective wisdom that identified this as one of the greatest all lived through that era. Narrod and Rar1 give a hint of some of the reasons - the Beach Boys were practically the major competitors in the U.S. to the Beatles (and Stones, maybe). They sounded like nothing else around (at the time...) and this did provide a significant spark for Dr. Pepper's.

Once you've heard so much that's been produced since that time then Pet Sounds may not seem like all that much - until you step back and realize that so much of what followed is often quite derivative in some way. This was such a change (as Jaybo noted) from the norm at that time that even many fans of the most popular group in the U.S. didn't get it nor buy it. It was just those guys like the Beatles, etc. who were knocked out by Pet Sounds and the rest has become history...
It took me many years before I began to "get" the Beach Boys and what Wilson contributed to pop music. One thing I will say for Brian and the Boys was that as a kid growing up in Marshfield, MA in the summer of 1965, hearing their music about Southern California on the family station wagon radio "transported" me there and when I finally got to visit that part of the country my expectations, based on that music alone, were right on.

That is the the power of great songwriting.
Never. Concur w/ above, the album was envisioned as a complete work and enabled Brian to showcase his vocal arranging, production skills. One must closely listen to the many 'layers' of harmony...
The Beach Boys are the greatest American rock band of all time, ranking only behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in terms of influence on rock/pop music. Pet Sounds is their defining genius. This is timeless music, sounding as fresh today as it did 40 years ago. I love you Brian, rest in peace Carl and Dennis.
"country my expectations, based on that music alone, were right on."

Agreed, even though they didn't grow up near the beach and didn't surf. The harmonies were incredible and unlike anything being heard at that time.
...and the French supposedly consider Jerry Lewis a genius - but I don't force myself to watch his movies.
Musicslug, your handle says it all. :-)
I am very up on this album for the following reasons:

1) Production values. This is a beautifully arranged album featuring crackerjack session people. Aside from the vocals, the other Beach Boys barely play on this. Brian envisioned this as a thematic whole and the studio musicians were selected as such to enhance the sound. How many records do you own that so effortlessly weave together sleighbells, light trumpets, tympani and other effects? I am sure this sophisticated layering is what struck the Beatle's fancy.

2) Great song writing. It was Brian's attempt to make a more mature album, with more adult themed lyrics. The songs are haunting in their self-consciousness. Working with Peter Asher, the songs are wonderful compositions that reflect both suburban fulfillment and darker, more troubling visions of post-adolescence.

42 years on, this still feels like a classic. I think musicians will be singing its praise in another 60 years.
I wouldn't know since I've never heard it!!!
It was definitely influential.

I've never heard it from start to finish though. The times I have given it a listen it did not capture me.

It is on my list of albums to give another try though. Usually, when so many people praise or like something there is something to it I have found.
It's the album most affected by Brian's mental illness. Beside the beauty of the harmonies and inventiveness of the production, it is deeply depressing music.
I think that you would have to rank it with the Beatle's Revolver, Dylan's mid-60's work and possibly Hendrix as the four most important and imitated albums that spawned a host of copy cat albums by lessor artists. Everyone from Tom Petty and Elvis Costello have sang its praise.

I agree with Jimjoyce25 is that Pet Sounds is an accurate reflection of Brian's mental state, obviously influenced by large self-medicated doses of LSD, which in 1965 was legal at the time. While Sloop John B sounds like a simple ode to the sea, it is also a reference to his intake, sporting the line "This is the worst trip I have ever been on." Trippy but true.

Brian could have easily gone the way of Syd Barrett. It is nice that he still functioning, especially his recent release of Smile!
I do not agree, it change music to what we here today.
I believe has to do with the beat or tempo of the music. It's go's somthing like this. The Drummer startes the beat 123 or 1234 or 12345. Back in the early days it was all 123 in rock music. The Beach Boys were the first to start using differant tempo's and to even intertwine 2 if not three differant beats in a single song. John & Paul heard this and started to add it to thier music also that why SPLHCB was so revolutionary at the time. Pet Sound was the thinking out of the box album. If you really listen to the music it is very complex especially for the day.
Others here have touched on the idea that you have to put it in context as to what came before Pet Sounds, and what followed it to "get" the genius of the work, as is true with any great work of art.
The lack of technology and yet to have such excellent results from both the Beach Boys and the Beatles is what is so astounding. I don't believe the Moog was even invented at this point. Today, computer technology exists to reproduce the sounds that artists hear in their minds. I remember hearing the Beach Boys play good vibrations at a concert and using that weird vibraphone or vibraboard to make that eerie sound that was so much a part of the song. It's amazing how technologically advanced everyone thought that was way back then! The Beatles would probably have been able to make Sgt Peppers in a few weeks now, back than it took about 6 months, which was unheard of at the time. You have to view these great albums in their respective time periods to understand. The Beatles were also influenced later, by the Band. A lot of it is based on the time period it was made and the music that was being produced during that time. For example, I have been around to hear all of that music and still listen to rock and question some of the recent album rankings. One example is I think that Nirvana was an excellent band but I would never rate "Nevermind" as the second greatest album or whatever it was ranked, but that's my opinion, which is what all of this really is anyway.
>>that weird vibraphone or vibraboard to make that eerie sound<<

It's called a theremin.
Just because the techniques were pioneering does not make the album "great."

The songs are mostly mediocre pop songs, pumped up by arrangements and a format that were new to pop music. The songs themselves do not compare to other Beach Boys records.

This makes Pet Sounds "influential," and reaffirms the greatness of Brian Wilson in the R&R world, but the album itself is not great. Others took the new style and made much better records.
You can't erase the fact that your listening today has matured and benifitted by forty some odd years of musical evolution (whether you were here and listening all that time or not) since these record had their inception.

The hard part of understanding these landmark albums can be enhanced if one did not experience them during their time of introduction, in context to what music was currently in rotation, going back and listening to the billboard hits of that era and realizing the music and social conscience of that moment. You may well be surprised just how revolutionary the concepts and how dwarfing the musicianship and production skills in juxtaposition. But sitting here in 2009 saying "I don't get it" may just be not understanding the context.

With the benifit of Pet Sounds and SPLHCB in retrospect, why does it still seem to be so illusive, creating such a work out of thin air?

Happy Listening!
Its definitely not overrated in terms of its impact and influence at time and in terms of the innovative aspect of its production I suppose.

But I've personally always felt that SPLHCB then took things to a new level of overall success.

One of the things that the Beatles (with the help of George Martin) did to better effect than perhaps any other act ever is take elements of music and production that already existed elsewhere in bits and pieces and apply them in a new musical formula of their own that had tremendous mass appeal, hence their commercial success.

PS was a much needed radical and innovative departure for the Beach Boys from their prior work, which was very much cookie cutter and becoming dated in nature despite its merits. My impression has always been that PS is as much rough around the edges as it is refined though. The Beatles took things to a much more refined and higher level and continued to raise the bar of commercial success as well.

By the way, Abba is another act that came into their own after the Beatles that continued to move things forward and achieved huge commercial success, even though the music's content and meaning might be considered fluff in comparison to the BEatles by some.
The funny thing is if you go to, Smile is the highest rated album ever (as far as their reviews go back). I have to admit it's pretty good but I don't get the "100" rating.
Not a big fan of "Smile".

It has some stellar moments but is much too erratic and disjointed to be considered a work of art or one of the greatest.

It's hardly in the same class as Sergeant Pepper, Highway 61, Let it Bleed, etc.

IMO of course.
to call pet sound's compositions 'mediocre' even after decades, is pretty bizarre. the beach boys started reaching for more with the anthem 'california girls'.as far as that album called 'smile'by brian, the original and re-worked tracks(most of which are scattered across a half dozen beach boy records)are still the way to go. the new record by brian was fun for 'one' listen for me. the modern day equivalent of a 'whiskey bottle' recording(where a vulture record company lures an artist back to re-record legendary songs, with the promise of new money, and perhaps a record of new material).it's a bit classier than that, but not much...the tunes are heavenly, but it just doesn't have that 'magic'.
Some nice melodies and harmonies with some of the most insipid lyrics of the 1960's. In fact everything the Beach Boys did was lyrically ridiculous. Little miss cheerleader on the beach? Give me a break.
Jaybo: Sergeant Pepper sold big. Pet Sounds did not. Explanation?

(Hint: The correct answer is NOT that the Beatles were more popular than the Beach Boys.)
Jim , I have been reading your posts and I don't get your opinions on almost anything. Firstly, It's the album most affected by Brian's maturation not his illness. He was expressing his deepest feelings of love and life from the heart and mind of a 23 year old man. There made be a few sad or bittersweet songs, but depressing it is not. The songs are a far cry from being mediocre, if anything they may be innocent, and that is only from todays perspective, 40 years ago they were poignant. Lastly, The Beatles were a worldwide phenomenon, far more popular than anyone on the planet with far more influence than any other musical band at that time. In my opinion, Sgt Peppers was a step ahead of Pet Sounds, however, because of their popularity, the Beatles probably could have put out another album similar to Rubber Soul and still outsold the Beach Boys, such was their worldwide appeal!

To the question that you posed to Jaybo ... how does record sales correlate to the quality and/or influence of the music? Look at the answer that I posted fifth from the top as to what sold big in 1966. It is interesting to note that the Dr. Zhivago and Sound of Music soundtracks were #'s 1&2 in 1967.

I have tons of great albums that didn't sell well, the pubic didn't get, etc. Look at 1975 (year of release), Olivia Newton John's "Have You Ever Been Mellow" (#3) outsold Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" (#14), Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" (#29), and Springsteen's "Born to Run" (#31). Do you think the "Velvet Undergound & Nico" or "Loaded" ever charted?

It still gets down to your personal preference. Back then, I preferred "Pet Sounds" to "Sgt. Pepper" ... still do. It doesn't detract from either work's quality.


here are thought about 'pet sounds' initial commercial failure...the jump from 'the beach boys party' and 'summer days and nights' to 'pet sounds' was day and night. the beatles on the other hand led up to 'sgt pepper' with some pretty sophisticated releases..'rubber soul' and 'revolver'. the beach boys were an acquired taste(even in their cars and girls days). they were however brilliant, and bold(at the time). highly influential in terms of melodies, and for the better part of their original career, they sang like no one else and they made it look easy. you may not like them, but they were not mediocre. their original demographic was an older consumer as well. 'pet sounds' was going for the beatles fans..younger, hipper. etc. it may not have found that audience as one willing to listen, but it certainly impressed the hippest fans(the beatles themselves). the vinyl and cd re-issues of the title are hard to keep up with, which speaks volumes about its longevity. this is my last rant on this, and i'm not out to convert anyone...'its like tryin' to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll'-john sebastian(another genius).
Amen Jaybo! well written, I'm done with this post as well!

Sales have little to do with quality. Think of some of the singles and albums that have gone gold over the last 50 years. Anyone who loves music and is over 50 understands the importance of Pet Sounds and how radical it was upon release. I can understand those who are younger not getting why it was so important. Being important doesn't mean anyone has to like it. But to deny its' importance doesn't hold up.
>>01-14-09: Narrod
Sales have little to do with quality<<

Ah yes, how true that be. Please see:
Sheryl Crow
and on and on and on.

There's no accounting for bad taste.
People who don't get the music in the first place will never understand the meaning. Not saying it's bad it's just the way it is. To understand where the music is coming from you must open up to it first and enjoy it.
It never ceases to amaze me how some of my most admired artists are so impressed by the works of far lesser artists.

I stopped being surprised and am just grateful that the artists I adore were so inspired by artists that are perhaps seminal but whose works don't stand the test of time.

Here is a list of artists whose music had an epic impact on other artists, culture, and the music scene but whose albums I find I tried but I cannot get motivated to actually listen to today. Mind you I totally respect the artists for their contribution to the art and to society and paving the road for others but just feel that their music does not stand the test of time remotely as well as other artists that have been around for awhile. I am 42 so some of it might be a generation thing but nonetheless.

the list:

chuck berry (great historical importance but the music is not that great to hear today)

buddy holly

elvis presley (huge influence but would prefer to listen to otis redding, stevie wonder, al green, marvin gaye)

roy orbison

beach boys (a few great songs on pet sounds but only a few)

God help us all! Todays taste is all about not having to think or read into the music. Brian Wilson is a genius and was never recognized as such. Most geniuses are never recognized until way too late! I mean such statements as the above thread, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Roy Orbison,and Beach boys. How does this generation think that music has evolved to a music that they like today without these giants? God Help up all!
Yeah, both Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys are total enigmas to me. I cannot for the life of me understand what is interesting about them or their work. I find the Beach Boys lyrically insipid to an extreme, despite some nice melodies (but certainly not great). Elvis, well, I truly do not get that. I guess his Sun recordings were decent rockabilly, but the bulk of his career was one sell-out farce after another. Safe to say, I hate Elvis. Still, its better than 'rap'. I guess pop music tends to get worse. By the way, I am 46.
I like a lot of the old giants from louis Armstrong, count Basie, duke ellington, ella Fitzgerald, billie holiday to the beatles, stones, pink floyd, led Zeppelin, miles Davis....

To me the test is whether I like the entire album and pet sounds is not consistent enuf for me to listen's uneven and the vocals are not great....a few gems no doubt!

The smile record is a lifetime achievement nod by critics and it's swell that be recovered from mental illness. I saw him at an early comeback gig and he had no stage presence and sang poorly and looked like a deer stuck in the headlights but people were just thrilled he was out there. I say kudos for beating your demons but please Lennon runs circles around him as does Dylan , mccartney, Morrison van and john......
I couldn't find the Billboard charts for May 1966. Here is a play list from Billboard Top Pop Hits: 1966-5 compilation albums released by Rhino Records to give some perspective of what was hot during the time of the Pet Sounds release. These are singles throughout that year.

1."She's Just My Style" — Gary Lewis & the Playboys
2."Red Rubber Ball" — Cyrkle
3."No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" — T Bones
4."Ballad of the Green Berets" — Ssgt. Barry Sadler
5."Sloop John B" — Beach Boys
6."Sunshine Superman" — Donovan
7."Daydream" — Lovin' Spoonful
8."Winchester Cathedral" — New Vaudeville Band
9."Cherish" — The Association
10."Last Train to Clarksville" — Monkees

and here is 1965...

1."The Name Game" - Shirley Ellis
2."A Lover's Concerto" - The Toys
3."This Diamond Ring" - Gary Lewis & the Playboys
4."Help Me, Rhonda" - Beach Boys
5."You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" - The Righteous Brothers
6."Wooly Bully" - Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs
7."1-2-3" - Len Barry
8."Treat Her Right" - Roy Head and The Traits
9."I Got You Babe" - Sonny & Cher
10."Eve Of Destruction" - Barry McGuire

This may help...

Happy Listening!
You are right that pet sounds is better than the other stuff on the charts back then....this does not make it sound better today...

You are also right that music is more sophisticated today but hey the white album or revolver or rubber soul has aged well so why has a lot of pet sounds not aged well!

You are right that pet sound was hugely influential but does that make it great to listen to today? Sure for those who remember it from the beginning but not for most of us

Do you feel the same way about opera or classical or big bands or Dylan?

It's a lot like sports. If you are a student of the game, you appreciate the legends of yesteryear and recognize that the stars of today are walking down the path paved by their forebears. Same with music. Music appreciation and music knowledge are not mutually exclusive.


A lot of the popular stuff from that era that many pick on is actually quite good nowadays on original vinyl or re-mastered to CD on a good system.

Its not high-brow stuff but listen to a lot of it today on a good system that is leaps and bounds better than what most people had back then, or what they heard on AM radio, and you may not laugh anymore!

A lot of the Herb Alpert stuff on original vinyl sounds absolutely fabulous when I listen to it today!

Wilson certainly helped take it to a higher level in a very noticeable way with the Beach Boys and particularly with PS, as did the Beatles certainly, but they were not alone by a longshot. They were perhaps two of the highest profile groups that effectively registered with the rock critics of the day to do it though.

In hindsight, those rock critics got a lot of things wrong back in the day just as they often do today as well.

Just look at some of the music from that era that lives on today and continues to be highly regarded. A lot of it was panned by the same elitist group of rock critics back then as not being "serious" art/music.

The true measure of any classic is longevity.
Rich, I would agree. At least Archie and Buster are in a home of both music knowledge and appreciation.

Audiohifila, My intent was not to rub anyones nose in it or to try to make someone love the music, which of course is impossible. It was though, to help create a context, some prospective, that's it. Sometimes, just sometimes enjoyment comes long after understanding... A number of previous comments were made with little or no prospective evident. I would agree, beauty is in the eyes or ears of the beholder and I suggest that an informed beholder may see greater beauty in this world.

Happy (oblivious) Listening!
I appreciate the passion of your responses. Let me try to clarify the point:

1. Of course sales alone do not demonstrate the value of a record. The point is that Pet Sounds sold far less even than other Beach Boys records. Ie, it did not even appeal to the band's own core audience.

That's right, even Beach Boys fans did not, by and large, like the record.

I love old Beach Boys records. The songs on Pet Sounds lacks the spark of those records.

It's not only a question of sophistication. Rather, it's a work of great sophistication with songs that did not measure up to the band's own prior work. I would suggest that the Beach Boys did not leave their fans behind because the music was suddenly too sophisticated for them, but rather because it just wasn't that good.

2. I'm 51. It's possible to be an adult, and have educated taste and still not think Pet Sounds is a good record. It's an important record, but not a good one. For the record: I love early Elvis, I love early Dylan, I love early Johnny Cash ...
I think Dylan stands the test of time very well

I think classical and opera can stand the test of time too (albeit I am not a huge fan like some though)

I agree that knowledge can help in appreciation but if it's really that good and you got an open mind which I do the quality should be obvious and on per sounds some tracks are great but only a few!
Even though I grew up in the Beach Boys era, I was only a casual fan of their music and never recognized the staggering genius of Pet Sounds. That is, until I saw the Pet Sounds Live In London DVD. Seeing this music performed live by Brian Wilson and an ace backing band showcases what a drop-dead- gorgeous album Pet Sounds is. Also, the DVD has better sound quality than the CD versions of Pet Sounds that I have heard.