Peter Pisses On…. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds 

Why make the past your sacred cow?

So, apparently some gig called Live Aid took place three and a half decades ago. You know, the one with Queen, Bowie, Elton and a hideously out of tune Madonna.

It’s easy to quibble about the omissions in retrospect, but at the time I remember being particularly unimpressed with the American line-up in Philadelphia. George Thorogood and the who? The lack of A list black artists being granted their own sets, not even Tina Turner or Lionel ‘chin like an ironing board’ Richie? (Thank you for that quip from the grave, motormouth Pete Burns). 

Live Aid gave carte blanche to every hoary old heritage act virtually ignored by the decade so far to make a comeback, to recapture old glories and spark a dead career, and all in the name of charidee. And no band illustrates that better than the Beach Boys. The problem is the classic Beach Boys problem – a load of massive squares standing around singing (superficially) square music. Look at the crowd in the video below – less energy than a Saga tour of Sizewell B.

Let‘s not beat around the beach, the odious, ironically named Mike Love has the stage presence of a vagrant, Carl Wilson is wearing a suit for some reason, while the rest of them wear stuff that’s lame even for the decade that taste forgot.

My ambivalence (cough) about the Beach Boys reminds me of an article I wrote about them twenty years ago. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

It’s Monday 27 June, 2000, the day after my 31st birthday, which just happened to blast off just a minute after David Bowie’s headlining and headline-grabbing set at the Glastonbury Festival had ended. Amazingly, it defied convention and stayed bone dry the entire weekend.

The Thin White Dame’s playing another gig tonight, a considerably smaller one at the BBC Radio Theatre in London’s Regent Street, but more pressing matters abound: I’ve got to get to a job, and it just happens to be round the corner from him. Because today’s the day I start a new in-house position as a kind of floating editorial assistant at EMAP publications above the flagship HMV store at Oxford Circus.

This meant I flit between the Q and Mojo, EMAP’s premier music monthlies that share the top floor of Mappin House with the third, the Alexis Petridis-helmed Select. My initiation into the corporate West End world is to take up the position of Research Editor on Mojo’s new quarterly magazine, Mojo Collections, which, as the title would suggest, was aimed at the more trainspotterry end of record collecting.

In fact, EMAP had a cunning plan to usurp Record Collector in that specialist department, which was more than a little ironic considering I was freelancing regularly for RC. When that failed they tried to buy ver Collector in order to merge the mags. That didn’t work either, and RC still exists today as a steadfastly fanzine-like independent publication, whereas the far glossier Mojo Collections was gone within a couple of years.

Debut of Mojo Collections plus draft cover design

Encouraging unbelievable scenes of nepotism, MC’s editor just happened to be my BowieStyle co-author Mark Paytress, and we launched the magazine with an extremely boozy luncheon in one of the upstairs function rooms at Kettner’s in Soho. And as it was a free lunch, Carlton Sandercock, head honcho of the budget label Trident Music International turned New Millennium Communications came all the way from Islington to put in an appearance.

One of my random tasks in MCHQ was to collate the Wall of Shame, a two-page diatribe where we delighted in being contrary buggers with the sole objective of slaying a few sacred cows. 

As Captain Sensible was our occasional Soho drinking buddy — due to his then missus, the lovely Louisa Carr, being installed as our faithful intern — I managed to get the Damned guitarist axeman to bury his axe in “that universally loathed ‘progressive rock’ thing”. 

Next, I asked Steve Smith, a little white van man from Essex with a penchant for hanging around stage doors and signing sessions, usually for the cheesiest photo of him with a minor celeb. He didn’t let me down when a snapshot of him with a  ‘star’—the thumbs aloft Gerry Marsden of the Pacemakers—arrived almost immediately, although I don’t think he ever twigged the joke was on him. Serves the Cockney git right for calling black people “egg and spoons” I guess. In these race riot-dominated times I’ll leave you to work that one out.

The piece de resistance was to completely trash a much loved album by Mojo readers. I doubt the then editor of Mojo proper Paul Trynka saw the funny side but we certainly did. Once Mark agreed we should tackle The Beach Boys’ hideously overrated Pet Sounds, I called local legend Robert Elms at his BBC Radio London show, or GLR as it was back then. As a well-known curmudgeonly critic of The Beatles, I felt confident he could tear into the surf sods with wild abandon.

Alas I didn’t get get the response I was hoping for.

“Nah, I love Pet Sounds, sorry!”

Back to the drawing board then. With a deadline looming, Mark asked me to put the poison pen to paper myself. Never one to be herded, you hardly need to ask me twice to go against the grain. Kicking against the pricks is what I do best, but as I already had my name emblazoned across the debut issue’s masthead, introductory feature, photography feature, Dusty Springfield review, k.d. lang interview, and all the rest of it, I decided I would resurrect an old nom du plume for the task in hand. It’s anagrammatising, to say the least. 

If you’re wondering about the rear view photo, that’s a different Peter: erstwhile thespian type Peter Wyngarde. The Jason King actor was a firm favourite of Mark’s, especially when I told him the salacious story of how Wyngarde was caught cottaging at a public toilet, breathlessly trying to arouse the man in the next cubicle with the immortal line, “Are you handy?”

It’s unfortunate that the urination stream hits Dennis Wilson, the only Beach Boy even vaguely attractive, but, alas, he was in the right place any the wrong time. If it were up to me I’d have gone straight for brother Brian, who’s always creeped me out.

Remember that Golden Jubilee Party At The Palace monstrosity where he called Her Majesty “Queen” and danced behind his keyboard? Just before he was carted away to the Tower in a straightjacket most probably. There’s a bit of his set here, just before Patsy shot a Corr:

I will add that I have slightly warmed to Pet Sounds a little over the intervening years, but as someone whose musical awakening happened in the 1980s, the Beach Boys meant crap at the time. A hazy, fuzzy bygone name that my parents probably liked. 

Indeed, if I remember correctly, the first time I heard a Brian Wilson composition was when I brought David Bowie’s Tonight album home in ’84, containing as it does an appallingly overwrought MOR version of God Only Knows*. More ponderous than wondrous then. The Dame’s ex-wife Angie said it sounded like Dudley Moore, so if that’s your introduction to the Beach Boys is it any wonder?

Anyway, with our further ado, here it is, the outrageous original before it was edited for space reasons. Tongues at the ready.

The “petting paddock” at San Diego Zoo was the location for Pet Sounds’ cover (popspotsnyc.com)

THE BEACH BOYS: PET SOUNDS (CAPITOL, 1966)

This album stinks, of complacency, and of musical smells that have infected pop in all the wrong ways since its release. 

From its twee animal-lovin’ cover in, Pet Sounds is the aural equivalent of a sonic pansy: easy on the ear, dull on the senses and easily trampled on. God only knows why the leather trouser brigade constantly nominate this pile of dog-dirt as a Top 10 classic album. Poop John B., more like.

It’s Pet Poop, written by a drug-addled human donut. Paul McCartney insists that Pet Sounds is the greatest album ever made. But who can trust him? The man behind some of the worst Beatles songs ever. And lest we forget, Ebony And Ivory and The Frog Chorus.

It’s mums’ and dads’ music, music to wash cars to, to have a pedicure to. Those high-school harmonies are just excruciating, the sound of boys struggling badly to become adolescents, balls only partially dropped. Cheesy isn’t the word — full on immature cheddar more like.

Me? I’m waiting for the day this record becomes deleted from the public consciousness. Permanently.

When the Beach Boys ‘sang’ Let’s Go Away For Awhile, they should have taken a permanent vacation — to Siberia. 

Here Today? Wouldn’t it be nice if this album’s reputation was gone tomorrow?

Peter van Doffs

*Hateful in its insipidness and replete with garrulous oh-so-‘80s saxophone solo, Bowie’s schmaltzy “rendition” of God Only Knows sounded like he was serenading a corpse. Though that in itself was based on an outtake he’d laid down over a decade earlier.

In private correspondence with this author, Rykodisc’s Jeff Rougvie confirmed that he had located the 1973 master tape and was indeed “virtually identical to the version David cut for EMI.” Rougvie had proposed the track’s inclusion as a bonus track on the label’s expanded remaster of Pin Ups in 1990, though the suggestion would be vetoed by Bowie, as “I think he wanted to let the later version stand.”

It’s expected that the post-Ziggy run-through stands a more than decent chance of being included on Parlophone’s projected 50th anniversary Bowie box set that focuses on the Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups era, a sequel of sorts to 2019’s Conversation Piece.

Steve Pafford

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