The Beach Boys Today! - Fifty Years Later
by Peter Reum
During the sessions for what became The Beach Boys Christmas Album, Brian held a session for Don't Hurt My Little Sister, a track initially written for consideration as a Ronettes record. The composition, with lyrics by Mike Love and Brian, offered a hint toward the eventual flavor of the entire first side of Today!, which is a mature rock flavored set of six tracks, all centering upon a theme of mature relationships with young women. The six songs comprising the album's first side feel unified both in musical approach and in lyrical content. Several authors through the years have pointed out that the rock and ballad sides of the album are suite-like in their sound and subject matter. Ironically, Today!'s two sided thematic structure was first developed on The Beach Boys Christmas Album, with its first side being a rock oriented collection of Christmas themed tunes that hang together well, and the second side being a more traditional collection of Christmas music that also sounded beautiful as a composite work.
What made Today! such a strong album was that six tracks on the album that were either "A" or "B" sides of singles over a period of roughly 7 months. The August 1964 single When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)/She Knows Me Too Well showcased a more mature form of relationship orientation, more that of a couple in love with each other as opposed to a "going steady" type of theme lyrically. Both tracks showed a more layered production approach, Vocals on both songs are intricate, with counterpoint quite prominent. Also, it is notable that The Beach Boys played nearly all of the instruments on these two tracks. It is interesting that Brian was looking into his future, trying to imagine what life would present in his thirties. September brought a heavily Spector influenced I'm So Young and the stunning outtake All Dressed Up For School. A close listen to I'm So Young shows a dense arrangement of vocals and instruments. All Dressed Up For School reveals Carl Wilson singing his only lead vocal of the Today! sessions, along with a clever ascending vocal scale which was later repeated on a Heroes and Villains session in 1967.
The Dance Dance Dance single was cut in an early version toward the end of September in Nashville, followed by the final Los Angeles version in October 1964. The single, backed with the lovely The Warmth of the Sun, was a top ten charting hit, having been released in late October. Brian's touring and studio responsibilities took a toll on his ability to get everything done to his satisfaction, and an exhausted Brian had an anxiety/panic attack on a flight to Houston, Texas to play a concert on December 23, 1964. In February 1965, the next single was released, Do You Wanna Dance/Please Let Me Wonder. Dennis Wilson's energetic lead vocal on Do You Wanna Dance made the song a hit in the United States and abroad. The session was notable for being a likely time for when Brian informed the rest of the Beach Boys that he would no longer be touring and would confine his efforts to songwriting and producing. The second side of this single, Please Let Me Wonder, is a reflectively amorous song, showing some of the thoughts that a young adult might have, thinking about whether the girl he loves is the "one."
Another lovely ballad, Kiss Me Baby, was released as the "B" side of the rerecorded and catchier version of Help Me Rhonda, which replaced the unusual Today! version of the song, entitled Help Me Ronda, which had several prominent fades which then went back to regular volume before eventually fading just past the three minute mark on the song. The tune was optioned by The Hondells to be a single, which Brian nixed, knowing that if he recut it, it would be a monster hit. Kiss Me Baby marries a lush instrumental track with very unusual vocals highlighting the tempestuous ups and downs of a couple trying to workout boundaries and emotional intimacy in what might be their first potentially "serious" relationship.
The remaining album tracks consisted of Good To My Baby, In the Back of My Mind, and an unusual group discussion entitled Bull Session With the Big Daddy (Earl Leaf), who chaperoned the group on their 1964 tour of Europe. Good To My Baby offers an occasional unusual time signature with a full complement of Beach Boys and The Wrecking Crew playing on the date. Recorded in what sounds like 7/4 time, but is actually 4/4 time, the tune instrumentally is a challenging track, innovative in both its arrangement and performance. The Bull Session With the Big Daddy segment is a curtailed discussion with Earl Leaf about the 1964 European Tour. The track is somewhat of an unusual end to an exquisite and romantic second side of Today!, and might have been better sequenced as the last track of side one. The heartfelt and emotional lead vocal of Dennis Wilson's on In the Back of My Mind foreshadows many of Dennis's later intensely emotional vocals on his own songs on Seventies Beach Boys and solo albums. The instrumental arrangement of In the Back of My Mind is stunning, and is a preview of some of the more lush and jazz flavored Pet Sounds tracks.
What can be said about The Beach Boys Today!? First, it moved the emotional content of the songs from a more high school flavored lyrical theme to that of young couples in love and contemplating marriage. It having a Rock Music side and a Ballad side gave the album an aural consistency that was unprecedented in Beach Boys' albums. The gradual and more extensive use of The Wrecking Crew on The Beach Boys Today! gave Brian the option of using more complex instrumental tracks serving as beds for the group's increasingly sophisticated vocal arrangements. Overall, the album charted strongly at Number 4 on the charts, earning an RIAA Gold Record Award in the fall of 1965. Perhaps most importantly, Brian's pioneering use of the studio as an instrument flowered strongly on Today!, foreshadowing the complex jazz influenced music on Pet Sounds. It marked the next step in the consistent exponential growth that began with the Surfer Girl lp, moving into the "fun in the sun" themed All Summer Long album, and was then succeeded by the iconic Pet Sounds album. It is justifiably the first 5 star Beach Boys album.
Text Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved
Text Copyright 2015 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved