How did a slow-selling collection of 13 pop songs released in 1966--albeit one of the most lauded albums in popular music--turn into a four-CD box set more than 30 years later?
It was a labor of love, says David Leaf, co-producer of "The Pet Sounds Sessions," an ambitious package due in stores Tuesday that celebrates the landmark Beach Boys album--widely regarded as the creative zenith of the group's chief architect, Brian Wilson.
"Anybody who loves music should be interested in this because Brian Wilson is one of the most important composers of the century and 'Pet Sounds' is his masterpiece," says Leaf, a Beach Boys historian who wrote the extensive liner notes.
"Given the influence of 'Pet Sounds' on everyone in pop from the Beatles to Dylan to Tom Petty to R.E.M., it's clearly an important record and clearly a great record. And we felt this box set would call more attention to that."
The package, which will sell for about $60, includes the first-ever stereo mix of "Pet Sounds," alternate mixes and takes, vocals- and instruments-only versions of the album and a remastered version of the original mono recording.
"It's really for the hard-core collector and the hard-core Beach Boys fan," says Phil Sandhaus, head of strategic marketing for EMI-Capitol Entertainment Properties. "But it's also for the more knowledgeable younger fans who acknowledge that the Beach Boys--and Brian Wilson in particular--were somewhat seminal in their influence. . . .
"It's a documentary of one of pop music's most influential works."
Sandhaus hopes the box set will restore some luster and commercial credibility to the Beach Boys, whose infighting and nostalgia-drenched concerts in recent years have overshadowed their legacy.
"We constantly look for respectful and positive ways to exploit what they're about as artists," Sandhaus says. "And looking at 'Pet Sounds,' we felt there were ways we could reconstruct the record to really peel back the onion and expose the genius of the group.
"We really got to showcase the two major trademarks of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson as they hit their artistic peak: The instrumental-only aspect shows Brian's great genius for orchestration, writing and instrumentation, while the vocals-only portion acknowledges the other members as one of the great vocal groups of all time."
Capitol was far less enthusiastic about "Pet Sounds" three decades ago. The album's melancholy tone (with lyrics for eight of the songs written by outsider Tony Asher) and rich instrumentation weren't what the company expected from the Beach Boys, whose surf sound had produced a string of hit singles in the early '60s.
And when "Pet Sounds" started slowly in the marketplace after its release in May 1966--it peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200 and its estimated sales to date total a mere 500,000 copies--Capitol waited only two months before coming out with a Beach Boys greatest hits package.
Though "Pet Sounds" spawned three Top 40 singles--"Sloop John B," "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows"--its greatest legacy was its influence on other musicians, including a foursome from Liverpool.
As Sir George Martin, the Beatles' producer, says in the liner notes for the new box set: "Without 'Pet Sounds,' 'Sgt. Pepper' never would have happened. . . . 'Pepper' was an attempt to equal 'Pet Sounds.' "
Leaf says "The Pet Sounds Sessions" raises the bar again.
"It allows you to hear a favorite album in ways you've never heard before--almost as if you're in the studio while it's being made," he says. "It's really an excuse to hear 'Pet Sounds' a couple hundred more times and discover new things about it."