Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dance, Dance, Dance, Beach Boys (1964)

After six hours of school
I've had enough for the day

I hit the radio dial and
Turn it up all the way

I gotta dance ...

It's foolhardy, I know, but thinking back to simpler times has a lot of allure right now, and Dance, Dance, Dance is the musical poster child for such a time. It was actually the first vinyl single I ever bought with my own money. I've always wondered about that - why it was the Beach Boys and not the Beatles, whom I idolized.

It's probably because this song is an elixir - those first 15 seconds! - and I was big on those in my preteens. No matter what the psychic torments of the moment were, a song like Dance, Dance, Dance could obliterate them, at least for awhile. With all of the world's trials and tribulations right now, wouldn't it be nice to just worry about what's happening after six hours of school? Though then I was typically overwrought, now it seems positively idyllic.

But there's a lot going on beneath the surface of this happy-go-lucky ditty with its exuberant arrangement and glorious harmonies, and it's that Brian Wilson had a crippling anxiety attack just days after Dance, Dance, Dance peaked at #8 on the charts. In fact, that meltdown took place on a plane enroute to Houston for a performance that would be his last live (non-televised) appearance with the Beach Boys for 12 years.

Most people weren't aware of the tremendous pressures on Wilson who, with his brothers Dennis and Carl, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, comprised the hugely likeable Beach Boys. The group had formed in 1961 with a focus on surfing and hot rods that resonated to some degree even with non-Californian kids whose lifestyles involved no such things.

They were like whirling dervishes with the schedule they kept, touring incessantly and releasing 6 singles before achieving their first #1 hit, I Get Around, earlier in 1964. The advent of Beatlemania and the British Invasion generally was a game changer for many American acts that had had the musical landscape pretty much to themselves to that point. Wilson bore the brunt of the need to churn out material and serve it up to the gaping maw of teenage demand, and though it was great, more broadly focused stuff, it took its toll.

The Beach Boys Today! album that Dance, Dance, Dance also appeared on the following year is thought to be an early manifestation of the album-as-cohesive-artistic-statement (in this instance, all up-tempo songs on side A, ballads on side B) that was arguably pioneered by Brian Wilson as he eyed and competed with the Beatles. It was his first effort as a studio-only musician after his life-saving decision to leave the road, and was the beginning of years of creative output that most consider to have been some of the most influential in rock music.

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