The Beach Boys Today! (1965) Review // Recommendation


Used under fair use, taken by Capitol Records

The Beach Boys, pictured 1965. The sixth member, Bruce Johnston, is not pictured.

J. L. Ilai, Contributing Writer

It’s not uncommon for people who listen to music to cite the Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds, as one of the greatest albums of all time. I can’t help but agree wholeheartedly. When I learned of its legendary status, I couldn’t help but be surprised. Before listening to it, their only song I liked was “I Get Around”, which is very fun but lacking in depth of really any kind. Most of the band’s songs and even their name gives the impression of dumb of the time music which couldn’t have anything to it. Discovering this work of art, I listened to numerous other albums the band had to offer. Sadly, I was mostly disappointed. Post-Pet Sounds albums such as Wild Honey felt like no one knew what to do or how to do it. The lyrics and composition are far less complex than their highlights and it suffers for it due to what appears to be attempted. Pre-Pet Sounds albums like Surfin’ Safari feel like commercial products, products that anyone, anywhere could do. It’s light and unprofessional. Its only success is the excess of charm that comes from the youthful inexperience and idealism of a mal-understood world. One of the band members was literally thirteen at the time.

A friend of mine then recommended The Beach Boys Today!, which he said was more complex than most of their albums from that era and included numerous seeds that would be explored further in Pet Sounds. This makes enough sense seeing as this album was three albums and fourteen months before Pet Sounds. I was compelled, for lack of a better term, to give it a listen. I was struggling to find a book, movie, or album to review. I wanted the thing to be interesting enough to discuss for a few paragraphs and to be unrated and/or underknown. Partway through this album, I realized how perfect it was for this.

This might be the best Beach Boys album I’ve heard. Pet Sounds is far better, but many fans, including me, can’t help but think of it more as a solo album by the band’s unofficial leader, Brian Wilson. He’s the only member of the band to have more than a minimal role on the album. Most of the band’s albums, including this one, utilize the current lineup of the time in a similar capacity. Numerous tracks include harmony from the band that makes them feel there. It’s not giving the impression that one person is doing the work while the others go off for a toke.

A possibly unintentional theme is desperation and longing, which parallels the real-life desires of main writer, Brian Wilson. The titles of the songs, as well as how they’re sung in the tracks, are like pleas. “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister”, “Help Me, Ronda”, and “Please Let Me Wonder” come off as violent just from looking at the titles. However, just like the rest of the album, the songs have a cheery quality and nature to them. “I’m So Young”, “Do You Wanna Dance?”, and “When I Grow Up” read like the perspective of a child, looking up into an unknown world. Every song could be the perspective of someone the age of around a teenager.

The A-side of the album gives the impression of happy, upbeat good times. The B-side of the album gives the impression of a more somber and upsetting world. The B-side consists of ballads, which is pointed out in other reviews commonly. If your impression of this album is that it’s two distinct halves, you’re sorely mistaken. In the A-side, you can feel the creeping in of the slower and more depressing. Such as in “Help Me, Ronda”, the second last track on the A-side, where “Help” is quietly heard, partially buried by the instrumentation. The final A-side track, “Dance, Dance, Dance”, seems to be absorbed by dancing, as if the singer is focusing on dancing to distract from other matters. The B-side is upbeat throughout, but more minimally, as if the darkness can’t snuff out the light. “She Knows Me Too Well” is somber, but there is an aura of excitement in the singer’s voice, as if “She” knowing him so well isn’t too bad. Sometimes I relistened to songs as they needed more than one go to be understood to their fullest.

This album is no masterpiece, despite what I’ve said. It is trapped in its own brilliance. It never breaks the mold of being a pop album enough to grow its wings. It uses the expectation of being a pop album to its advantage, but it sometimes feels like the lock hasn’t been broken, but we are being told it is broken. Fortunately, the inner beauty is trying to escape out the back of its cage. It never manages to fully.

An earlier Beach Boys album, All Summer Long contained a track called “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” which isn’t a song and added nothing to that album’s atmosphere (what little it had). This album makes the same mistake, but worse. Its last track is a little comical interview titled, “Bull Session With the “Big Daddy””. It awkwardly and sharply ends the album without respecting what it was going for. The second to last track, “In the Back of My Mind” is beautiful in how it moves and pushes forward the album. It just begged for some kind of conclusion. Perhaps the last track could have a battle of overt happy pop and slow ballad.

I can’t honestly say I’ve heard an album quite like this one. It effortlessly marries different concepts and ideas to create an interesting experience to say the least. It’s not too happy, too cheery, too depressing, too much of anything. That doesn’t always work exceptionally, but it didn’t sell itself too highly and back down. The Beach Boys Today! was honest.

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