The Beach Boys Today

The Beach Boys Today

The Beach Boys
By David Beard
When American test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier with a Bell X-1 rocket plane on October 14, 1947, the world took notice, and the race for air space supremacy was underway. Similarly, when The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, and Dennis Wilson) went into the recording studio between September 1964 and January 1965 to birth the musical remnants known as the Today! album, it was clear that The Beach Boys were covering new ground in the music industry. And they were ahead of the rest.

Today, we commemorate the anniversary of The Beach Boys Today! which was originally released on March 8, 1965. The 12-track collection marked the first release from the group to feature a ‘pop side’ (Side 1) and an ‘artistic side’ (Side 2). The album kicks off with a romping cover version of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna’ Dance,” sung with assured ruggedness by Dennis. Nine of the remaining 11 songs were co-written by Brian Wilson and his cousin Mike Love, making the Today! album a true reflection of who The Beach Boys were in late 1964/early 1965: a great harmonic family.

Side 1 of the Today! album is more than a ‘pop side.’ It’s the leading pop sound in music in 1965. There were mercurial increases in Brian’s compositions. The vocal arrangements were even better. While the material from Side 1 is fun and great for sing-a-longs, it represents the leading pop/rock sound of its time. Although “Help Me Ronda” is a ‘work-in-progress’ the fully realized single version became a number one hit, and “Good To My Baby,” “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister,” or “Dance, Dance, Dance” (written by Brian, Mike and Carl) are a great representation of Brian’s cutting-edge compositions, productions and arrangements. The voices were unmatched, and there’s no getting around the ascending ages being counted in the background harmonies against ‘won’t last forever’ on “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man).” Timeless in any generation.

Like previous releases these songs invite you into the party, but unlike previous albums, Side 2 asks you stay late to listen to someone baring his soul. Granted, that’s speculative subjectivity, but “Please Let Me Wonder,” “I’m So Young,” “Kiss Me, Baby,” “She Knows Me Too Well,” and “In The Back Of My Mind” are the emotional compass that points directly to the Pet Sounds album. When Pet Sounds was released in May of 1966, it was the music equivalent of taking the first steps on the moon, and the Today! album was the launching pad for the rocket that got it there. Brian, of course, was at the controls.


David Beard: What do you recall about “Do You Wanna’ Dance?”

Mike Love: Bobby Freeman was a great singer from the Bay area, and “Do You Wanna’ Dance?” was just one of those great songs and Dennis did a great job on it. That one almost made it into the Top 10. The song certainly set the tone for the rest of the pop side of the album.

David: Your bass vocal to “Good To My Baby” is stellar. Mike: I really like the bass part I sing … it’s really a great hook itself. Brian and I worked on the arrangement of that one, but he was always better at structuring the higher harmony parts and chord progressions. I was always eager to put in my two cents worth for a hook.

David: “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” is a great song. Was it written about anyone in particular?

Mike: Not that I remember. The Wilson brothers didn’t have a sister, so that idea had to come from somebody else … I had three. It was made up but based on the protective feeling that a brother would have. It was a fun song, a neat song. It wasn’t a hit song, but it certainly was a great album tune.

David: “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” sounds like the precursor to The Beatles’ “When I’m 64.”

Mike: Yeah, it does. The vocal harmonies on “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” are so unique; it’s so catchy. It’s not the most well-known song we have, not by any means, but when we do it in concert it gets tremendous applause. That vocal arrangement is so brilliant! I enjoyed the position of lead singer on that one, but the harmonies and chord progressions are so brilliant, and breathtaking. There are other songs that are far more popular and commercially successful, however, “When I Grow Up” stands right up there with any of them in terms of the audience response. I believe it’s because of the amazing way the vocals showcase our harmonic abilities so well. “When I Grow Up” is somewhat cerebral, and more thought provoking than other songs that we might be known for.

David: What about “I’m So Young?” Mike: Doo-wop was a huge influence on us because of the harmonies … the lead, the high parts, the low parts, etc. Brian did an amazing job on this song, and his voice on it is incredible.

David: “Kiss Me, Baby”? Mike: The R&B, doo-wop, bass thing that I love so much shows up on “Kiss Me, Baby”; it’s the “In The Still of The Night” type vibe. It’s also inspired by the fact that you may have a wife or girlfriend, but sometimes even the best couples get into a disagreement or argument about something. That happens to all of us. That line, “kiss a little bit, fight a little bit,” was inspired by that dynamic. It’s a great album cut though, and a really great song.

David: “She Knows Me Too Well” is beautifully artistic. What do you think of it, and “In The Back Of My Mind”?

Mike: Brian is amazing on “She Knows Me Too Well.” He has many phenomenal leads, and this is one of them. That’s for sure. It gives such a beautiful sound to the record. It’s almost mystical in a way. “In The Back Of My Mind” is so moody and introspective that it’s not a song that I identify with as much as some of the others. You really have to be in the mood to hear that song.

David: “Bull Session with ‘Big Daddy’”? Mike: “Bull Session with ‘Big Daddy’” is pretty silly. It’s just a bunch of young guys experiencing a lot of success, and we’re just relieving stress, not concentrating on releasing a hit, but just having a little bit of fun in the studio. It may have occurred to us, this will be enough to complete an album that if we record this, we can turn the album in, but I think it was just a way to lighten the mood.  

Courtesy David M. Beard ©2015/2022

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