Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Imagine hitting your creative and artistic peak at the tender young age of 23 and then having your personal and professional life completely fall apart, with a descent into drug abuse and mental illness. Brian Wilson‘s life followed such a trajectory after the release of his masterpiece, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Written with almost no contribution from the rest of the band, Wilson recorded the album’s instrumental tracks while the boys were on tour in Asia without him.
He faced a barrage of criticism from the band upon their return, especially from singer Mike Love, who couldn’t understand why Wilson messed with the formula of good time surf and car songs. From a sales perspective, Love was correct, as the album sold poorly at the time. However, other musicians, especially in Britain, loved the album; it became the template on which the Beatles based Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wilson attempted to push the envelope even further on the next album, Smile, however he couldn’t complete it and ended up spending much of the late ’60s and early ’70s in bed.
Esteem for the album has continued to grow over the years. It often tops critics’ lists of the best albums of all time and received a deluxe boxed set reissue in 1998 that includes studio sessions, vocal-only and instrumental-only versions of the tracks and the long-awaited stereo mix. So sit back, relax and enjoy these covers of every song off of this album.
She & Him – Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Super-hipster duo She & Him give us a sweet, ukulele-based take on Wilson’s glorious expression of teen angst. Simple and stripped down, Zooey Deschanel’s voice has the perfect child-like quality to deliver the song credibly.
Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her – You Still Believe In Me
Defunct Japanese indie rockers Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her deliver a raucous, garagey version of the tune originally titled “In My Childhood.” Fittingly, they open and close with what sounds like a Fisher Price xylophone, and complement the track with a slightly creepy echoey vocal at the end.
Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory with Farmer Dave – That’s Not Me
Mystic Chords of Memory join forces with L.A. producer Nobody to give us a subdued “That’s Not Me.” Though stripped of the trademark Beach Boys’ harmonies, they underline the dreaminess of the lyric with washes of electronic sound.
Fennesz – Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder)
Almost completely unrecognizable, this cover of “Don’t Talk” by Austrian guitarist and electronic artist Christian Fennesz ranks as the strangest cover in the set. And yet, he somehow manages to capture the spirit of the lyric without saying a word.
Micah P. Hinson – I’m Waiting for the Day
A young man with an improbably old and grizzled sounding voice, Micah P. Hinson contributed this mostly acoustic version of “I’m Waiting for the Day” to the indie tribute to Pet Sounds, Do It Again. Hinson manages to still convey the drama of the original despite a remarkably simple arrangement.
Sean Macreavy – Let’s Go Away for a While
We featured an instrumental version of a vocal track above, so why not the opposite? Beach Boys tribute artist Sean Macreavy put lyrics to this track, recorded for his 1994 album Dumb Angel. While some may see this as sacrilege, Macreavy’s deep appreciation and understanding of Wilson’s sensibilities shine through, providing a fitting tribute.
Simple Minds – Sloop John B
A cover of a traditional West Indian folk song brought to the band by Al Jardine via The Kingston Trio’s version, “Sloop John B” was the first track recorded for the album. Here ’80s stalwarts Simple Minds give the song the arena rock treatment.
Elvis Costello with The Brodsky Quartet – God Only Knows
Brian Wilson calls “God Only Knows” “the best song I ever wrote,” and he’s probably right. Elvis Costello joins The Brodsky Quartet, testing the limits of his voice over a slightly avant-garde string quartet arrangement.
Sonic Youth – I Know There’s an Answer
Mike Love freaked out when he returned from touring and read the lyrics to “Hang On to Your Ego,” demanding a rewrite. The result was “I Know There’s An Answer,” delivered here by Sonic Youth in a remarkably faithful cover, even down to the reverb-laden tambourine.
Thurston Moore – Here Today
More what you’d expect from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, this cover of “Here Today” features a grinding, guitar feedback instrumental seemingly inspired by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Listen closely and you’ll hear a creepy whisper providing backing vocals as well.
Sixpence None the Richer – I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times
Given what became of Wilson in the years that followed the release of Pet Sounds, the lyric to “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is oddly prophetic. Dawson’s Creek darlings Sixpence None the Richer’s version of the track has a slightly baroque sound to it, with the cello solo and harpsichord accompaniment.
Architecture in Helsinki – Pet Sounds
Known for their instrumental diversity, Aussies Architecture in Helsinki put those skills to good use in their version of the second instrumental track on Pet Sounds. The voice that sings the melody gives the whole affair a slightly lounge-pop feel.
They Might Be Giants – Caroline No
Wilson didn’t write the lyrics for Pet Sounds. Instead, he had extensive discussions about each track with lyricist Tony Asher who then wrote the lyrics based on those conversations. Loss of innocence, wistfulness and regret must have been the themes discussed when it came to the final track on the album, “Caroline No.” They Might Be Giants express these themes perfectly in their beautifully simple version of the song.
Don’t own the original? Pick it up at Amazon, iTunes, or your local independent record store. Also, check out more Beach Boys covers in our archive.
Thanks Greg, nice review! And thanks for putting me in some interesting company! Cheers,