Two Pop Masterpieces Turn 50 Today : Pet Sounds & Blonde on Blonde

Both recordings were released on May 16, 1966, fifty years ago today.  One a ground breaking aural masterpiece which broke the mold of what a rock band might aspire toward with album length work; the other an impressive combination of roots rock and Shakespearian imagery.  Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds inspired The Beatles and countless other bands while causing dissent among the members of the Beach Boys.  Bob Dylan’s Blond on Blond marked the artistic peak of his steady progression during the ‘60s from derivative folk singer to transcendental spokesman of a generation.

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Recorded fast with Nashville session cats who were used to grinding out country hits, Blonde on Blonde has a slick studio polish that makes it sound totally unlike any of Dylan’s other albums, with sparkling piano frills and a soulful shitkicker groove. Yet the glossy surface just makes the songs more haunting. Despite its age, Blonde on Blonde remains the pinnacle of Dylan’s genius – he never sounded lonelier than in “Visions of Johanna,” funnier than in “I Want You,” more desperate than in “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” It’s his most expansive music, with nothing that resembles a folk song – just the rock & roll laments of a vanishing American, the doomed outsider who’s given up on ever belonging anywhere. “I don’t consider myself outside of anything,” Dylan said when the album came out. “I just consider myself not around.”

Blonde on Blonde is full of that “not around” chill – Dylan mixes up the Texas medicine and the railroad gin for a whole album of high-lonesome late-night dread, blues hallucinations and his bitchiest wit. Still only 24, writing songs and touring the world at a wired lunatic pace that would come crashing to a halt in a couple of months, Dylan was on a historic roll, dropping this double-vinyl epic just 14 months after going electric with Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965 and Highway 61 Revisited in August. He was moving too fast for anyone to keep up, and writing masterpieces faster than he could release them. Yet Blonde on Blonde still feels like it came out of nowhere, with a sound he never attempted again, and neither Dylan nor the rest of the world has ever quite figured out how it happened. As organist Al Kooper put it, “Nobody has ever captured the sound of 3 a.m. better than that album. Nobody, even Sinatra, gets it as good.”  (Rolling Stone)

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The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds has been a milestone twice over. When it was released, it was rock & roll’s coming of age: a sui generis album of healing songs about painful emotions, informed by jazz, hymns, Spectorian pop, classical music and exotica. In 2001, after the long period in exile documented in recent biopic Love and Mercy, Wilson began performing the whole thing to rapturous receptions, helping establish the practice, now ubiquitous, of playing classic albums in full. The 2016 tour will be the album’s final outing — and perhaps Wilson’s, too — but it’s a long goodbye. It’s somewhat ironic that an album that Wilson was only able to create because he quit touring will keep the 73-year-old on the road until deep into the fall. The night before it turned 50, he gave it a spin at Bristol, U.K.’s Colston Hall.

Pet Sounds is sometimes regarded as a Wilson solo album, mostly recorded with crack L.A. session musicians and lyricist Tony Asher while his bandmates were out of the way, but he needs a mess of help to stand alone. His current 11-strong band includes original Beach Boy Al Jardine, his son Matt, early Seventies member Blondie Chaplin, and cheerful veterans of the 2001 shows. Carl and Dennis Wilson are long gone, and there is no need for Mike Love, who famously loathed Pet Sounds for breaking from the winning sunshine-and-cars formula.  (Rolling Stone)

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