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Released in 1965 The Beach Boys Today captures what most consider the turning point in the career of the band. Well, not the band exactly, it was Brian Wilson's life that changed forever.
This album was the first to be recorded after Brian had quit touring, the decision being made final after panic attack on an aircraft taking them to a show. The band members took some convincing that this was a wise decision but with Brian now being a full time song writer, arranger and producer the quality of their music took a hop, skip and a jump into another stratosphere and the touring band took Glen Campbell as Brian's on stage replacement.
This album makes perfect use of the two sided vinyl that was used for its initial release. Side one is all upbeat tunes many of which will be familiar to almost everybody. The real progress however is made on side two. Most casual music fans will be blissfully unaware that the great Pet Sounds has a little brother and it resides on side two of The Beach Boys Today.
The music became deep for the course of an entire album for the first time in their career. You could listen to vocals only versions and they would stand on their own merit, likewise for the backing tracks. Put it all together and the sound is amazing. Staying away from touring Brian spent an age meticulously working on backing tracks and
once The Beach Boys returned from touring to record vocals the task was all of a sudden so much more difficult. Brian always made great harmonies but on this album and for the next few years, those harmonies went beyond anything music had heard before. The strange thing is, some of the most gorgeous harmonies are pretty much buried in amongst the backing track and only by seeking out bootlegs of vocals only mixes will you hear them in their full glory. Once you know they are there you'll forever hear them on these album versions and you'll understand why they were recorded that way.
One thing that may put some off this album is that is it only available in mono. Personally I don't have anything against mono at all when playing through loudspeakers but when listening on headphones it's fair to say the spatial quality of stereo is missed. There have been a few Today tracks released on compilations and official rarities collections that have been given the stereo treatment and they sound fabulous so a stereo re-master of the album in its entirety is surely not too far off.
I class this as the album where the whole Beach Boy sound changed. During the earlier albums the ranking in the lead vocals tended to be Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson. After this album, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson overtook Dennis and had more leads and more prominence in the harmonies than he did. On Today, Dennis is still very much up front and is easily heard in the harmonies for the last time.
Do You Wanna Dance
Good To My Baby
Don't Hurt My Little Sister
When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)
Help Me, Rhonda
Dance, Dance, Dance
Please Let Me Wonder
I'm So Young
Kiss Me Baby
She Knows Me Too Well
In The Back Of My Mind
Bull Session With 'Big Daddy'
Although Side two of this album receives all the acclaim side one has some rocking tunes and isn't without its charm.
A cover of Bobby Freeman's Do You Wanna Dance sets us up for the first side beautifully. This was a hit when it was released and gave Dennis a chance to be the lead vocalist on stage. I'm sure the girls loved to see him up front for once.
This is Spectorish Wall of Sound production. I think this one was bounced one time too many because it is a little muddier in sound than the rest of the album but it is still my favourite version of the song.
Good To My Baby is a Brian and Mike Love shared lead. This is up tempo like all of side one and has some very interesting changes. As on every track here Brian's falsetto is amazing. Don't Hurt My Little Sister thematically sits so well next to Good To My Baby. It is like the other side to the equation and the songs have a lot in common although overall they don't actually sound alike.
When I Grow Up To Be A Man is a song I listened to with interest when I was a kid and it really did make me think about the future. The backing vocals here are lovely all the way through but special mention to the tag as the years are counted by and Mike's "Won't last forever," is countered by Brian's "It's kind of sad."
The backing track is almost harpsichord driven which is a rarity in itself but suits the track perfectly.
Help Me Ronda should not be mistaken for Help Me Rhonda. Confused? You should be. Although this is the same song that was a hit single it's a very different version. This still has Al Jardine's punchy lead vocal but that's about all the same.
This is inferior in every way to Help Me Rhonda. This version does make more of the catchy main riff than the single version, but it is the "Shouty," chorus that lets it down. There is also a very strange fade that goes up and down a few times before eventually ending. In case you wonder, the single version of Help Me Rhonda is on the Summer Days (and Summer Nights) album. I haven't said anything good about this version, but it isn't really bad and it makes an interesting point of studying how a song can be developed in the studio from mediocre to great.
Dance Dance Dance is another radio hit. Brian's falsetto in the chorus is magnificent, especially after the last half step up key change. Mike Love sounds like a cool cocky kid here which is the effect he was aiming for I'm sure. I love the sleigh bells and tambourine percussion on this one too.
Please Let Me Wonder opens up side two's never ending ballads and what a song this is! This is a Brian lead vocal, so tender, sweet and emotional. Brian's voice seems to be all over the backing harmonies along with the lead but there is no such thing as too much Brian so I won't be complaining..
This is an exceptional track and strangely ignored and underplayed by the masses, not once in my life have I ever heard this played on the radio. The harmonies are simply gorgeous during the verses but you'll have to listen very closely to hear just how pretty they are. The chorus has Brian joined by Mike which gives the lead vocal a different timbre although it still sounds like a single voice. This is such a very pretty tune with sweet touching lyrics delivered perfectly over a chord progression that has one foot in jazz. There is no way to fault it.
I'm So Young is a cover of a 50's dop wop original. It is rare that a cover is better than the original but you may as well forget the Students or any other version because this is the definitive version and no other is needed. Brian takes the falsetto lead and does it like nobody else can. The backing track is updated and more creative too. There is an alternate version with a pretty flute line that you can hear on the Today/Summer Day(And Summer Nights) Twofer.
Kiss Me Baby is another criminally ignored masterpiece. This 6/8 signature begins with Brian and Mike singing in unison. Their voices blend perfectly then as we reach the pre-chorus Brian goes up to falsetto and Mike goes down to bass as the harmonies effortlessly drift in. With strumming guitars and woodblock percussion this is a beautiful track. The background chorus lyric of "Kiss a little bit, Fight a little bit," sum up a feisty romance perfectly.
She Knows Me Too Well is a stellar Brian lead vocal performance. He sings the verses in a high chest voice and soars up to heaven for the chorus. He lost this voice so much earlier than he should have and later albums missed it. This is a gorgeous vocal and another amazing ballad.
In The Back Of My Mind is a huge production on par with Pet Sounds with its big brass and string section. Dennis gets the lead for this one and he sounds very good though a little shaky at times. It could be argued the song would have sounded better with a Brian lead but Dennis was given the nod and this is a very good song just as it is.
Bull Sessions With Big Daddy is not a song. It's a bit of studio chit chat with journalist Earl Leaf. We hear as they dish out the food and chat away. The best part for me is when Dennis speaks of someone named Dick Rising which was a lot funnier when I was 13 than it is now. It is silly, but it is at the end of the album and you can switch off before it starts. I think the biggest joke here is from Brian in the fact that a whole side of bitter sweet ballads concludes with some light hearted banter.
So overall, aside from Help Me Ronda and Bull Session With Big Daddy every track is a winner. This could have been even better if Brian had developed Help Me Ronda for this album. Another improvement would have been to include Guess I'm Dumb, a hit for Glen Campbell that Brian wrote arrange and produced for Glen as a thank you for joining the touring band
Even with those two short comings it is a fabulous album and Brian's first LP masterpiece with subtleties aplenty to listen out for. As is the case with The Beach Boys, it is the lesser known tracks that are the true classics.
With it now being available on a two-fer with Summer Days(And Summer Nights!!) it is even better value.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Do You Wanna Dance?
2 Good to My Baby
3 Don't Hurt My Little Sister
4 When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)
5 Help Me, Rhonda
6 Dance, Dance, Dance
7 Please Let Me Wonder
8 I'm So Young
9 Kiss Me, Baby
10 She Knows Me Too Well
11 In the Back of My Mind
12 Bull Session with the "Big Daddy"