I was invited by Spotify to write a short memory piece about The Beach Boys' album PET SOUNDS, whose 50th anniversary is closing in. This is what I sent them:
The second LP I ever owned was the Beach Boys' greatest hits collection "Made in U.S.A." I was thirteen at the time, living in suburban Philadelphia, and always looking forward to my next summer vacation to the Jersey shore. I'm not sure when I first heard the Beach Boys, but even then my mind always associated them with the seashore: sun and sand, heat and sweat, Coppertone and girls in bikinis. They didn't sing about boardwalk pizza, soft-serve ice cream parlors, or arcades full of Pac-Man cabinets, but I'm sure "Surfing U.S.A." was playing when I was in those venues!
I listened to whatever other Beach Boys LPs I could find. I remember loving "Wouldn't It Be Nice" but kind of disliking the rest of PET SOUNDS. It wasn't the same up-tempo, positive vibe as LITTLE DEUCE COUPE or ALL SUMMER LONG. Later in my teens, I dove into the "artier" side of classic rock, like Pink Floyd and the back half of the Beatles catalog, and relished in their mature songs about grown-up topics. Considering them too "pop" for my new self, I left the Beach Boys behind.
Then about three years ago I revisited the Beach Boys on Spotify and listened to their entire catalog, several dozen albums' worth. Once I became a premier member, I kept two of them downloaded on my iPhone at all times: BEACH BOYS' PARTY! and PET SOUNDS. The first LP was the happy, pop-oriented fun from my youth, remixed to sound like they were jamming in your living room. PET SOUNDS, however, was polished, somber, and inspiring ... and it could've been a biographical soundtrack for me from age 14 onward. Many was the day when I felt like "I just wasn't made for these times." Often I'd look at the love of my life and wonder, "God only knows what I'd do without her." The titles on the track listing were like flashpoint memories. The songs are emotional without drowning in melodrama or sap; it's adult music. It's since become my favorite Beach Boys LP.
I am a novelist and the protagonist of my books is Calvin Connor, an Irish immigrant to the United States, and I passed my love for the Beach Boys to him. As a youth in Ireland, the Beach Boys represented an America worth dreaming about: sun, sea, bikini girls, fast cars. The truth about the America Calvin finds himself in as a teenager (and especially as an adult) differs wildly from those idyllic, often visceral Beach Boys images. But maybe in a later book, I'll have Calvin discover the PET SOUNDS album. I wonder what he'll think of it ...