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Capitol Records

15 Fascinating Facts About Pet Sounds

Capitol Records
Capitol Records

Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds forever changed the landscape of pop music. It's a deeply personal album, and Wilson's meticulously complex and bizarre arrangements elevated the three-minute radio tune to art.

The story of how Pet Sounds was made has been told and retold (and parodied) plenty of times since its release in 1966, but there are still many fascinating little stories about the album that may have gone under the radar. In honor of Wilson's 75th birthday, we're taking a look back at the highly influential album.

1. PET SOUNDS WAS INSPIRED BY THE BEATLES' ALBUM, RUBBER SOUL.

"Rubber Soul blew my mind," Brian Wilson once said. "When I heard Rubber Soul, I said, 'That's it. That's all. That's all folks.' I said, 'I'm going to make an album that's really good, I mean really challenge me.' I mean, I love that f*cking album, I cherish that album."

2. IT STARTED WITH A PANIC ATTACK.

In December of 1964, while on a flight to Houston to start yet another Beach Boys tour, Brian Wilson had a panic attack, which led to him collapsing in the plane's aisle and sobbing. He had to return to California, where he recovered and realized that he could tour no longer. He called a meeting with the rest of the band and said, "Listen, I'm going to have to quit the touring group. But it's going to be well worth it, because I'm going to write you some good songs."

3. WHILE THE BAND TOURED IN 1965, BRIAN WILSON STAYED AT HOME AND WORKED ON PET SOUNDS.

Throughout 1965, while the rest of band toured, Wilson worked on his new project. He arranged, composed, and produced the album and conducted an army of L.A.'s best studio musicians, a.k.a. "The Wrecking Crew," to perform on it. Wilson had unprecedented control over Pet Sounds, and he was just 23 years old at the time.

4. IT TOOK AN ENTIRE WEEK TO RECORD THE VOCALS FOR "WOULDN'T IT BE NICE."

Once the rest of the band returned from international touring, Wilson had them come into the studio to put vocals down on top of his compositions. It took a full week to record the voice track on “Wouldn’t it be Nice.” Wilson was so demanding that Mike Love began referring to him as "Dog Ears" and joked that Wilson was able to hear things that normal human beings could not—including "an impure thought."

5. THE TITLE TRACK WAS WRITTEN FOR A JAMES BOND MOVIE.

Wilson wrote the instrumental track “Pet Sounds” with the intention that it would be used in a James Bond movie. The original title was "Run James Run."

6. THE ALBUM'S COMPOSITIONS ARE EXTREMELY COMPLEX.

Wilson's arrangements on Pet Sounds are so musically complex and meticulous that meaning can be derived at a remarkably technical level, as music critic Jim Fusilli explained in his book about the album:

["You Still Believe in Me"] begins in B major, a key rarely used in pop, and remains in B major. The G# major chord below the first, and only, time the word "love" is invoked in the song is particularly striking; on the second pass, the G# major chord hits below the word "fail." In a rare example of the bassist emphasizing the root in a Brian Wilson arrangement, Carol Kaye hits the G# in both instances. It's as if Brian wanted there to be no confusion for the listener: in his mind, at least in this song, love equals failure.

7. THERE WAS SOME MAJOR FAMILY DRAMA DURING THE RECORDING OF "HELP ME, RHONDA."

The Wilsons' abusive father/manager Murry Wilson had effectively been kicked out of his sons' musical lives after a drunken, in-studio tirade during a recording of "Help Me, Rhonda." Despite this, he managed to use his clout with Capitol Records to speed up Brian's vocal track on "Caroline, No" to make it sound higher to his liking.

8. THE BARKING AT THE END OF "CAROLINE, NO" IS REAL.

The barking came courtesy of Brian's two dogs, Banana and Louie.

9. THEY USED SOME UNIQUE METHODOLOGIES TO GET JUST THE RIGHT SOUNDS.

The dreamy, plinking sound at the beginning of "You Still Believe in Me" is achieved by someone reaching inside an open piano and directly plucking its strings. This effect is used in other songs on the album as well, but it is isolated in this case..

10. THE BAND EMPLOYED A NUMBER OF BIZARRE INSTRUMENTS ON THE ALBUM.

Besides its orchestral strings and wind sections, Pet Sounds is famous for its unusual and almost comedic use of bizarre instruments, including bicycle horns, vibraphones, timpani, finger cymbals, Coke cans, accordions, modified 12-string mandolins, and water jugs.

11. CAPITOL RECORDS WASN'T IMPRESSED WITH THE FINAL RESULT.

Capitol Records wasn't thrilled with the album and how far it strayed from the band's usual sound. The company refused to issue a single with it until months after its release. ("Sloop John B" and "Caroline, No" were released as singles months before the album, with the latter published as a Brian Wilson solo.)

12. THE RECORD LABEL WAS SO SURE THE ALBUM WOULD BE A FAILURE THAT THEY RELEASED A "BEST OF" ALBUM AROUND THE SAME TIME TO MITIGATE THE DAMAGE.


Photo by George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

Capitol had such little faith in Pet Sounds, they decided to release The Best of The Beach Boys, a collection of the band's well-known surf and party hits, around the same time.

13THE BEST OF COLLECTION MANAGED TO OUTSELL PET SOUNDS.

Pet Sounds peaked at number 10 on the charts in the United States. The Best of The Beach Boys landed at number eight.

14. THE BEATLES INSPIRED PET SOUNDS, THEN PET SOUNDS INSPIRED THE BEATLES.

Pet Sounds was a hit in the UK, where it topped the charts. Before its release there, Brian Wilson's tour fill-in Bruce Johnston took two copies with him to London and managed—through Beach Boys fanatic Keith Moon—to arrange a meeting at a hotel with John Lennon and Paul McCartney to play it for them. They listened to it once through, paused, and immediately asked to hear the album again. Shortly afterward, the two began to work on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

15. WITHOUT PET SOUNDS, THERE'D PROBABLY BE NO SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

According to The Beatles's producer, George Martin, "Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened ... Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds."

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LEGO
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New LEGO Set Recreates Jurassic Park's Iconic Velociraptor Chase Scenes
LEGO
LEGO

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, is skulking into theaters on June 22. That makes now the perfect time to revisit the original film in LEGO form.

This LEGO set, spotted by Nerdist, depicts some of the most suspenseful scenes from the 1993 movie. There's the main computer room where Ariana Richards's Lex shows off her hacker skills while Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) struggle to keep a hungry dinosaur from barging in. Just like in the film, the door features a deadbolt lock that's velociraptor-proof (though, unfortunately for the characters, the detachable window is not). Other Easter eggs hidden in this part include a map of Isla Nublar and a screener saver of LEGO Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight).

In the neighboring room, you'll find the cold storage unit where the dinosaur embryos are kept, along with the fake shaving cream can Nedry uses to steal them. The final section is the kitchen, where Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex are stalked by the velociraptor. There's less room for them to hide in the LEGO version compared to the movie set, but there is at least one functioning cabinet for Lex to tuck herself into. Closer inspection reveals even more details from the film, like the lime-green Jello Lex is eating when the raptors first arrive and the step ladder the gang uses to escape into the air ducts during the final chase.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

The Jurassic Park Velociraptor Chase set is currently available from the LEGO shop for $40.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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Mad Magazine
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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledgling publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: The envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, MAD finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’s other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by MAD’s New York offices and submitted his work; his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with MAD almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: A 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; MAD parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, MAD also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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