The Beach Boys Today!
Brian Wilson stopped touring (he was replaced live temporarily by Glen Campbell, then by future group member Bruce Johnston), becoming a full time arranger and writer for the group’s studio recordings. 1965’s Today! is often regarded as The Beach Boys’ first masterpiece; it’s full of signs of Brian Wilson’s genius, even if it a bit rough around the edges. There’s an embryonic version of ‘Help Me Ronda’, a song that would be perfected on their next album, while the album ends in unsatisfying fashion with the studio chatter of ‘Bull Session With Big Daddy’.
But the stunning focal point of the record is the run of five ballads on the second side, some of the most full realised pop music every committed to tape at the time. In terms of expressing emotions, innovative chord progressions and unusual instrumentation, these songs were ground-breaking, bringing a new degree of artistry into a genre that had previously gotten by mostly on pure adrenaline. In particular, ‘Kiss Me Baby’ is a brilliant piece that squeezes a complex structure and raw emotion into a concise and accessible pop song. ‘I’m So Young’, a cover of a fifties doo-wop standard, is less profound, but still showcases the group’s unparalleled harmonies, while ‘Please Let Me Wonder’ and ‘She Knows Me Too Well’ are two more pristine ballads. The glorious sequence ends with ‘In The Back Of My Mind’, where Dennis contributes a slightly shaky vocal that fits perfectly into the song’s ambiguously jazzy groove.
The first side of the record is less startling, but still perfectly solid; ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ and ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ are both good basic rockers, and the ambitious modulation in the final chorus of ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ is an example of Wilson’s growing confidence. ‘When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)’ is the first side’s ace; it’s absolutely startling that a 22 year old could write a piece so mature and so sonically adventurous, totally without precedent in rock music.
If you already love Pet Sounds and want more of the same, Today! is a great place to experience Brian Wilson’s unique musical genius.