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50 years of Pet Sounds with Brian Wilson

A tale of two grocery stores



Classic Pet Sounds imagery - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted Photo
  • Classic Pet Sounds imagery

When you entered The Radiant Radish, you'd first notice a wide selection of fresh vegetables, fruits and vitamins. This small grocery store lived in the year 1969 in West Hollywood, California, and if you were lucky, the boy at the cash register was composer and Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

In the year 2016, perhaps you're more likely to run into me at Georgetown Market, landlocked, covered in beets, sitting in the break room speaking with Brian over the phone.

In the late '60s, Brian had a brief stint as a health food store operator. He founded The Radiant Radish alongside his cousin Steve Korthoff and Arnie Geller in an attempt to advertise the importance of being physically and mentally healthy.

When I think of The Beach Boys, carrots and tomatoes aren't on the menu. Perhaps more so sand and intense vocal harmonies. It's cliché by now to note the Beach Boys' immense impact on American popular music, and their status as summertime icons — remember, Brian himself was born on the first day of summer. Their songs about surfing and teenage culture have filled jukeboxes and lived on the radio for over 50 years. (Even though only drummer Dennis Wilson was able to ride a surfboard at the time Pet Sounds dropped.)

Brian's father Murry Wilson managed the group in those days and pushed for catchy songs that would appeal to teenagers and become quick hits. It worked: Songs like "409," "Little Deuce Coupe" and "Surfer Girl" were huge and the band skyrocketed to fame.

The suffering of the band, however, was legendary. Murry has been accused of emotional and psychological abuse toward the Wilson brothers. The boys themselves — and the many iterations of the group, amid breakups, crises and reformulations — are sometimes lost in translation.

One contingent of fans is loyal to the early material. The other is eager to talk about projects like SMiLE, a record that Brian once referred to as a "health food album." That's me, in Georgetown Market. I snagged time with Brian on the phone for a very short interview before his Elizabeth, Ind. show on Friday celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds. Here's a teeny bit of our interview, plus some more biographical notes about the legendary Beach Boys.


NUVO: If someone has never heard Pet Sounds and they come to see you play, what would you like them to take away from the music?

Brian Wilson: Good songs and good memories.

Note: Pet Sounds is an album that takes risks with orchestral notions and the personal turmoil that comes with being a twenty-something. This isn't to say it is tied to a particular age group: The subject matter reads like the diary entry of a young adult reaching for comfort amongst inevitable growth. The band was young, wide-eyed, and riding the wave of psychedelia that washed over many musicians of the 1960s. Before Pet Sounds, it was all about kitschy pop songs.

In an effort to create a composition rather than a rock and roll record, Wilson recruited members of The Wrecking Crew to work alongside The Beach Boys. Seasoned players like Carol Kaye were quick to pick up on Brian's vision and many of these musicians had worked with another inspiration of Wilson's, Phil Spector.

NUVO: I know that The Beach Boys played in Indiana, do you have any memories of playing shows here?

Wilson: I know that I have been to Indiana, but I don't have any memories from playing there.

NUVO: Will Al Jardine be playing with you?

Wilson: Yes

NUVO: During this tour, you're playing with a huge group of musicians onstage. They're not members of The Wrecking Crew — but do you enjoy playing with this varied group of musicians?

Wilson: I have been playing with the same band for 13 years.

NUVO: I know that we're discussing Pet Sounds, but I really enjoyed your work on No Pier Pressure. Your other recent solo albums such as In The Key Of Disney and the Gershwin record incorporate orchestral elements similar to that of Pet Sounds. At this point, do you consider yourself a rock and roll musician or a composer?

BW: A composer.

NUVO: I know you're a fan of The Four Freshmen and Bach. What other music during this time period inspired Pet Sounds?

Brian Wilson: The Beatles.

Note: If one has been paying attention to Wilson's legacy, his answer is simple. The Fab Four's rise to fame was also like a brilliant summer firework, illuminating the world. The Beach Boys were growing into their newfound adulthood, and The Beatles were their British counterparts. Brian has historically cited Rubber Soul as the motivator for recording Pet Sounds. At the time, both bands were hyper-creative — and experimenting with drugs. Listeners can spot this transition through songs like "I Know There's An Answer," a reference to the experience that comes along with taking LSD.

Around 1965, it's been reported that Wilson began to experience auditory hallucinations as a result of psychedelic drug use. This period is illustrated in last summer's feature film Love & Mercy. From this point on, Wilson struggled with fame and substance abuse in his then-marriage to Marilyn Rovell of '60s girl group The Honeys. In the chaos, his work as a musician and composer started to become overshadowed by the success of The Beatles, despite both being equally inventive groups. After months working on Pet Sounds, the record was deemed a commercial failure and had no supporting tour.

SMiLE was to be the follow-up record to Pet Sounds, but the original recordings wouldn't see an official release until 2011.

In 2004, Brian went on tour with the same musicians he works with today and presented a reimagining of what SMiLE could've sounded like. This led to more solo work, a short reunion with The Beach Boys, and extensive current tours.

His sold-out show in Elizabeth, Indiana, is just one of many booked to celebrate the album that Rolling Stone has deemed the second greatest album of all time, just under Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band — an album inspired entirely by the work of Brian Wilson.


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