Diving into the first track on The Beach Boys Today!, we look at "Do You Wanna Dance", a re-interpretation of a 1958 Bobby Freeman song, and investigate the question of what exactly a Beach Boys song is.
This first track on The Beach Boys Today! is a cover of the 1958 Bobby Freeman song, “Do You Wanna Dance”. At first, this fact may seem ironic, as I stressed in my introduction that Today! raised Brian Wilson’s status as a “songwriter who deserved respect and admiration for his musical innovations”. But by opening the album with a cover, we are allowed to see more intimately what Wilson can really do with a song. Here, we have a reference point with the original, which can then be compared to the Beach Boys’ version, revealing Wilson’s’s skill as an arranger and interpreter more clearly.
Outside of the slap-back delay on the drums and an unusual false ending, there’s nothing particularly notable about the original 1958 recording (though it does feature a young Jerry Garcia on guitar, for whatever that’s worth). It’s a piano-driven rock track that features a standard I-IV-V chord progression, simple lyrics, and a loosely sung melody. The Beach Boys version, in contrast, is lushly orchestrated, tightly structured, and includes an instrumental bridge in a different key. Essentially, it sounds very little like the original version, and musicologist Philip Lambert notes that this track “highlights the difference between ‘a song covered by the Beach Boys’ and an existing song transformed into ‘a Beach Boys song’.”