Once again, the Beatles easily score on the LP art front: what the heck is that Beach Boys cover (and title) supposed to represent? It's not as if it's an album full of animal noises (which only get thrown on for a few seconds at the end). Now, All Summer Long - that was a cover. So, we have paired up the two first "important" rock "concept" albums, even though neither one particular coheres as a concept (the Beatles do fare much better conceptually, though, even if it's half-arsed). But basically no one would care if they didn't have the songs, and ultimately (like all pop albums) they boil down to collections of songs, good and bad and indifferent.
1. "Wouldn't It Be Nice" vs. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" - The Beatles tune is a nice little ditty, but that's all it amounts to. The Beach Boys frontloaded their album with its leadoff single and catchiest tune (which for the Beach Boys is saying something). BBs 1, Bs 0.
2. "You Still Believe in Me" vs. "With a Little Help From My Friends" - Who can resist this homely yet rousing Ringo showcase? The Brian Wilson tune is pretty and pleasant but rather nondescript and unmemorable in comparison. BBs 1, Bs 1.
3. "That's Not Me" vs. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - LSD (har dee har) contains one of the most obnoxious and grating verse to chorus transitions in pop history, with the verses much superior to the hectoring chorus. The most overrated song in the Beatles catalogue? However, those issues aside, the Beach Boys tune is once again a rather hookless if pretty ballad. BBs 1, Bs 2.
4. "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" vs. "Getting Better" - The third meandering self-pity ballad in a row from Mr. Wilson! Yet its sheer, breathtaking gorgeousness and "heartbeat" bass line outweigh all other considerations. The Lennon/McCartney tune (one of the instances where it's clear exactly who wrote exactly which line; you know the John verse I'm talking about) is a nice jaunt, but... BBs 2, Bs 2.
5. "I'm Waiting for the Day" vs. "Fixing a Hole" - The first entry in the boring midsection of the Beatles' most grotesquely overrated LP. It may not be a masterpiece, but the Beach Boys' thundering drum arrangement handles the lovely, quiet verse seguing into a bombastic loud chorus trick much better than the Beatles' LSD. BBs 3, Bs 2.
6. "Let's Go Away for Awhile" vs. "She's Leaving Home" - Interesting that both titles deal with someone going away. The Beatles handle the generation gap far less acutely than Ray Davies would on "Nothing to Say," but sentiments (I do mean sentimental) are there and the lyrics are a considerable cut above the usual Paul McCartney standard - which isn't saying very much from one of rock's worst-ever lyricists, but these aren't particularly embarrassing and actually tell a coherent tale. Oh, I haven't talked much about the Beach Boys instrumental so far. That's because it's not that memorable. BBs 3, Bs 3.
7. "Sloop John B" vs. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" - The most delightful and fun tune on this Beach Boys record (which means a lot - we're talking about the Beach Boys!) vs. a real "eh" Lennon tune that doesn't have much to recommend itself beyond the creepy circus atmosphere. BBs 4, Bs 3.
8. "God Only Knows" vs. "Within You Without You" - You know, this isn't really fair. I've noticed a pattern so far: when the Beach Boys win, they absolutely BLOW AWAY the Beatles, but when the Beatles win it's much closer to a tie. I don't even have to discuss this, we all know which track easily, EASILY wins. BBs 5, Bs 3.
9. "I Know There's an Answer" vs. "When I'm 64" - The Beatles tune is a fair slice of music hall fluff, which is a compliment - Paul's good at this stuff! However, Brian is pouring his heart out here to upbeat Christmasey music - and it works. Ever noticed how the second side of both of these albums is stronger than the first? BBs 6, Bs 3.
10. "Here Today" vs. "Lovely Rita" - Finally, the first uptempo rocker (well, by Beach Boys standards) on the record! Great bass line and organ fills, and love the break. The Paul tune is sheer rollicking fun! Really hard to decide here. The Beatles tune wins because it's a tune that gets stuck in my head; the Beach Boys tune isn't catchy enough to do that. BBs 6, Bs 4.
11. "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" vs. "Good Morning Good Morning" - The John tune is a lot of fun if a bit abrasive (how much better would it have been without those blaring horns? Well, I guess that was part of the intentional 'alarm clock' effect). Once again Brian Wilson wrenches his emotions out from his heart and it's stunningly moving. BBs 7, Bs 4.
12. "Pet Sounds" vs. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" - An instrumental that's impossible to hum (the liner notes actually brag about this) up against an 80-second segue intentionally designed as filler (which for once is not an insult - it may be there merely to fill up space, but it does so effectively in service of the loose concept). I'm not wild about either but at least the Beach Boys give us an actual song. BBs 8, Bs 4.
13. "Caroline No" vs. "A Day in the Life" - Against any other album closer bar "Waterloo Sunset," the Beach Boys absolutely KILL. Against what is arguably the finest five and a half minutes of Western Civilization (I'm hyperbolizing, of course, but only a little)? BBs 8, Bs 5.
But wait, we're not finished!
14. Closing sound effects: Choo-choo train and dogs barking vs. that final, crashing piano chord. No contest! BBs 8, Bs 6.
So the Beach Boys are the clear and undisputed winners of this contest, at least on a song by song basis. However, it should be noted that Pet Sounds suffers from a monotony of style and sound, while Sgt. Pepper's contains a surfeit of variety. However, if such variety means that we must suffer through George Harrison's carpetbagging Indian music bores... Pet Sounds is still clearly the superior album, lack of variety and family scrapbook cover notwithstanding.