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The stories of 'Pet Sounds'

in retrospect

Some children have parents that tell them stories: stories about beautiful princesses and violent dragons, stories about Greek myths and triumphant gods, stories about familial pasts and collective struggles. But I had something different. I had one of my favorite stories from my dad come to life in front of me. 

One of the best parts of my relationship with my dad is our shared love of classic and alternative rock and his seemingly limitless knowledge of music history. His mind is a mental library of music encyclopedias and critical evaluations of iconic albums, building my informal rock education since the day I was born. He could go on for hours, pulling out his favorite books and showing me his favorite videos — a full multimedia lecture in our dining room on anything musical, forming my love of history along the way.

Music has always played a significant role in my household, growing up surrounded by musical instruments, CDs and vinyl records (while I remain impeccably unmusical). Yet, even with my lacking musical abilities, my dad and I would record shop, swap current favorite bands, and attend every concert we could together. My dad would tell me stories of these bands that we both loved, from wild conspiracies like “Paul Is Dead” or the origins of iconic bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

But the stories about the unconventional creation of the Beach Boys’ widely acclaimed album “Pet Sounds” always stood out to me and seemed to capture my youthful imagination: tales of a lyricist who wrote TV jingles helping Brian Wilson write his iconic songs, recordings of dogs barking for a piece of the song “Caroline, No,” and a goal to create the best rock album ever made. 

On May 25, 2017, at the San Diego Civic Theatre, the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour came to Southern California, my home state and the muse for their iconic sound. This momentous occasion was 51 years after the recording of “Pet Sounds.” And my dad and I had tickets for the second row.

Recorded May 16, 1966, “Pet Sounds” was a departure from the quintessential sunshine pop the Beach Boys had mastered during the first half of the 1960s. This “California Sound” created what became the “California Myth,” a myth that shaped the perception of this state then and today. Brian Wilson wanted to end this beach-themed time period, hoping to create an album without filler tracks, an album that made a complete statement like he believed Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” had done. His songs focused on themes like social alienation, lost love, and introspective struggles. It was a story of family drama, a struggling artist, constant abuse, and independent triumph, an album beginning with the senseless innocence of young love in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” catapulting into the slow aging destruction of that same mythological love in “Caroline, No.”

Seeing this album performed was like living those stories, experiencing the reality of them. They did not just live in a book my dad would show me or in an album I would listen to in my car. They were real; they were the actualization of those stories my dad would tell me. I knew the kind of influence this album had in music world and the meticulous attention to detail in its formation. It formed the beginning of the concept album, alongside future works like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or the Eagles’ “Hotel California”: albums that contain a greater, unified purpose. It was the beginning of the album becoming the story for musicians. 

Right when the band opened with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” I felt the favorite songs of my childhood come to life. It was surreal, seeing these musicians who changed the music world, who would make up the conversations with my dad, performing this truly incredible album. Not only that, these musicians were a huge part of my dad’s childhood too. It was as if we were sharing this experience of reliving the music that shaped our lives. I could make eye contact with Brian Wilson and wave at Al Jardine, seeing how these stories in books and movies made each of the Beach Boys who they are today. 

And at the end of the night, Al Jardine was by the edge of the stage, shaking people’s hands. I got to walk up, smile, and shake the hand of one of my favorite stories’ protagonists.  


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