This week, 50 years ago, the Beach Boys concluded the sessions in Los Angeles that produced Pet Sounds. They wrapped up on April 13, to be precise, by which time Brian Wilson, never the cheeriest soul, was a gibbering wreck. The same day, at Abbey Road, the Beatles recorded Paperback Writer, and rushed it out as a single before Revolver sprang, fully armed from the head of Zeus, in August.
You can argue until you are blue in the face but, by any reasonable standards, Pet Sounds and Revolver must be considered the two finest pop music records ever made. This was also, as we shall be reminded once again this summer, the year that England’s footballers, wearing strawberry jam shirts, won the World Cup. Yes, 1966 was a great time to be young. Half a century later, with a retro movement gaining ground day by day, a younger generation may enjoy the fruits that Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Wilson (in that order) dropped from the tree in the traditional manner. In case you hadn’t heard, vinyl is back,fortissimo.
Yesterday was Record Store Day, the annual event intended to entice a new audience into the joys of vinyl. And it seems to be working.LPs are being eagerly sought – even by those who don’t have a turntable to play them on! You don’t have to go down to Oxfam any longer, hoping to find Rubber Soulor Who’s Next. Record shops can’t stock enough of the old stuff, alongside the new. It’s the sound, you see. That “open” sound that came with the old technology. It’s more “authentic”, in the syringed ears of record collectors.
Long players, they used to be called because of their extended playing time. But there is a case to be made that Pet Sounds and Revolver were not just LPs but the first “albums”. A nice distinction, the album being a careful collection of recordings, played together to form a whole work. The sum of its parts. The album is somewhat demeaned these days, now that listeners cherry-pick tunes from the internet. But back then, the release of those two wonderful records, which seemed to summarise all that had gone before, one in a very English way, the other in a Californian idiom, epitomised pop and looked forward to rock – particularly of the progressive variety.
Revolver was, among other things, Paul McCartney’s shining half hour. Hitherto regarded, somewhat unkindly, as Harpo to John Lennon’s Groucho, McCartney blossomed on Revolver. Eleanor Rigby; Here, There and Everywhere; Good Day Sunshine; Got To Get You Into My Life; best of all, For No-One. Is For No-One the greatest Beatles song? Show me one finer.
Meanwhile, Wilson, assisted by Tony Asher and Mike Love, was driving session players potty in LA as he tried to turn the music he heard in his head into something people could play. As they came up with God Only Knows and You Still Believe In Me, and that glorious adaptation of Sloop John B, we can say he succeeded.
Both records are balanced with immense skill. Revolver begins with Taxman, which sounds like an extension of Rubber Soul, and ends with Tomorrow Never Knows, which opens a door (thank you, George Martin) to a sonic world they explored more fully a year later in Sgt Pepper. Pet Sounds is launched by the jaunty Wouldn’t It Be Nice? and closes with the plaintive Caroline, No. “Where did your long hair go…?”
No song on Revolver exceeds three minutes. For No-One, crowned by Alan Civil’s French horn, comes in at two minutes, bang on. Pet Sounds has three songs that scrape past the three-minute mark. On another record made in 1966, Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan sang Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, which occupied a whole side. Its length did not signify progress.
This is (let’s ignore Yellow Submarine, which the boys gave to Ringo Starr as one might throw a bone to a dog) song-writing of Alpine dimensions. Leonard Bernstein thought Lennon and McCartney were the finest songwriters since George and Ira Gershwin. Revolver may prove his point.
So, Revolver or Pet Sounds? It’s close but, let’s face it, McCartney deserves to take the trophy. He did, after all, write Paperback Writer, the out-take that didn’t make the album, yet carried the Beatles to the top of the singles charts. Now, a younger generation may wallow in its glory, as we old-timers relive our salad days. Just to look at Klaus Voorman’s design of the record sleeve is to join Alice in Wonderland. Fifty years ago! What songs written this year will people be singing with love half a century on?
In August 1966, a house in Albert Road, Bolton, resounded to Revolver. Then some foul fiend half-inched the record, and great was the dismay. Whoever you are, wherever you are, as an act of goodwill in this year of renewal, it would be nice to have it back; I miss its crackle.
From the Telegraph
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