Brian Wilson bringing good "Pet Sounds" vibrations to Tanglewood
LENOX — As it turns out, legendary singer-songwriter Brian Wilson had very few doubts about the quality of the album "Pet Sounds" when he was writing and producing it way back in 1966.
"Yes," he said in a telephone interview. "I knew it would be good. I knew right away."
On this, the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," Wilson and his band will be at Tanglewood on Sunday afternoon to perform the disk in its entirety.
Wilson, who at the time was beset by crippling anxiety about performing, stayed home in California while the Beach Boys embarked on a tour of Japan. Wilson admitted that he didn't miss touring, on one hand. But on the other, he said, he was inspired to produce something above the level of the previous 10 albums the Beach Boys had released.
The album was recorded between February and April of 1966. Wilson used more than a score of session musicians, including a young Glen Campbell on 12-string guitar.
"I wanted to get away from the surf songs and the car songs we had been doing up to that point," he said. "I wanted to expand our sound."
That proved to be a stunning understatement. "Pet Sounds," in addition to being an album of uniformly superior tunes, was also notable for its use of a host of musical instruments (and non-instruments, such as a Coca-Cola can on the album's title track) in rock and pop music.
The many instruments to be found on "Pet Sounds" included a harpsichord, various stringed instruments, various brass instruments, an accordion, sleigh bells, tambourines and a Theremin.
The Beach Boys pioneered the use of a Theremin in rock songs, on "Pet Sounds" as well as, most notably, in the single, "Good Vibrations." "Good Vibrations" was recorded during the "Pet Sounds" sessions and was released, not with the album but as a stand-alone single in October of 1966.
"Let me tell you that story," said Wilson. "[Brother] Carl [Wilson] actually suggested it to me. He said, 'We should order a Theremin.' I said, 'Really?' And he said, 'Yeah, it has a really cool sound. I wasn't so sure, but we ordered it.
"And it wasn't the kind of Theremin that made a sound when you passed your hand over it. It was an electro-Theremin, and you played it by moving a knob back and forth. But the first time I heard that 'Woooo-ooo-oooooo' sound, I loved it."
Wilson used the electro-Theremin on "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" on "Pet Sounds."
"Yeah, I was trying to find the exact sound for the songs in my head," said Wilson. "I used two bass players and two drummers at once on one song."
Critical reaction to the album was, initially, tepid. But more importantly, the response from his bandmates was not particularly positive, either.
"They didn't like it," said Wilson. "They wanted to stick to what had been successful. I said, 'Guys, we have to branch out. We can't keep recording car songs.'"
Eventually, said Wilson, his band mates came around. More importantly, "Pet Sounds'" layered, multi-instrumental sound began to catch on with critics and fans. Ten years after the release of "Pet Sounds" legendary Beatles producer George Martin pronounced that, "Without 'Pet Sounds', there would not have been 'Sgt. Pepper.'"
"Wow," said Wilson. "Martin said that? I didn't know that. Thanks. That is a huge compliment, obviously."
Wilson has been on tour with his band for a few months now, starting in Australia and New Zealand and moving onto Europe and the Middle East. The Tanglewood date is the fourth stop on the U.S. tour.
In addition to "Pet Sounds," Wilson is promising a "classic Beach Boys" set as well as a few gems.
And, he admitted that he is still not a huge fan of being on the road, "but we suck it up and get out there. So far, though, it's been fun."
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.
What: "Pet Sounds"
Who: Brian Wilson with special guests Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Tanglewood, The Shed, West Street (Route 183), Lenox
Tickets: $109.50-$25 (lawn)
How: 888-266-1200; tanglewood.org; Tanglewood box office (main gate) — West Street
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