By Mark Guarino
Brian Wilson and “Pet Sounds” have become synonymous with genius and his masterwork.
Wilson was 24 when he wrote and recorded the album. Today, he’s 58 and for the first time, he’s performing the album in its entirety before an audience. The tour arrives at the Chicago Theatre Saturday.
Why has “Pet Sounds” maintained such mystery since it was recorded 34 years ago? At the time of its release in 1966, it was considered a failure by Beach Boys standards (it took until this year to finally go gold). Fans were confused — instead of party surf tunes, here was a richly orchestrated album with songs that had serious, practically spiritual, overtones. To this day, a majority of the songs on “Pet Sounds” are unknown to the general public, and can’t be found in rotation on oldies stations.
“Pet Sounds” received its recognition in retrospect. In fact, the album is probably known more for all the music it’s inspired — from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” one year after its release, to any recent album by the Apples in Stereo, Matthew Sweet, or the countless other bands in rock history that credit “Pet Sounds” as a benchmark influence.
Although Wilson claims he was influenced by the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul,” “Pet Sounds” is considered one of the first concept albums in pop history. Provided by friend Tony Asher, its lyrics reflected a sad young man much like Wilson, struggling to come of age in the late ‘60s. To listen is to hear a glory of riches, from symphonic strings and soulful harmonizing to such offbeat additions as a bicycle bell and barking dogs. Even under such complex production, the album’s ultimate triumph is its resonating human heart.
This recent tour continues the comeback Wilson has been embarking on since 1998. A recluse much of the ‘70s and ‘80s, his recent album “Imagination,” has sparked a flurry of activity that has included touring, an internet-only CD, and brief stint living in St. Charles, next door to “Imagination” producer Joe Thomas. Wilson has since moved back to Southern California and is currently in litigation with Thomas over ????
The enigma took a break to talk last week about “Pet Sounds” and, not surprisingly, gave an interview just as mysterious.
Q: When you started performing again two years ago, how comfortable were you getting on a stage again?
A: It was kind of like a shock, almost. But when I started getting standing ovations, I got more into it.
Q: You’ve been playing Beach Boys hits, but also have thrown more obscure songs into setlists as well.
A: We just discovered really good material we thought people would like. It was like going back to the beginning all over again.
Q: Why did you decide to reproduce “Pet Sounds” onstage now?
A: Well, my wife and my manager told me it would be a good move to do that so I thought “let’s try it out” and so far, so good.
Q: The album is such sonically complex. Did you run into problems reproducing it live?
A: Yeah, it was but we finally did it.
Q: When you were recording “Pet Sounds,” what was the mood in the studio?
A: That was a very special time for us all. Very creative time.
Q: I had read you often prayed in the studio.
A: Yeah. It was people, for love, it was praying for people.
Q: Who thought of the title?
A: Mike Love thought of it.
Q: Does it have any special meaning?
Q: Do you have a favorite song on it?
A: “Caroline No.” It’s pretty.
Q: This summer, two other bands are on the road playing Beach Boys songs. One is lead by Al Jardine, the other Mike Love. Are you concerned at all that might confuse people?
A: No, I’m proud of that. It’s good for us all. No, Mike and I both have our audiences, our following.
Q: Would you ever record again with the surviving Beach Boys?
A: I’ve been asked this before several times and no, I don’t plan to record with the Beach Boys.
Q: So many younger bands cite you as an influence. Are you listening to any new music these days?
A: You know, I don’t listen to hardly anything but oldies but goodies. I couldn’t tell you what’s what these days.
Q: So you wouldn’t be interested in producing any one band?
Q: How did you learn about harmonies?
A: I learned to analyze harmonies through the Four Freshmen. I liked the blend, the sound of their voices. I liked that very much.
Q: Did you enjoy the time you lived in St. Charles?
A: No I didn’t.