Friday, March 1, 2013

The Beach Boys Today! - The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys Today!
The Beach Boys
Capitol  DT 2269

In my post on "Surrealistic Pillow" I loftily declared the Jefferson Airplane to be the best American band of the late 1960s which got me to wondering who was the best American band before them.  As much as I love the Byrds, I'm pretty certain it was this band.  This may have been the best American rock album ever at the time of its March 1965 release although Bob Dylan would challenge that a few weeks later with the release of his first rock album, "Bringing It All Back Home."  It was the first great Beach Boys album and began a string of remarkable albums and singles that established Brian Wilson as a pop genius culminating with "Smile" and Wilson's subsequent mental breakdown.  The album's A-side is devoted to uptempo commercial pop and the B-side features quieter, more introspective pop songs that foreshadow "Pet Sounds."  It opens with a cover of Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance?" which was a hit single for the group.  Dennis Wilson delivers a strong lead vocal and the elaborate arrangement is clearly inspired by Phil Spector although the guitar break is pure surf rock.  I consider this the definitive version of this much covered song.  For "Good To My Baby," "Don't Hurt My Little Sister" and "When I Grow Up," Brian and Mike Love trade vocals throughout the songs.  I like the dynamic contrast between Love's nasal whine and Brian's angelic choir boy voice which I think opens up the songs.  All three songs are catchy and creative, clearly indicating Brian's growth as a writer.  I particularly like "When I Grow Up" with its sparkling harpsichord riff and its sense of innocence and wonder.  The song was a top ten single for the group.  Al Jardine sings lead on "Help Me Ronda" which the band would re-record for a punchier and faster single version that is superior to this one.  The song fades in and out at the end in an irritating manner.  Love sings lead on "Dance, Dance, Dance" which was written by Brian and Carl Wilson.  It is driven by a terrific guitar riff and although the lyrics are inane the song is so propulsive I hardly notice.  The song provided yet another hit single for the band.  Side two opens with "Please Let Me Wonder" which was co-written by Mike Love and Brian and again they trade vocals on the song.  It was arguably the most beautiful song they'd done at this point, one of my all time favorite Beach Boys songs.  The touching lyrics are expressed with a lovely melody and a yearning vocal that really sends me.  "I'm So Young" is a cover of a 1950s doo-wop song but it covers some familiar Brian Wilson territory with its too young protagonists wishing they were old enough to get married.  Brian arranges up a storm on the reverb laden song with gorgeous vocal harmonies behind a stunning lead vocal from Brian.  Brian's "Kiss Me, Baby" features Brian and Love trading vocals again.  It is another song with elaborate vocal arrangements that are like sonic cotton candy - light and sweet.  Brian sings "She Knows Me Too Well" brilliantly and the contemplative lyrics are worlds beyond the surf and car songs from earlier in his career.  It is one of the best songs on the album.  "In the Back of My Mind" is one of the weaker songs on the album hampered by a lackluster vocal from Dennis and a forgettable melody.  The album ends with a thud with the stupid "Bull Session with the 'Big Daddy'."  It is not a song but rather a mercifully brief interview between the group and journalist Earl Leaf.  The group argue over food and discuss their European tour with Brian giving a shout-out to some flunky from Capitol Records.  Not only is it boring, but its vapidity undermines the sensitivity and beauty of the songs that preceded it, an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise near perfect album.  The astonishing growth displayed by Brian Wilson on this album put him in elite territory with Dylan and Lennon and McCartney as the most important trailblazers in pop music in 1965.  For most pop artists this would have been a career topping achievement but for Brian it was only the beginning.  Recommended  for those who value youthful romanticism over jaded cynicism.

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