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Music Review: The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today!

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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 the production of their albums.

This decision by Brian Wilson would result in the creation of some of the best and enduring pop music of the 1960s and of all time. This decision would also cause the first split in the group. The fact that Brian Wilson was not performing with the rest of the group meant that his position as the leader on stage would be assumed by Mike Love. Many of songs Wilson sang would be eliminated from the stage act and replaced by songs sung by Mike Love.

Mike Love would assume the position as front man for the Beach Boys on stage, a position that he would not easily give up. Glen Campbell would be a concert replacement for a short time. Finally, long-time California surf musician and former member of the Rip Chords, Bruce Johnston, would be a permanent replacement both live and in concert. Over time, some of the Brain Wilson's vocals would be re-arranged 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 would take the lessons learned from the past two years and eight albums and turn his coalescing musical vision toward the future. He would lay down instrumental tracks with studio musicians and then have the other member of the group add the vocals and their own instrumental contributions. He would finish 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 would prove 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.

Side one is an uplifting listening experience. Three hit singles and a future classic in progress form the foundation for the first half of The Beach Boys Today! 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. It was 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. 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 would show 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.      

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