Tag Archives: LP

Record #5: Pet Sounds (1966)

Hello, readers!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a record & this time, I have a good one for you.  I’m really excited to tell you about it, but first:

Updates:
J.S. Bach- The Complete Brandenburg Concertos (Vanguard): This is my favorite collection of Baroque pieces. I found it, in its entirety for $1 at Turn it Up!, in Northampton, MA. I had to grab it.

Bruce Springsteen- Born in the USA (Columbia): This one was given to me by a friend, Andrew. He had an extra copy sitting around & decided to help me beef up my collection.

Eric Clapton- 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO): I found this one for about $3 at Turn it Up!. It’s one of my favorites, but I haven’t heard it on vinyl as of yet.

Crosby, Stills & Nash- Daylight Again (Atlantic): Yet another good record found cheaply in Northampton.

Stephen Kellogg- Blunderstone Rookery (Elm City [Universal]):  It’s here. I’ve played it & it’ll be reviewing it next.

Simon & Garfunkel- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Columbia): I ordered this last week. It’s a 1966 copy from Columbia. I have the tracking number & it’s en route.

Simon & Garfunkel- Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): I ordered this one on February 18th. It has yet to be shipped.

Now for the main event:

The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds:
Here’s a little history leading up to the release of Pet Sounds:

The Beach Boys released their first studio record on Capitol Records in 1962. Brian Wilson & his cousin, Mike Love, co-wrote most of their early material, which consisted of summertime rock ‘n’ roll songs. They had great success, but even so, Wilson felt uncomfortable. While the rest of the band were content being pop stars, he had other plans for his music. Those plans started to become a reality after suffering a small nervous breakdown in December, 1964. Being a writer, arranger, producer & performer at the same time had taken its toll, & by January, 1965, Wilson had quit playing live. Now, there was time to devote all his energy towards songwriting.

That same year, he heard an album which blew him away: Rubber Soul. The Beatles eighth Capitol release impressed Wilson so much, it inspired him to make something he thought would be better. The end result was Pet Sounds.

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My copy of Pet Sounds on 180 gram vinyl

Unfortunately, by the time the album was released, in May of 1966, The Beach Boys were typecast as the summertime band that sang songs about California & cars. That, paired with Wilson’s father’s usurping managerial control of the band & insistence that Wilson pander to his audience, caused the album’s  sales to be mediocre, at best. Reviews were mixed to negative.

Not all ways lost, though. The record was noticed by one group of people. The music community was quick to swipe up Pet Sounds & listen. Back then, the music industry was a very different thing, in the way the executives ran it, but in the artist who were part of it. Today, the top 40 is filled with “artists” who have no staying power, making the professional musician job turnover higher than it’s ever been. The stars only interact with each other when they promote a tour or album release & most of the songwriting is done by people hired to write & arrange for them.

In the 1960s, things were different. Yes, there were musicians who didn’t have staying power. Yes, record companies were money grubbing & ruthless, but the majority of professional musicians had camaraderie. People like John Lennon, Bob Dylan & Brian Wilson were friends. Their social lives were intertwined. Successes were helped & encouraged by bouncing ideas off of each other & giving constructive criticism. Songwriting rivalries were there, but they were almost always friendly. It’s been widely documented that The Beatles & The Rolling Stones used to actually work together to set release dates so that each of them could have their own successful time on the charts. They supported each other & it was a wonderful thing.

I say all that because Brian Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds was received with open arms by successful & striving musicians alike. Wilson learned his technique of layering instruments from his friend, producer, Phil Spector, who dubbed the method the “wall of sound.”  Also incorporated, were sounds which hadn’t been used in rock music, such as the bass harmonica & even Coca Cola cans (You can see the gigantic size of the album’s personnel list here). These elements were recognized as innovative by contemporary musicians & inspired many subsequent records, including he legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Paul McCartney going as far as to say, “I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard [Pet Sounds].”

This is why I wanted to hear it on vinyl. I needed to listen to it the way my musical heroes did.

Cover Art:
Pet Sounds’ cover art is pretty simple; it’s the band at the San Diego Zoo, feeding goats. It was supposed to be a play on the album title, & there really isn’t much else to say about it.

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The cover of Pet Sounds, still in shrink wrap

Sound:
I own Pet Sounds in mono. It’s a re-release, & like most reissues, the record itself was pressed on 180 gram vinyl. People claim it sounds better that regular 120 gram, but that’s debatable. However, one thing that is certain, is that thicker records are more durable & less prone to warping. So I guess you could say that in the long run, there will be an impact on the sound.

Brian Wilson has said that Pet Sounds is a record that you can’t just listen to in passing. He says that the best way to experience the album is to put it on the turntable, put on headphones & shut off the lights. That way the listener experiences nothing but the pure sound of the record. I didn’t quite listen to it like that, though I plan to, but I did listen from start to finish. I also have the album on my computer, & even through nice speakers, the quality isn’t even remotely as good.

The difference between laying it on a turntable versus a computer is like night & day. Pet Sounds is jam packed with sound, & Wilson intended every bit of it to be heard. Much of this is lost during the compression of an .mp3, but  once the needle drops, every sound, from the standard electric guitar, to bicycle bells becomes unbelievably clear.

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Pet Sounds‘ Capitol Records rainbow label

I’d listened to the album a million times before I bought the Vinyl, & while I knew it was ground-breaking, its lack of luster through computer speakers or .ear buds made it sound ordinary. When I made the switch, I can finally say, I get it. I now know what Wilson’s vision was & I understand completely. That, combined with an understanding of the times in which it was released, gave me a musical epiphany. It was the first time this has happened to me so suddenly & with such force. I finally was able to listen to it the way all my musical heroes did & I am unbelievably humbled to be able to say it affected me the same way.

Final Thoughts:
John Lennon & Paul McCartney are widely considered to be the 2 main musical geniuses of the Twentieth Century. I truly believe that the 1960s saw a third musical genius in Brian Wilson. Without any shadow of a doubt, his intricate & beautiful mind was right on par with Lennon’s & McCartney’s. Unfortunately, because of the lack of his band’s support & because his mental state was so fragile, he couldn’t keep up. Wilson eventually had a much more serious nervous breakdown & withdrew to the confines of his bedroom. I truly believe that if he had been given the support he needed, he would have created a much larger catalog of records, many of which would have been held in the highest regard. If things had gone perfectly, Pet Sounds would have been viewed in the same light as Rubber Soul is for The Beatles: a record considered to be the initial departure from the band’s rock ‘n’ roll roots, to something more artful. Thankfully, with age, the recordhas received the recognition it deserves from the general public, earning the title of second greatest album of all time from Rolling Stone.

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

At any rate, Pet Sounds is a wonderful masterpiece, especially when it’s played on vinyl. If you want to hear one of the albums that changed music as we know it, then this is definitely one you need to pick up.

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Record #2: The Byrds’ Greatest Hits (1967)

Welcome to this week’s Bill’s Bologna.

From now on, when I post about my records, before I get into the specific one I’ve chosen, I’ll give you an update on which LPs I’m looking for, which one’s I’ve purchased & which ones I’m expecting. Here we go:

I’m still waiting on Stephen Kellogg’s new solo release, Blunderstone Rookery, which I ordered just after Christmas. He sells his music & merch through District Lines & I’m guessing they press the vinyl in batches. As of this morning, the order is still processing. It’s been almost two weeks now, so my guess is that they press in batches. They’re probably waiting unil the orders reach a certain number to get them done. This is just a guess, though, so if anyone knows anything about this, please let me know. I would also like to buy Kellogg’s last album he recorded with his former band on vinyl & this will definitley have an impact on whether I do or not.

My copy of With the Beatles has been facing some delays because of the nasty weather we’ve seen recently, but as of yesterday, the tracking information said it was out for delivery. When I double-checked the progress this morning, something weird happened. There was a giant red exclamation mark next to the tracking number. Next to that, it read, “EXCEPTION.” After looking into it, I found that it means something went wrong in transit. I dug deeper because, well, I wanted my record, & I found out that for some reason, the next event (delivery) was never triggered. Fingers crossed.* At any rate, you can bet I’ll be talking about that one next.

There’s only one brand new thing to report to you this week. I decided Hanson’s 2013 release, Anthem. I was on the fence about about buying it, but on Friday night, I  finally decided to bite the bullet & go for it. As of now, I don’t have any of the tracking information, so I guess it’ll get here when it gets here.

Okay, now that the housekeeping is out of the way, it’s time to talk about The Byrds.

A few weeks ago, I bought a 1967 copy of The Byrds’ Greatest Hits from an eBay store called TreasuredTracs. I bought it for $8 & I definitely recommend working with them. The man I dealt with was named George. He was attentive & without having to ask, he constantly kept me updated on the whereabouts of my package via personal message. Despite the fact that the weather last week was snowy & terrible, George made every effort to get my record to me as quickly as possible. Even with the delays, it only took about a week.

I had the record shipped to my office & it came in yesterday. There were plenty of things to do, but I just couldn’t resist opening it to take a look. They say that the sense of smell is the sense that is most connected to memory & if it’s true, it couldn’t be any more apparent here. When I opened the box & pulled the LP out, the slightly musty smell & dry feel of the cardboard jacket brought me right back to being 10 & rifling through boxes my grandparents’ records in their basement.

The cover art is typical mid 60’s psychedelia. On the bottom half of the jacket, photos of bright flowers are superimposed over photos of the four-Byrd lineup of 1967.** They’re standing in a garden, surrounded by more flowers. On the top half, are individual photos of Roger (previously Jim) McGuinn, David Crosby, Michael Clarke & Chris Hillman. It’s definitely a cover that dates itself, but that’s okay. It’s a product of the times & it’s endearing.

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Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Michael Clarke & Chris Hillman on the cover of The Byrds’ Greatest Hits

Before I immerse you in my thoughts on the sound quality of this record, I need to preface a little bit. I’d be lying to you if I were to tell you I was a massive Byrds fan. They’re alright, but they can sound pretty amateurish at times (“Turn! Turn! Turn!” took 78 takes for the band to get right). I listen to them mainly because I’m a fan of their instrumentation… to an extent.
In 1964, after taking his band to see the Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night, founding member Jim McGuinn decided he would go out & buy a Rickenbacker 360-12 twelve-string guitar. In the movie, George Harrison plays a Rick 12 & McGuinn wanted to emulate this.  Along with the Beatles, The Byrds made the instrument become one of the most iconic sounds in the history of rock music. Where Harrison introduced the world to the electric 12 string, The Byrds put it on the map, & though I love the sound of an electric 12 string, it starts to get a little much. See, they made the chiming sound the guitars produce famous by using it (You’ll know it when you hear it; the band makes is very prominent) so much, it became their schtick. They went all out with with it. For real. It appeared on every single song during their most influential period & the vast majority of their songs later in their career. Like I said, I love the sound (I own a Rickenbacker 12, myself & I give it a lot of love & use), but as a band, you need to vary your sound or it gets a little boring. That being said, this record has my ideal Byrds track order. It’s almost like it was tailored for me… twenty years before I was born. Eleven tracks is about as much of the Byrds as I can take in one sitting & guess what. This compilation has every single track I want to hear… Okay, so I prefaced a lot.

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Columbia Records: The Byrds’ Greatest Hits label

Now that that’s out of my system, I can start talking about the actual sound.

When I placed the needle in the grooves, the hiss was a little more prominent than with Please Please Me. That’s to be expected. I had the first play on Please Please Me. The Byrds’ Greatest Hits is almost 50 years old. I wasn’t listening for the pristine cleanliness you can get from a new LP. In all honestly, I was looking forward to the pops, because this is my first old record & they’re crucial to the experience of listening to old LPs.

The Byrds’ production quality was never very high (Sorry Terry Melcher). Aside from The Beatles & Brian Wilson of the The Beach Boys, who were the first people to view albums as works of art, instead of just collections of marketable songs, this was pretty much par for the course for the mid 1960s. This was the standard & The Byrds were no exception. Production on their records is very sparse. When I say this, I don’t mean bare bones & grass roots. The band would get to that later in their career, but for the mid 1960s, the sound was always very thinly mixed. In addition, Roger McGuinn skipped an amplifier & played straight into the recording console, all while running his guitar through two compressors. He’s quoted as saying their engineer compressed everything. All of this saved the recording equipment from the new & relatively loud rock volumes, but destroyed the low end. The effect of the studio compression, plus the extra compression when mastering for CD format completely killed the sound. I was well aware of this, so I listened to the vinyl very carefully. “Mr. Tambourine Man,” was the one I paid the most attention to because on CD & .mp3, the bass is at its thinest. You could even go as far as to say it has a twang to it. On  vinyl, the song was still pretty lacking in bass (though not nearly as much), but there was definitely something different about it. It’s hard to put a finger on, but one thing is for sure. While the bass & depth definitely were still missing, there was a whole spectrum of sound which filled everything else in. The life the tracks had was something I never would have expected from the Byrds. I’d listened to these songs for years & missed so much: coughs, vocal imperfections, foot-taps- you name it & it was there. When I listened to the rest of the record, I discovered the same thing.

ByrdsDisk

My 1967 copy of The Byrds’ Greatest Hits

I don’t have too much else to say because most of the songs have the same instrumental lineup & production quality to them: bass, drums, tambourine, rhythm guitar & electric 12 string, & since I’ve started writing this, I’ve listened to it a few more times. My opinion hasn’t changed. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the songs. They’re songs I’ve been listening to since I was a child, & now I can hear them in a completely different light. I think it goes without saying, that this record reconfirmed my stance on vinyl. It’s full life & detail, while other formats are not, plain & simple. No wonder my dad likes to take care of his old records.

* With the Beatles finally arrived. I’ve listened & will report soon.
** Singer, Gene Clark, left the band in 1966 because despite the fact that he was the band’s most prolific songwriter, he didn’t gain the respect he felt he deserved. He also had an intense fear of flying, leading McGuinn to tell him, “If you can’t fly, you can’t be a Byrd.” Ultimatum puns.

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