Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beach Boys 3: The Beach Boys Today!

For the first three years of their career, the Beach Boys were on a punishing schedule (typical of the time) requiring lots of time in the studio in between live performances. This period saw the release of a whopping eight albums—the first three explicitly referenced surfing, followed by two about cars—including a live album and even a Christmas album, half of which consisted of original Brian Wilson compositions.
Despite suffering a nervous breakdown, whereupon he would retire from the road, the time spent in the studio crafting all that music only gave Brian a desire to concentrate on only that, working with the best session rats in the best studios, with minimal label interference. (They were happy to oblige, seeing as the Beach Boys were about as lucrative as the Beatles in those days.)
It was their ninth(!) LP that can truly be said to be the first real Beach Boys album, as opposed to a collection of singles. While there’s enough of a “fun ‘n sun” influence, overall the songs on The Beach Boys Today! begin to explore the more mature subjects that would set Brian apart from his contemporaries.
That doesn’t happen right away, beginning as it does with Dennis singing “Do You Wanna Dance”. The production is slightly Spectorized, and it’s infectious. Equally excellent is “Good To My Baby”, with nicely traded lines and a doo-wop tag. “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” sports a repeated 12-string riff, with a slightly anemic threat coming from a family of brothers. “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” takes a big leap, based as it is around a prominent harpsichord. The lyrical content only points out how young these guys were (Mike Love’s hairline notwithstanding). Al Jardine shows how well his voice fits in, despite not sharing any genetics, with “Help Me, Ronda”, which you’ll note is spelled differently than the single. This earlier version is a little longer, with some odd fade effects, and would be the one included on Endless Summer. “Dance, Dance, Dance” ends a very energetic side with some intricate changes amid otherwise ordinary subject matter.
Things get more intimate on side two; the songs are a little slower, and just a little sadder. “Please Let Me Wonder” is something of a musical sequel to “Don’t Worry Baby”, but infused with regret. “I’m So Young” is another cover of a fifties harmony hit, improved upon with their own “Kiss Me, Baby”. “She Knows Me Too Well” sports Brian’s soaring falsetto over the Boys’ excellent support. Perhaps Brian wasn’t ready to lay his soul so bare, so Dennis the heartthrob emotes his way through “In The Back Of My Mind”; there’s a little too much syrup in the arrangement. The pathos is ruined by “Bull Session With The ‘Big Daddy’”, wherein a local DJ attempts to interview the guys while they’re eating burgers, for the sole purpose of filling space at the end of the side.
The album was a highlight of Capitol’s excellent 1990 “two-fer” reissue program, which paired up consecutive Beach Boys albums (all running less than 30 minutes) with appropriate bonus tracks and exhaustive liner notes. A change of regime at the label a few years later resulted in the deletion of those two-fers in favor of the albums reissued individually without any extras at all. A subsequent corporate reshuffling copped to the idiotic decision, and the two-fers were put into circulation again. Of course, we should be grateful that this album is still available at all, and its splendor can be easily obtained for optimal context.

The Beach Boys The Beach Boys Today! (1965)—
1990 CD reissue: same as 1965, plus Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) album and 5 extra tracks

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