05.13.2016
culture

The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds' and 50 Years of Acid-Pop Copycats

A half-century of Top 40 trips as conjured up by the Beach Boys’ classic.

The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, released 50 years ago this month, ignited a psychedelic pop revolution as a direct result of group leader Brian Wilson experimenting with psychedelic drugs. Wilson’s chemical spelunking tapped new levels of his own gushing musical genius. Maybe it's going to far to credit LSD as a co-creator of the psych-pop masterwork. Still—no acid, probably no Pet Sounds.

Psychedelic rock had existed prior to Pet Sounds, mostly among rough-hewn garage groups on the order of the 13th Floor Elevators. The Beach Boys, specifically, inspired mainstream, Top 40 pop acts to blast off into consciousness expansion (chemical and otherwise),  and then come back to musically immortalize their findings. Many previously softball acts took way-out shots at concocting their own Pet Sounds.

Most famously, the Beatles heard Pet Sounds, dropped what needed dropping, and conjured Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, prompting the Stones to follow stoned suit with Their Satanic Majesties Request. Those two records exist in a separate realm.

The trip-worthy albums on this list, created by artists in the wake of Pet Sounds, stunned existing audiences with brain-bending forays into a psychedelic unknown that some of these players probably still haven't figured out today. 

Triangle—The Beau Brummels (1967)

The toe-tapping San Francisco-based Beau Brummels scored a couple of killer Beatles-esque hits (“Just a Little,” “Laugh, Laugh”) and voiced cartoon versions of themselves as the Beau Brummelstones on a 1965 episode of The Flintstones. Astounded by Pet Sounds, and with the Summer of Love looming around then, the Brummels brought forth the surreal and fantastic Triangle, anchored by the monumental single, “Magic Hollow.”

The Magic Garden—The 5th Dimension (1967)

The vocal group the 5th Dimension scored a breezy radio smash with the title track of its 1967 debut, Up, Up and Away, written by pop composer Jimmy Webb (“MacArthur Park,” “Wichita Lineman”). Almost immediately after, the group recorded The Magic Garden, an album-long song cycle by Webb (except for a “Ticket to Ride” cover) regarding the dissolution of a romantic relationship from a cosmic perspective. Garden didn’t launch any similar chart hits, but dream-folk icon Nick Drake declared the album to be a favorite of his on par with a better-known psychedelic opus, Forever Changes, by Love. 

Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools—The Cowsills (1968)

In 1967, family bubblegum band the Cowsills scored huge with its first single, “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things.” Bill Cowsill, the group’s chief songwriter and lead singer, borrowed some blotter from Brian Wilson, creatively speaking, and had his mom and siblings record Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools shortly thereafter, including “Newspaper Blanket,” a soaring contemplation of homelessness, and the epic 10-minute title track.

Head —The Monkees (1968)

Lambasted by their counterculture peers (including the Beach Boys’ Mike Love) as “the Prefab Four,” the Monkees quickly resented that they had signed on as a group created for a TV sitcom. Headquarters (1967), the first album where the band played its own instruments, is a leap forward, but Head, the sonic pastiche soundtrack to their scorchingly acidic movie vehicle of the same name, is a deluge of soul-quaking hallucinations played gloriously right.

The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands—The Turtles (1968)

The Turtles’ 1967 hit “Happy Together” is one of the sunniest pop concoctions to ever light up radios and human romance. Just as Pet Sounds inspired the Beatles to don the conceptual garb of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Turtles took it 12 degrees further with Battle of the Bands. Here, the Turtles perform a dozen different tracks (all great), in the guise of a dozen entirely different artists (also all great).

Odessa—The Bee Gees (1969)

Between their first mid-’60s wave as Australia’s sweet-voiced sibling act answer to the surf-era Beach Boys and their late-’70s reinvention as disco demons, the Brothers Gibb blew minds—starting with their own—via the sprawling, multi-genre two-disc concept album Odessa. As with Pet Sounds, the harmonies are pure honey, and the ideas are pure post-lysergic opera.

The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette—The Four Seasons (1969)

The Beach Boys established their musical might and magnitude by singing about the world immediately around them: Girls, cars, sun, surf, and Southern California. The Four Seasons waxed rhapsodic over the gritty good times and working class romance they knew as Jersey Boys. Once the Beach Boys dipped into psychedelia, their Garden State equivalents followed suit with an album based on airy harmonies that goes heavy and stays there.

Odessey and Oracle—The Zombies (1969)

Even among the onslaught of the 1964 British Invasion, the Zombies’ two biggest hits, “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There,” hinted at something headier than, say, what Herman’s Hermits might ever deliver. Odessey and Oracle is the Zombies’ direct response to Brian Wilson’s sonic leap forward: It’s the greatest Pet Sounds that isn’t Pet Sounds.

Intercourse—The Tokens (1971)

In 1971, Warner Records advised doo-wop group the Tokens, best (and really only) known for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” to update its sound. They came back with a mind-bending masterwork so powerful, Warners didn’t know what to do with it. A cult cropped up early around Intercourse, and endures among psych acolytes everywhere to this day.

Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz (2015) – Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz is a kaleidoscopic space-walk so dripping with druggy flourishes that RCA allowed their platinum star to release it outside of her record contract. The record itself is exactly what happens when Disney princess turned pop queen collaborates with long-blazing neo-psych pioneers the Flaming Lips and has some of what they’ve always been tripping on.

Tagged: