Recording took place from July 1965 to mid-April 1966, at Western, Gold Star, and Sunset Sound Studios, in California. The album includes hit tracks such as ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Sloop John B’.
Brian Wilson had quit touring with the group in order to focus his attention on writing and recording. A few months later, he would begin writing Pet Sounds. He weaved complex layers of vocal harmonies with sound effects, and used unfamiliar instruments, such as harpsichords, flutes, dog whistles, bicycle bells, untuned organs, trains, pop cans, and barking dogs.
Both the origin and the meaning of the album title Pet Sounds are uncertain. Wilson has claimed that the title was “a tribute” to Phil Spector, since the album title shares Spector’s initials.
The backing tracks for Pet Sounds were recorded over a four-month period, and all tracks were produced and arranged by Wilson. Wilson wrote or co-wrote every track on the album, with most songs being composed with Tony Asher. Terry Sachen would co-write ‘I Know There’s an Answer’.
Wilson’s production method on Pet Sounds involved recording the instrumental backing tracks for each song live, directly onto 4-track recorders. Wilson then mixed the final version of the recordings in mono. He did this for several reasons; back then, radio and TV were broadcast in mono, and most car radios and record players were monophonic, as well. These backing tracks were then dubbed onto one track of an 8-track recorder; Columbia was the only studio in L.A. with an 8-track.
Upon it’s initial release, Pet Sounds’ greatest success was in the U.K., where it reached No. 2 on the LP charts. ‘Caroline, No’ was the first single released. ‘Sloop John B’, meanwhile, hit No. 3 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the U.K. ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ reached No. 8 in the U.S., while ‘God Only Knows’ was another No. 2 single in Britain.
Wilson was experimenting with drugs, such as LSD, speed, and copious amounts of marijuana and hash, on a daily basis while writing the songs for Pet Sounds. When the band heard the new music, they were hesitant to make the album, having found the entire thing to be abnormal. Most complaints were coming from Mike Love, who Wilson always butted heads with.
The album would become one of the most influential records for future musicians, and would be enjoyed and analyzed by music lovers around the world. Pet Sounds is still considered one of the greatest records ever made.
It placed number No. 2 on Rolling Stone‘s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2004, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.
Eric Clapton, Keith Moon, Tom Petty, Roger Waters, and Elton John each list Pet Sounds as their personal favourite record. Beatles producer George Martin claimed that, “without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened. . . Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”