For three consecutive years in college, I bought the above as a poster at an annual fair on campus. The first two met their ends in predictable fashion, either tearing irreparably from the wall one night while I was asleep or falling victim to the typical antics of undergraduate dorm life. The third couldn’t handle the unexpected transition from average resident to resident assistant and ended up in a garbage can, probably next to some Bob Marley counterparts and cans of new formula Four Loko.
The image, of course, is one of the most iconic of the twentieth century, something not even its ubiquity in male collegiate dorm rooms can ruin. In it, Sonny Liston looks up helplessly at the heavyweight champion of the world, a Kentuckian formerly called Cassius Clay whose brash demeanor and furious wordplay underscored a revolutionary style of boxing for the heavyweight division. Muhammad Ali, who has passed away at 74, made a habit of shocking the world, precisely as he said he would.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
There’s a moment at the very beginning of “Sloop John B,” the closing track of the first side of the album but the first recorded for it, right after the initial glockenspiel tone, that acts as a sort of timeout, as if to give the listener a chance to breathe before launching into another lament. Critics have sometimes met the song, adapted from a Bahamian folk standard, with confusion, wondering where the tale of a doomed ship and its crew fits in alongside the other tracks on the album.
The album, of course, is the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which was released fifty years ago today, originally to mixed reviews which have since gone almost entirely and overwhelmingly positive. Beyond critical reception, Pet Sounds has enjoyed the luxury of indelible influence, assuring its permanent place in the musical version of the United States’ Great books for its lush instrumentation, unthinkably cohesive vocals and relatively simple, ageless lyrics of hope, heartbreak, loyalty and alienation.