REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/07/2009
Brian Wilson announced at the end of 1964 that he would no longer be a touring member of the Beach Boys. He would remain home and devote all his time and energy to the recording process and to the production of their albums.
This decision resulted in the creation of some of the best and enduring pop music of the 1960’s and of all time. It also caused the first split within the group. The fact that Wilson was not performing with the rest of the group meant that his position as the leader onstage would be assumed by Mike Love. Many of songs Wilson sang would be eliminated from the stage act and replaced by Love’s.
Mike Love was now the frontman for the Beach Boys on stage, a position that he would not easily give up. Glen Campbell was a concert replacement for a short time. Finally, longtime California surf musician and former member of the Rip Chords, Bruce Johnston, would become the permanent replacement both live and in concert. Over time, some of the Brain Wilson's vocals would be rearranged for other members of the group, but the power, at least on the road, had shifted.
In the studio, however, Brian Wilson was king. He took the lessons learned from the past two years and eight albums and turned his coalescing musical vision toward the future. He laid down instrumental tracks with studio musicians and then had the other member of the group add the vocals and their own instrumental contributions. He finished the process by combining all the recorded parts into the whole that he had envisioned beforehand. The first Beach Boys album to be completed under this new system was The Beach Boys Today! History proved that the road to Pet Sounds was paved by this release.
Today! is divided into a fast rocking first side and a slow ballad second side (this was more clearly apparent on the original vinyl LP release when you actually had two different sides, though).
Side one is an uplifting listening experience. Three hit singles and a future classic in progress form the foundation for the first half of album. Dennis Wilson sings lead on the old Bobby Freeman hit “Do You Wanna Dance.” His voice is surrounded by layer upon layer of vocal harmonies, a culmination of the layered vocal technique that Brian Wilson had perfected. “Dance Dance Dance” is a successful song of celebration that actually makes you want to get up out of your chair and dance along. “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)” is a personal song about aging hidden within an upbeat tempo and harmonies, though the aging process would not be as positive for Brian Wilson as envisioned here. “Help Me Ronda" (no "H" yet) is not the single version of a few months later. It showed how a song could evolve under Brain Wilson’s care.
Side two is comprised of five ballads and the increasingly annoying “in the studio” track. It is this suite of songs that sets the tone and texture for Pet Sounds. The songs flow from “Please Let Me Wonder” to “She Knows Me Too Well” to “In The Back Of My Mind.” The increasingly complicated vocal textures and sophisticated instrumental combinations show Brian Wilson embarking on a musical journey that few artists could ever envision.
The Beach Boys Today! is a mature, creative album yet remains engaging at the same time. This album has held up well over the years and is required listening for any Beach Boys fan.