#466: The Beach Boys Today!, The Beach Boys
This was the Beach Boys’ first huge hit record, following on the heels of “I Get Around.” But they were going for something different and tried to abandon car and surfing songs. I love RS’s quote from chief songwriter Brian Wilson: “I only tried surfing once, and the board almost hit me in the head.” I’m impressed that this is the guy that wrote “Surfin’ USA.”
No, this time around Brian had a muse: sixteen-year-old Marilyn Rovell. Yeah, that’s right, all your favorite musicians were dating teenagers. The two had a tumultuous relationship, with many people believing that Brian was actually more interested in her sister, Diane. Brian, on the other hand, had incredible anxiety about their relationship, and shortly before this record’s release, asked her to marry him. Which, as we all know, instantly solves all relationship problems.
Just kidding! Brian went on to have multiple affairs, including — yep! — one with her sister. Marilyn even said that Wilson encouraged her to have affairs with other men. They divorced in 1979, surprisingly amicably — Marilyn even attended his next wedding. (Fun Fact: Marilyn and Brian’s two daughters are two-thirds of Wilson Phillips!) But they had a long, complex relationship, which informed some of the sweet love songs on this record, like “I’m So Young” and “Kiss Me Baby.”
Fellow Beach Boys’ lyricist Tony Asher is quoted on Wikipedia saying that Brian was “confused about love” around this time, and of course it bled into his songs. “She Knows Me Too Well” is about the hyprocritical jealousy that often goes hand in hand with love — When I look at other girls it must kill her inside/ But it’d be another story if she looked at the guys. Even more uncomfortable to listen to is “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister,” which he says he wrote from the perspective of Diane. Is that a shiver running down my spine?
This album was the first one that featured Brian Wilson writing under the influence of weed — which Marilyn says heavily contributed to the breakdown of her marriage. “Please Let Me Wonder” is the first song he wrote after smoking pot, and man, does it show — it’s, like, so chill, man. Slow and sleepy. Far out. “The Back Of My Mind” lives in that space, too, though with a little more orchestral drama.
Those songs are all on Side Two of the record, which typically gets a little more love than Side One. But I had more fun on the front half, where there’s a little less anxiety and a little more dancing. See “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” “Good To My Baby” is all of the love and none of the weird I-Have-A-Crush-On-Your-Sister vibes. And my absolute favorite, “Help Me, Rhonda,” is on the front half too! Did you know it’s about a man begging a woman to sleep with him out of pity? Wild.
One standout for me was “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” a song about the pressures of aging and not knowing who you’re going to become. Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn’t done what I did? Will I settle down fast or will I first wanna travel the world? Won’t last forever. It’s kind of sad. Brian Wilson’s mental decline seemed to coincide with the release of this record — rhythm guitarist Al Jardine described a moment on an airplane when Wilson broke down crying. Jardine said, “None of us had ever witnessed something like that.” Shortly after, Glen Campbell (then a session musician) started filling in for Wilson on tour. Wilson wasn’t a perfect person, but he wrote beautiful, relatable music.
Wild Card: “Bull Session With the ‘Big Daddy.’” It’s a fake two-minute interview. Highlights include them describing their lunches, and Brian Wilson stating, “I still haven’t made a mistake my whole career.”