My favorite album of all time is Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Each and every song is perfect. Lyrically immaculate, musically impeccable, down to the order of the track list. I've never heard an album that comes even close. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots? Nice try. Washing Machine? Close, but no cigar. Pet Sounds? Come on. We're Only in it for the Money? What about that one song you don't like?
Wait. No. There. No no, go back one. Yeah. Pet Sounds. That's a perfect album. Perfect in every way. I mean, “Wouldn't it be Nice,” “Caroline, No,” “God Only Knows,” shouldn't this be it? Utter perfection, right? There isn't a single problem with this album. Beautifully produced. Brian Wilson at the height of his genius. The emotional response created by certain moments in each song is incredible. This is a slice of complete American perfection. It couldn't be more perfect, right?
It could, though. Recorded at the same time as Pet Sounds was “Good Vibrations,” which was tragically left off the album. Brian Wilson apparently thought the song needed more time. The band spent hours and hours and hours in the studio recording vocal tracks. Re-recording vocal tracks. Re-re-recording vocal tracks. Re-re-re-you get it. The amount of work that went into getting the song to gel is mind-boggling.
Can you penalize something for not being as complete as you think it should be? Say, for instance, it was revealed that “Hey Jude” was supposed to be on Abbey Road. Does that erase forty years of greatness? Probably not. For some reason though, the knowledge that “Good Vibrations” was originally slated to be on Pet Sounds leaves me slightly cold whenever I think about it. The worst part is the teacherly feeling I get. Remember when the dumb kid would turn in his crappy paper and get a B+, and you'd turn in your really good paper and get a C- because the teacher “knew you could do better”? Yeah, well fuck you, Mrs. Desrosiers. Should you be punished for not living up to your potential, even if you've still achieved something great? I dunno – George Harrison was always bummed the Beatles weren't more famous than they were.
I've listened to Pet Sounds ten or so times this week. It's the only album I've had on while writing and editing and reading and all of that. It gets better and better each time. There are little moments I miss or forget or remember just in time that fill me with joy. The “baby, don'cha know” at the 1:10 mark in “I'm Waiting for the Day.” The way the harmonies manage to get better as “Sloop John B” fades out. The goofy horn solo in “I Know There's an Answer.” The clip-clop-clup noises in “God Only Knows.” Every little moment elicits a different, fantastic response. I close my eyes and I can feel the neurons firing in my brain in ways that other albums just can't replicate.
(Side note: If my wife and I were ever on The Newlywed Game [too late for that at this point] and either of us were asked what “our song” was, we'd say “God Only Knows.” I always figured if we were ever going to have a song, it might as well be the single best love song ever written. This song was not played at our wedding reception, however, because my mom decided to put The Best of Janet Jackson into the CD player and program it to repeat the first track over and over. We were treated to three straight spins of the wretched and reprehensible “Runaway” before the other guests threatened to throw my mom down a flight of stairs.)
I guess Pet Sounds is perfect. I guess. Art is subjective, right? My “perfect” is different from your “perfect,” right? Then again, my friend Dave once claimed that every Christmas song would be better if they all began with Elvis going “Ah-weh-ah-hell-ah-I'll-ah-have-ah-bluuuuuue.” I've tried this – it's 100% true. It works with every single song. It makes them a little more perfect.
I guess Pet Sounds, ultimately, is like Nigel Tufnel's amp in This is Spinal Tap. As it stands, the album is set at ten, and “Good Vibrations” would give it that extra push over the cliff. Maybe since Pet Sounds is already perfect, “Good Vibrations” would make it more perfect. If we can have more infinite infinities, I feel it stands to reason that some things can be perfecter than other, also perfect, things. Pet Sounds can be perfect - Highway 61 Revisited is just perfecter. Then again, you could probably include “This Land is Your Land” on any album and make it perfecter.
Josh Grimmer lives in Hollywood with his wife and cat. He kinda sorta runs this blog, and has another one at http://mousebed.blogspot.com. Twitter him up at http://twitter.com/JoshGrimmer