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According to biographer Jon Stebbins, "Brian defies any notion of genre safety [...] There isn't much rocking here, and even less rolling. Pet Sounds is at times futuristic, progressive, and experimental. [...] there's no boogie, no woogie, and the only blues are in the themes and in Brian's voice." Bruce Johnston identified "a tremendous amount" of noticeable doo-wop and R&B influences. Journalist D. Strauss challenged the notion of whether Pet Sounds should be regarded as rock music. He argued that the album's quality and subversion of rock traditions is "what created its special place in rock history; there was no category for its fans to place it in [...] But placed within the Easy Listening genre-i.e., elevator music-it becomes a historically grounded, if incredibly ambitious, release."
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In 1998, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences inducted Pet Sounds into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Music journalist Paul Williams, writing in 1998, declared that the record was now universally regarded as a 20th century "classic" comparable to the novel Ulysses, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Picasso's Guernica. Historian Michael Roberts states that "the album's induction into the canon of popular music" had arguably followed the release of its 1997 expanded reissue, The Pet Sounds Sessions. In Music USA: The Rough Guide (1999), Richie Unterberger and Samb Hicks deemed the album a "quantum leap" from the Beach Boys' earlier material, and "the most gorgeous arrangements ever to grace a rock record".