The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today! (1965, Capitol)
Fifty years ago, just before Christmas in 1964, Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown. He was just 22 years old. Broken, battered and bruised from a manic year spent making and touring three studio albums and one live record, the pressure of being responsible for his brothers (Carl and Dennis Wilson), his cousin (Mike Love) and his friend (Al Jardine) had all gotten too much. He decided to quit touring and concentrate solely on creating music in the studio – an arrangement which his band reluctantly but ultimately accepted.
Wilson also began smoking marijuana (heavily) to relieve his stress and feelings of anxiety, and he soon discovered the profound ways in which it impacted his song writing. He delved deep into his own subconscious for ideas, and sought outside inspiration from the work of Phil Spector. He went into full blown mad-genius mode, examining Spector’s Wall of Sound production techniques in excruciating detail, and in turn began developing his own cutting edge arrangements and layered harmonies. The Beach Boys Today! became the first of three increasingly ambitious albums released by The Beach Boys in 1965, culminating the following year in one of the most accomplished and awe-inspiring albums ever made: Pet Sounds.
The Beach Boys Today! is widely regarded as a pivotal record in the band’s discography, and a transitional release between the more youth orientated surf rock that characterised their earlier material (preoccupied with teenage lyrical themes such as hot rods, surfing, high school and girls) and the more introspective, classic pop records the band would go on to perfect throughout the sixties. At the helm of albums like this and its successor, Brian Wilson set the benchmark for contemporary song writers, producers and arrangers, and without his developments in the field of recorded music, The Beatles may very well have never been spurred on to create such modern masterpieces as Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Side one of The Beach Boys Today! features more straight forward rock/pop guitar driven, carefree hits that hark back to the band’s earlier era (Do You Wanna Dance? and Dance, Dance, Dance) whilst side two contains lavish, softer ballads that deal with more adolescent lyrical themes of sorrow and regret. On tracks like She Knows Me Too Well and In The Back Of My Mind, you can really hear the seeds for Pet Sounds being sown, as the wistful efficaciousness of Brian Wilson’s tortured genius reveals itself in all its technicolour brilliance for the very first time.
That consuming melancholy and infinite sadness can still be heard in the songs of today’s best alternative rock bands, from Smashing Pumpkins to Weezer, My Chemical Romance and beyond, but Brian Wilson was the first to take the plunge into the abyss and distil into such sweet melodies the sense of malaise and dubiety that all young adults experience as they struggle to come to terms with growing up. One need only take a listen to When I Grow Up To Be A Man in all its stereo glory to know that you are not alone – we’ve all felt individual uncertainties about our singular and collective futures, but as Rivers Cuomo sings on the latest Weezer album, everything will be alright in the end.