Why Beach Boys’ Party! is the Ultimate Soundtrack for Self-Isolation

I’ve been thinking about Brian Wilson a lot these days.    
He enjoyed working from home. In fact, at the height of his creative prowess, he held meetings in a tent in his bedroom, and wrote songs in a sandpit where his piano stood. 
In this era, he would go on to create the 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds before completely atrophying through the creation of the infamously never-released Smile
But instead of listening to those albums, I have instead been listening to Beach Boys’ Party! as I try to make sense of life under self-isolation and social distancing. 
Considered to be a minor, even forgettable offering from the band at the time of its release, Beach Boys’ Party! would go on to find new life as a cult favourite, and should be the ultimate soundtrack to these strange times we’re now in. 
Right before Wilson was known as an eccentric auteur with Pet Sounds and Smile, he was trying to recover from a hectic 1964 with The Beach Boys, the band he led with his brothers Dennis and Carl, along with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine
Over the span of 12 months, The Beach Boys released three albums, toured non-stop around the world, and fired their manager, who happened to be the Wilsons’ father. In 1965, Wilson took LSD for the first time and entered a new phase in his artistic life with the band. 
Through their 1965 albums Beach Boys Today! and Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), the band explored more mature subject matter beyond cars and girls in songs like “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Let Him Run Wild.” While both songs are about unrequited love, they shed a light on different and darker themes, such as finding distractions to heartbreak and managing envy.
Needing to satisfy one more album request from their label Capitol, Wilson conceived the idea of a “live party” on record. Beach BoysParty!, their third album in 1965, was recorded over sporadic sessions in September, with all the laughter and chatter added post-production and then shipped off and released a few weeks later to coincide with the holiday season. 
The approach to recording the album was casual, sparse, and spontaneous, as if the band were listing off their favourite songs one after another. Of course, there were many songs that were recorded and left off the record simply because they were too raw and unfocused (namely, The Beach Boys’ take on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”). In order to create a seamless flow from one song to another, the album was heavily edited and engineered by Mark Linett, who would go on to create a surround sound mix of Pet Sounds.
In Party, there is a glimpse into the Beach Boys’ doo-wop influences as well as their reverence for The Beatles (there are three Beatles’ covers on Party) and Bob Dylan. Both acts, of course, would never return the favour, which to me, makes The Beach Boys seem more relatable. Despite all their success, they would always be chasing The Beatles and Bob Dylan, never the other way around.
In one of the most telling bits in the album, the band does a medley of “I Get Around” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” two of their most famous tracks. But they perform them in a way that is completely deprived of any sincerity or real effort by giggling through improvised verses that mock the originals. 
Instead of singing about how “the bad guys know us and they leave us alone,” Mike Love cracks up at the mere thought that The Beach Boys could intimidate anyone and acknowledges “the other guys are pretty tough” through laughter. At first listen, it’s eye-roll inducing, but the more you listen, the more refreshing it is to hear the band, one surrounded by universal acclaim, take themselves down a few pegs. 
The band would manage to have a hit with their cover of The Regents’ “Barbara Ann,” the last song of theirs to display any of their trademark surfer-style sensibilities. Their next single would of course be “Sloop John B” from the era-defining Pet Sounds, making the songs on Party! feel like a distant memory.
Still, Beach BoysParty! succeeds in pushing the limits of what an album can accomplish, how we define “live music,” and the difference between how fans and the artist view their own material. In his book on Pet Sounds for the 33 ⅓ series, writer Jim Fusilli could not grasp why the Beach Boys would “imagine doing that - mocking your own work, the music people cherish.” 
To fans and critics like Fusilli, the early Beach Boys material represents innocence and playfulness, but for the band in Party!, it’s the equivalent of reading back old high school journal entries. 
Over time, Beach BoysParty! would be re-evaluated thanks to tributes from Sloan and Weezer who respectively adopted the party theme on a rare 1996 EP and a 2008 tour where audience members were invited to bring instruments and play along. 
More than just a goofy concept, Party! is also an interesting exercise in exploring how music lives in the physical world - and how musicians walk a fine tightrope between the two modes they inhabit: artist and performer.  
Brian Wilson would give up touring altogether in 1964 after experiencing a panic attack on an airplane. He wanted to solely focus on creating records. So to create an album that is marketed as a party but has all the ambiance added in post-production not only shows his overall uneasiness with performing, but how songs take on new meaning when performed live.
It’s this idea that would go on and continue to influence artists like Björk in “There’s More to Life Than This,” from her 1993 record Debut, which flirts between being a live and studio recording. Canadian singer-songwriter Feist would do the same thing in two of her songs: “My Moon, My Man” and “Any Party.” 
Right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of artists have had to cancel or postpone tour dates in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Some of them, like Jeremy Dutcher and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard have decided to livestream performances from their homes. 
Even ordinary people are experiencing changes in how they relate to one another. We’re being told that the best way to overcome the virus is to avoid leaving home altogether. Our work culture is currently being defined by distance communication technology, with some workplaces even trying to host their social events through Zoom or Slack.
I don’t think Beach BoysParty! is among the best Beach Boys albums. It wouldn’t even be among my favourites, even though I have listened to it three times a day since I started working from home. 
Maybe it would be more rewarding to do thorough and deep listens of Pet Sounds and Smile, but re-listening to those only cements the message that creativity and greatness cannot be achieved without a village of people behind you. 
But with its mixed-in laughter and seamless edit, Beach BoysParty! managed to do in 1965 what we’re all trying to do right now - to create something out of nothing with the idea that we’re all in it together. Before social distancing and self-isolation, The Beach Boys were able to create a sense of community without having one at all.