Smile (The Beach Boys album)

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File:Beachboys smile cover.jpg
Official planned LP cover with artwork by Frank Holmes. Other versions included a "duophonic stereo" banner on top.
Studio album partially recorded by The Beach Boys
Recorded February 17, 1966 (1966-02-17) – May 18, 1967 (1967-05-18) (original sessions)
Studio CBS Columbia Square, Gold Star Studios, Sunset Sound Recorders, United Western Studios, and misc. California locales
Length Unknown (see below)
Label Brother/Capitol (projected)
Producer Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys recording chronology
Pet Sounds
(1966)Pet Sounds1966
Smiley Smile
(1967)Smiley Smile1967

Smile (occasionally typeset as SMiLE) was a projected album by American rock band the Beach Boys intended to follow their 11th studio album, Pet Sounds (1966). After bandleader Brian Wilson abandoned large portions of music recorded over a ten-month period, the band substituted its release with Smiley Smile (1967), an album containing stripped-down remakes of some Smile material. Some of the original Smile tracks eventually found their way onto subsequent Beach Boys' studio and compilation albums. As more fans learned of the project's origins, details of its recordings acquired considerable mystique, and it was later acknowledged as the most legendary unreleased album in the history of popular music.[10][11]

Working with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Smile was composed as a multi-thematic concept album, existing today in its unfinished and fragmented state as an unordered series of abstract musical vignettes. Its genesis came during the recording of Pet Sounds, when Wilson began recording a new single, "Good Vibrations". The track was created by an unprecedented recording technique: over 90 hours of tape was recorded, spliced, and reduced into a three-minute pop song. It quickly became the band's biggest international hit yet; Smile was to be produced in a similar fashion. Wilson touted the album as "a teenage symphony to God", incorporating a range of music styles including psychedelic, doo-wop, barbershop singing, ragtime, yodeling, early American folk, classical music, and avant-garde explorations into noise and musical acoustics. Its projected singles were "Heroes and Villains", a Western musical comedy, and "Vega-Tables", a satire of physical fitness.

The album's collapse has been attributed to several personal, technical, and legal issues which surrounded its making. In June 1967, the Beach Boys reconvened at Brian's makeshift home studio to record Smiley Smile. Many attempts were then made to complete the original Smile, most of which were derailed by Wilson, who became psychologically traumatized by the album. It was in the 1980s when bootlegged tracks from Smile began circulating widely among record collectors, inspiring others to assemble their own versions using what surviving recordings were available. The potential of what Smile could have been inspired many musicians, particularly those in indie rock, while the album's saga became a touchstone for the more art-inclined sectors of post-punk.

As a solo artist, Wilson reinterpreted the project for concert performances in 2004, and then followed up with the studio album Brian Wilson Presents Smile. Although he had ostensibly completed the work, Wilson clarified that his 2004 arrangement differed substantially from how he had first conceptualized the album during the 1960s.[12] On October 31, 2011, The Smile Sessions was released containing an approximation of what the Beach Boys' completed Smile might have sounded like based on the structure of Brian Wilson Presents Smile. It received universal acclaim.[13] In 2012, the compilation was ranked number 381 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.[14] In 2013, it won the Best Historical Album award at the 55th Grammy Awards.[15]


In May 1966, the Beach Boys released their eleventh studio album, Pet Sounds, a project largely conceived and directed by bandleader and principal songwriter Brian Wilson. He intended the album as a unified collection of art pieces which belong together yet could stand alone.[16] While the album met with an enthusiastic reception in the United Kingdom, its commercial performance in the United States was lower than expected, selling several hundred thousand units fewer than the group's previous releases, which dispirited Wilson, who had considered the album a highly personal work.[17] Its stylistic shift had alienated some fans, containing an expanded palette of orchestral timbres and somber lyrics which record label Capitol found difficulty in marketing. Wilson was then beginning to be questioned by the group over their new direction and his creative aspirations.[18] Meanwhile, without the group's approval, Capitol issued a rushed greatest hits compilation to follow Pet Sounds, Best of The Beach Boys. It was quickly certified gold by the RIAA, cementing a demand for material in the Beach Boys' earlier style.[17] The group's commercial momentum was reclaimed after completing a new single, "Good Vibrations", initially a Pet Sounds outtake recorded in the early months of 1966, then revised continuously over the summer. It was finally released in October, and became an international number one hit.

Collaboration and inspiration

Van Dyke Parks circa 1967. Besides providing the majority of Smile's lyrics and thematic direction,[19][20] he also participated in sessions as an instrumentalist.[21]

Crucial to the inception and creation of Smile was Wilson's meeting with burgeoning songwriter Van Dyke Parks in February 1966. They had been introduced to each other by mutual friends David Crosby and Terry Melcher, and Parks would often visit Wilson's home while he was working on Pet Sounds.[21] Prior to their meeting, Parks was gaining notoriety as a session musician, briefly performing live as a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, and writing Cole Porter-inspired songs for acts such as Harper's Bizarre, Bobby Vee, Jackie DeShannon, and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band while working behind the scenes with various other Los Angeles-based artists.[22] When Wilson took notice of Parks' unique manner of speaking, he asked him if he could write lyrics for "Good Vibrations". Parks declined for the reason that he thought there was nothing he could add to the track.[23] Wilson invited Parks to write lyrics for the new album in the second quarter of 1966 when the project was provisionally called Dumb Angel.[24] This time Parks agreed and the two quickly formed a close and fruitful working relationship.

In preparation for the writing and recording of the album, Wilson purchased about two thousand dollars' worth of marijuana and hashish.[25] In addition, Wilson famously installed a hotboxing tent in his home and relocated a grand piano to a sandbox in his living room.[26][27] Between April and September 1966, Wilson and Parks spent many "all night sessions" co-writing a number of songs in the sandbox.[28][nb 1] A coterie eventually formed around Wilson for most of the Smile sessions, which along with Parks included acquaintances Derek Taylor, Paul Williams, Loren Schwartz, Danny Hutton, Jules Siegel, David Anderle, Michael Vosse, and Paul Jay Robbins.[31][32] According to unnamed participants, "If you came up to the house and introduced something new to Brian's thought processes–astrology, a different way to think about the relationship of Russia to China, anything at all–if all of a sudden he was into that, it would find its way into the music. You could hear a bit and say, 'I know where that feeling came from.'"[25] Wilson, already an avid reader of literature, continued to indulge himself in works ranging from the I Ching and Subud philosophy, tracts on astrology, detailed charts of the stars and planets, various topics of mysticism, The Little Prince, the novels of Hermann Hesse, works by Kahlil Gibran, Rod McKuen, and Walter Benton's This is My Beloved.[33][34] In a reported meeting at Wilson's home between him and novelist Thomas Pynchon—a fan of Pet Sounds—the two were so intimidated by each other that "neither of them really said a word all night long."[35]

In October 1966 interviews, Wilson stated that the Beach Boys' next project was to be "a teenage symphony to God,"[36][37] and that, "It will be as much an improvement over [Pet] Sounds as that was over Summer Days."[38] In 1967, Carl Wilson told Rave magazine that the group was focusing on spirituality, and that "the concept of spreading goodwill, good thoughts and happiness" informed the album's title, Smile.[39] The project was to have been an album-length suite of songs that were both thematically and musically linked, recorded using the unusual sounds and innovative production techniques that had contributed to the success of "Good Vibrations", and written as an outlet for all of Brian's intellectual occupations at the time.[40] The work held an especially grandiose importance among its participants, as David Anderle recalls, "Smile was going to be a monument. That's the way we talked about it, as a monument."[26] Several months after the project's collapse, a memoir written by Jules Siegel was published in an article for Cheetah magazine entitled "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!". Many of the project's subsequent myths and legends would later derive from this single article.[41][42]

Recording history

Fifty hours of tape was amassed from a ten-month-long course of album recording sessions. The contents range from musical, spoken word, sound effects, to role playing.[43] Music sessions occurred mainly at Hollywood recording studios United Western Recorders, Gold Star Studios, Sunset Sound Recorders and CBS Columbia Square. Oftentimes, Chuck Britz and Larry Levine assisted Brian with engineering, who produced every session, while most instrumentation was played by the Wrecking Crew. The vocal sessions for Smile were usually done at CBS Columbia, which had the only 8-track audio recorder available amongst the major recording studios at the time.[citation needed]

Work on what would have been the core album track "Good Vibrations" begun in February 1966 during the Pet Sounds era. Three months later in May, an early tracking of "Heroes and Villains" was attempted. The Smile sessions officially began on August 3, 1966 with "Wind Chimes", and from then on, Wilson led a long and complex series of sessions—approximately 50 overall, discounting the 17 sessions needed for "Good Vibrations"—that continued in earnest until April 14, 1967. After a final backing track session designated for "Love to Say Dada" on May 18, 1967, Smile was abandoned.[44]

Smiley Smile sessions immediately followed at Brian Wilson's home studio on June 3. In November 1968 and June–July 1971, the tracks "Cabinessence", "Our Prayer", and "Surf's Up" would be treated with overdubs and completed by Carl and Dennis Wilson for other Beach Boys albums.[44]

Composition and analysis

The Smile recordings are multigenre, and would have incorporated cowboy songs, country, comic songs, doo-wop, barbershop, chanting, noise, cartoons, and field recordings with a unified homage to Americana.[45][46][47][48][49] According to English musician and ethnomusicologist David Toop, Smile contains traces of Sacred Harp, Shaker hymns, Mele, and Native American singing. He also cited Frank Sinatra, the Lettermen, the Four Freshmen, Martin Denny, Patti Page, Chuck Berry, Spike Jones, Nelson Riddle, Jackie Gleason, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, the Penguins, and the Mills Brothers as some of the many contradictory templates he's heard "buried within Smile's music legacy," characterized by Wilson's consistent pattern of "cartoon music and Disney influence mutating into avant-garde pop".[45][50] Professor Kelly Fisher Lowe referred to Smile as an "experimental rock record."[5] The New York Observer wrote that the album sculpted "Americana-rooted progressive folk rock".[8] March Richardson believes the album was Wilson's attempt at "the great art pop album of the era."[3] Wilson felt that Smile was too advanced for him to consider it pop music, and explained that he admired and was influenced by Johannes Sebastian Bach for his ability to construct a continuum of complex music using simple forms and simple chords.[20]

In 1966 after being asked by a journalist how he would label his new music, Wilson responded, "I'd call it contemporary American music, not rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll is such a worn out phrase. It's just contemporary American."[51] In 2011, Brian questioned a journalist how they would categorize Smile, with their response being "impressionistic psychedelic folk rock," and that while most rock seems to be about adulthood, Smile "expresses what it's like to be a kid in an impressionistic way," and "depicts the psychedelic magic of childhood," to which Wilson replied: "I love that. You coin those just right."[7] That same year, when he was asked what words come to mind when listening to Smile: "Childhood. Freedom. A rejection of adult rules and adult conformity. Our message was, 'Adults keep out. This is about the spirit of youth.'"[43][52] Sessions participant Michael Vosse believed that Smile, had it been completed, would have been "basically a Southern California, non-country oriented, gospel album—on a very sophisticated level—because that's what he was doing, his own form of revival music."[28]

Modular approach

The Smile sessions were intentionally limited to recording short interchangeable fragments also referred to as "modules".[43] With "Good Vibrations", Wilson further expanded his modular approach to recording, experimenting with compiling the finished track by editing together the numerous sections from multiple versions recorded at the lengthy tracking sessions.[nb 2] Instead of taping each backing track as a more-or-less complete performance—as had been the model for previous Beach Boys recordings—he split the arrangement into sections, recording multiple takes of each section and developing and changing the arrangements and the production as the sessions proceeded. He sometimes recorded the same section at several different studios, to exploit the unique sonic characteristics or special effects available in each. Then, he selected the best performances of each section and edited these together to create a composite which combined the best features of production and performance. This meant that each section of the song was presented in its own distinct sonic envelope, rather than the homogeneous production sound of a conventional "one take" studio recording. The cut-up structure and heavily edited production style of Smile was unique for its time in mainstream popular music,[29][55][49] and to assemble an entire album from short musical fragments was a relatively bold undertaking.[53]

We did things in sections. There might just be a few bars of music, or a verse, or a particular groove, or vamp… They would all fit. You could put them one in front of the other, or arrange it in any way you wanted. It was sort of like making films I think.

Carl Wilson, 1973[43]

Carl Wilson likened the assembly process to film editing, a view shared by Smile archivist Alan Boyd who stated: "I think he was right about that. The kind of editing that the project required seemed more like the process of putting a film together than a pop record."[56][57][nb 3] This fragmentary approach can be related to "dangling clauses", a concept defined by David Bordwell thusly: "An unresolved action is presented near the end of one section that is picked up and pushed further in a later section. Every scene will tend to contain unresolved issues that demand settling further along."[57] This results in ambiguity for when and where most Smile songs begin and end, as many of them lack clearly defined song structures.[43]

[Brian] wanted to do an album of music built from sound effects...chords spliced together through a whole LP. He had incredible fantasies. He wanted to put everything down on disc, and when he realized he couldn't, he shifted to, "I wanna make films." That was a step easier to capturing more. If you couldn't get a sound from a carrot, you could show a carrot. He would really liked to have made music that was a carrot.

—Tom Nolan, Rolling Stone, October 1971[25]

Various surreal comedy skits were recorded during the sessions as part of a "Psycodelic [sic] Sounds" series.[nb 4] An unused skit was also recorded by Brian with session drummer Hal Blaine to promote a then-proposed "Vega-Tables" single release. Similar experimental recording sessions were devoted to an adventurous sound collage portion of the album.[nb 5] For "The Elements", Brian instructed others to travel around with a Nagra tape recorder and record the different variations of water sounds that they could find, as Vosse recounts, "I'd come by to see him every day, and he'd listen to my tapes and talk about them. I was just fascinated that he would hear things every once in a while and his ears would prick up and he'd go back and listen again. And I had no idea what he was listening for!"[59]

Marshall Heiser interpreted the album's style of jumpcuts a "striking characteristic", and that they "must be acknowledged as compositional statements in themselves, giving the music a sonic signature every bit as noticeable as the performances themselves. There was no way this music could be 'real.' Wilson was therefore echoing the techniques of musique concrète and seemed to be breaking the audio 'fourth wall' – if there can said to be such a thing."[43] Parks said that the duo was conscious of musique concrete, and that they "were trying to make something of it", naming Brian as a pioneer for its application in pop music.[60] Music journalist Paul Williams to be one of the earliest pioneers of sampling.[61] Author Domenic Priore argued that Brian "manipulated sound effects in a way that would later be extremely successful when Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, the best-selling album of the entire progressive rock period."[62] Other methods of tape manipulation used on Smile included varispeed.[63]

Instrumentation and vocals

Wilson wrote mixed arrangements for exotic percussion, keyboard, woodwind, string, and brass sections,[66] usually applying extended technique. Examples of such would be playing an upright bass with a plectrum alongside a tic-tac bass, or muting a piano by taping its strings.[45] In other instances, Wilson experimented with using brass instruments played like a Tibetan horn or an elephant's trumpet.[67][45][nb 6] Observable is an exercise featuring toy train whistles, tubas, a duck decoy, and a jug banged on by a mallet with hesitation by one participant, which caused Wilson to stop for a second and remind them: "Remember one thing: There's no rules to this."[68] The selection of instruments in Smile range from classical instrumentation such as harpsichords and clarinet, to African percussion such as conga drums and woodblocks, and occasionally electronic instruments such as Rhodes piano and the Electro-Theremin.[69][pages needed] The song "Cabinessence" for example features use of fuzz bass, cello, dobro, bouzouki, banjo, upright piano, harmonicas, and accordions.[69][page needed]

Desiring a delicate approach to sound, Wilson avoided the tradition of using standard rock percussion.[20] In some cases, he opted a keychain to evoke the noise of rhythmic, rattling jewellery ("Surf's Up"),[67] slide whistles as fire sirens ("Fire"),[72] and crunched celery ("Vega-Tables").[73] Wilson further explored impressionist arranging with voices and other instruments, from using a muted trumpet as a baby's cry ("Look"),[74][better source needed] to the group roaring farm animal noises ("Barnyard").[75] Toop likened Smile to Third Stream tone poems "best described in Charles Mingus's term 'jazzical'".[45] Accordingly, there are similar explorations in acoustics evident in the work of composers Charles Ives, Les Baxter, and Richard Maxfield; with Toop considering Smile to be a "descendant" of Arnold Schoenberg, Sun Ra, The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Moondog, and Mingus.[45] Parks noted: "The first thing I can remember in the studio was how Brian used tuneful percussion, like a piano or a Chinese gong. Even a triangle has pitch. Brian was very fond of pitched instruments. They reminded me of the orchestrations of the early 20th century done by people like Percy Grainger, the man who wrote 'Country Gardens', [sic] who was infatuated with tuneful percussion. He stood out in my youth as a great composer because of what he did with sound, and Brian was doing that."[62]

Author Erik Davis wrote of the album's disconnect to contemporary rock music clichés associated with the hippie subculture, noting that "Smile had banjos, not sitars," and "the 'purity' of tone and genetic proximity that smoothed their voices was almost creepy, pseudo-castrato, a 'barbershop' sound that Hendrix, on 'Third Stone From the Sun,' went thumbs down on."[76][nb 7] Jazz musician and professor Brian Torff noted Smile to contain "choral arranging" and a "rhapsodic Broadway element".[77] Paul Williams agreed that the human voice is palpable on Smile, and suggested that Brian's "fascination with the relationship between music and voice, and a veritable eruption of musical and sonic insights, new language, [and] new combinations" exhibited what he believed to be "a love of the human voice in all its myriad manifestations" ultimately resulting in "a sort of three-ring circus of flashy musical ideas and avant-garde entertainment".[46] In direct contrast to Pet Sounds, Wilson emphasizes vocables over lyrics with an encoded narrative, and in a style not dissimilar to baby talk or Glossolalia.[45][78] Williams concludes that Smile was to be "perhaps the story of the unnatural love affair between one man's voice and a harpsichord".[79] Al Jardine elaborated that there were differences between the vocal arranging on Smile compared to what the group had previously accomplished.

It was just more textural, more complex and it had a lot more vocal movement. "Good Vibrations" is a good example of that. With that song and other songs on Smile, we began to get into more esoteric kind of chord changes, and mood changes and movement. You'll find Smile full of different movements and vignettes. Each movement had its own texture and required its own session. ... "Cabin Essence" was a tough one. Just the alacrity of the parts and the movements. There was wind driven part in the parts around "who ran the iron horse" – a lot of challenging vocal exercises and movements in that one. But we enjoyed those challenges. There was almost like a competition among us between who could do their part better than the other guy – but a healthy one. ... there was one part that I'd forgotten about where we sang this dissonant chord – this strange chord, which sounded like the whistle of a train. It was very clear and it actually sounded like a real train.[80]

Online British journal Freaky Trigger put forth: "While the lyrics are usually pretty damned literary, at their most extreme, they’re divorced from any kind of meaning in the straightforward sense." While suggesting that "the line between the sung word and mere sound become criss-crossed and blurred again and again and again ... where the word becomes subservient to sound, which is only six or so steps on the road to sound-for-the-sake-of-sound," and reflecting on the image of "Brian jammin' with Sun Ra and John Cage," the journal concludes that it was a style of music which could be simply classified as doo-wop, a genre that the group had already familiarized themselves in for years.[55]


[Smile] compresses half a dozen different songs into one ("Cabinessence") and at the same time it repeats a single melodic and rhythmic theme (the "Heroes and Villains" chorus) in otherwise separate songs, breaking down the walls that give songs identities without ever offering conceptual ("rock opera") explanation or resolution.

Paul Williams, from Back to the Miracle Factory, c.1993[46]

The concept of Smile did not lend itself to any formal narrative development, only to themes and experiences; though Smile references some specifically, it is only in passing.[43] Most of the album's thematic direction was given to Parks with hardly any instruction from Wilson. Together, the two desired a back-to-basics approach to songwriting, as Wilson summarized, "We wanted to capture something as basic as the mood of water and fire."[20]

It is generally acknowledged that Wilson and Parks intended Smile to be explicitly American in style and subject, a conscious reaction to the overwhelming British dominance of popular music at the time.[81][29] It was conceived as a musical journey across America from east to west, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii, traversing some of the great themes of modern American history and culture including the impact of white settlement on native Americans, the influence of the Spanish, the Wild West and the opening up of the country by railroad and highway.[20][82][29] Some historical events touched upon range from Manifest destiny, American imperialism, westward expansion, the Great Chicago Fire, and the Industrial Revolution.[citation needed]

Smile was partly intended to combat the British Invasion sparked by the Beatles in 1964

In reference to how George Gershwin "Americanized" jazz and classical music, Wilson in his own words intended to "'Americanize' early America and mid-America."[12] Parks said that the duo "kind of wanted to investigate … American images. … Everyone was hung up and obsessed with everything totally British. So we decided to take a gauche route that we took, which was to explore American slang, and that's what we got."[19] He clarified this notion further by saying, "So this is what this stuff was: American music. We would use the thematic America. We would be the Americans. Why do that? Everybody else was getting their snout in the British trough. Everybody wanted to sing 'bettah'', affecting these transatlantic accents and trying to sound like the Beatles. I was with a man who couldn't do that. He just didn't have that option. He was the last man standing. And the only way we were going to get through that crisis was by embracing what they call 'grow where you're planted'."[81] Historian Darren Reid interpreted that the focus on older American themes was a self-conscious, deeper reflection on the hedonistic, modern Americana of the Beach Boys' earlier songs.[83]

Aside from focusing on American cultural heritage, Smile's themes include scattered references to childhood, physical fitness, poetry, and God.[84] Many traits in Smile lyrics are reminiscent of patrician period imagery[85][page needed] and the Romantic poetry movement that began in the mid-to-late 18th century, with the biggest focus being on the Songs of Innocence and of Experience collection of poems written by English poet William Blake. Thematic links to Songs of Innocence and of Experience by concept of childhood and spirituality carry throughout other songs and tracks. However, the piece "My Heart Leaps Up" by William Wordsworth originated the idiom "Child Is Father of the Man" later recycled by Wilson and Parks.[citation needed] Other general Smile themes have been recited by Smile visual artist Frank Holmes to have included "travel, nature, history, communications, love stories, virtue, betrayal, bucolic splendor, astrology, [and] mystery."[74][better source needed]

Smile drew heavily on American popular music of the past; Wilson's original compositions were interwoven with snippets of significant songs of yesteryear including "The Old Master Painter", the perennial "You Are My Sunshine" (state song of Louisiana), Johnny Mercer's jazz standard "I Wanna Be Around" (recorded by Tony Bennett), "Gee" by the 1950s doo-wop group the Crows and quotations from other 20th century pop culture reference points such as the Woody Woodpecker theme and "Twelfth Street Rag". These references tended to thematically blur with the other Smile elements, and there was no definite line drawn between the established Americana and spirituality themes.[citation needed] Perhaps the least obvious example of this blur would be "The Old Master Painter"—the "master painter" described in the song's lyrics refers to God.[86] This is continued in the lyrics to the Wilson/Parks original "Surf's Up", which imagines religious experience, "canvassing the town", and "brushing the backdrop". Various 18th–20th century works such as "The Pit and the Pendulum", "This Land Is Your Land", "See See Rider", "Frère Jacques", "Auld Lang Syne", "My Prayer", "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and Poor Richard's Almanack are also alluded to in song lyrics or titles.[citation needed]

Psychedelia, spirituality, and humor

Brian Wilson's experiments with psychotropics such as cannabis, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and the amphetamine/barbiturate combination desbutal[87][37] were influential on the texture and structure of the work,[88][77] some participants stating lyrical elements stemmed from their use.[nb 8] Writer Bill Tobelman speculated that Smile is filled with coded references to Brian's life and LSD experiences (a presumed Lake Arrowhead, California "trip" being the most important). This is supported by the track "Love to Say Dada", which can be abbreviated as "LSD". He also argues that it was influenced by Wilson's interest in Zen—notably in its use of absurd humor and paradoxical riddles (koans) to liberate awareness from the mind—and that Smile as a whole can be interpreted as an extended Zen koan.[91][nb 9] Contemporary interviews display Wilson as an avid follower of the rapidly approaching psychedelic scene impending West Coast pop music, and he anticipated that Smile would be the preeminent psychedelic pop art statement.[93] He also believed that psychotropics were closely related to spirituality, citing his own psychedelic experiences which he considered "very religious."[94] In 1966, Wilson prophesied that "psychedelic music will cover the face of the world and color the whole popular music scene. Anybody happening is psychedelic."[93][nb 10] The Guardian argued that until the negative effects of LSD surfaced in rock music via Skip Spence's Oar (1969) and Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs (1970), "artists tactfully ignored the dark side of the psychedelic experience," which could be suggested by Smile in the form of "alternately frantic and grinding mayhem" ("Fire"), "isolated, small-hours creepiness" ("Wind Chimes"), and "weird, dislocated voices" ("Love to Say Dada").[97]

[Brian] told me that he felt laughter was one of the highest forms of divinity, and that when someone was laughing their connection with the thing that was making them laugh made them more open that they could be at just about any point. Which I agree with. You can find that in all art forms: the minute you have someone laughing you also have them vulnerable, which means either you can shock them, make them laugh more—or at that moment you can be very honest with them. And Brian felt that it was time to do a humor album.

—Michael Vosse, 1969[28][27]

Arthur Koestler's book, The Act of Creation, had a profound effect on Wilson that carried deeply into the Smile project, specifically the human logistics of laughter. Wilson pointed to the book's three-category division of the human mind: Humor, Discovery, and Art;[98] he has admitted that he was most influenced by Koestler's first rule of ego, Humor, as he explained in 2005: "The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler turned me on to some very special things…it explains that people attach their egos to their sense of humor before anything else. After I read it, I saw that trait in many people…a sense of humor is important to understanding what kind of person someone is. Studying metaphysics was also crucial, but Koestler's book really was the big one for me."[99] As a consequence, the Smile songs are replete with word play, puns, colloquialisms, vernacular, double entendres, slang, and miscellaneous dialect.[citation needed][nb 11] At one stage, Wilson apparently toyed with the idea of devoting Smile as a comedy album and a number of scrapped recordings were made in this vein.[25] David Anderle remembered: "Brian was consumed with humor at the time and the importance of humor. He was fascinated with the idea of getting humor onto a disc and how to get that disc out to the people."[100]

"The Elements"

Artist's rendering of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, an event which "Fire" was based on

"The Elements" was a reputed four-part movement which encompassed the four classical elements: Air, Fire, Earth, and Water.[101][nb 12] According to Domenic Priore, conversations between him and Van Dyke Parks have told that "The Elements" were meant to invoke the increasing attention to health, fitness, and environmentalism by anti-war peace movements.[102] Alternatively, Darian Sahanaja—a close associate of Wilson and Parks—has said: "Brian never ever referred to any of the pieces as being part of some Elemental concept, and whenever I did bring up the concept he didn’t seem to react to it with any enthusiasm. I brought it up again while Van Dyke was around and didn’t get a clear reaction from him either. My gut feeling is that it was one of many subplots and underlying themes being tossed around back in the day. It does however tie in nicely with the concepts of western expansion, manifest destiny, birth and rebirth, and so I’m sure they would respect a listener’s interpretation."[103] Contemporary statements made by those involved with the original album sessions offer somewhat deeper insight into Smile's elemental suite. As described by David Anderle in an issue of Crawdaddy!:

[H]e was really into the elements. He ran up to Big Sur for a week, just 'cause he wanted to get into that, up to the mountains, into the snow, down to the beach, out to the pool, out at night, running around, to water fountains, to a lot of water, the sky, the whole thing was this fantastic amount of awareness of his surroundings. So the obvious thing was to do something that would cover the physical surroundings. … We were aware, he made us aware, of what fire was going to be, and what water was going to be; we had some idea of air. That was where it stopped. None of us had any ideas as to how it was going to tie together, except that it appeared to us to be an opera. And the story of the fire part I guess is pretty well known by now.[40]

During the latter half of the 1960s, Wilson began an obsession with fitness that led him to move the furniture out of his living room in order to make room for tumbling mats and exercise bars; later briefly serving as the co-owner of his own health food store.[104] Wilson reported in 1967, "I want to turn people on to vegetables, good natural food, organic food. Health is an important element in spiritual enlightenment. But I do not want to be pompous about it, so we will engage in a satirical approach."[105] Derek Taylor remembers: "He'd be sitting with me in this restaurant going on and on about this supposedly strict vegetarian diet of his, preaching vegetarianism at me while at the very same moment he'd be whacking down some massive hamburger."[106]

Track listing

The most ambiguous and least realized parts of the 1966 Smile concept was its ambitious narrative, length, track listing, and track order. The material recorded was set to be divided into a then-undecided number of musical suites or movements. No official sequencing was decided in 1967, and although numerous track listing and running orders were eventually established decades later,[30] Brian Wilson has stated that the original Smile would have been "less uplifting" than his finished 2004 version. He also claimed that he and Van Dyke Parks had originally thought of the album as a two-movement rock opera or cantata.[12][20][nb 13]

Given the technical limitations of record production in 1967 and the sheer bulk of material that was being recorded, Wilson recorded far more music than could possibly have fit on one LP, yet the album was only ever envisaged as being a single disc.[107] In November 1966, Wilson reported: "This LP will include 'Good Vibrations' and ‘Heroes And Villains' and ten other tracks [plus] lots of humor – some musical and some spoken. It won't be like a comedy LP – there won't be any spoken tracks as such – but someone might say something in between verses."[108]

The 2011 release of the The Smile Sessions compilation proved conclusively that virtually all the musical "components" used to create Wilson's 2004 version of Smile are present in one form or another among the original 1967 recordings, yet the original intended track order and arrangement of the various songs, segments, and link pieces of Smile have remained either inconclusive or mostly forgotten among the people involved. A few weeks prior to Christmas 1966, a handwritten note containing a non-ordered track list was delivered to Capitol Records by Brian.[109] This list was long considered crucial evidence of Wilson's intentions for the piece, but in 2006 it was discovered[by whom?] Brian had never seen it before. A comparison of the handwriting indicates that it may have been written by Carl Wilson, or possibly Brian's sister-in-law, Diane Rovell:[citation needed]


"Heroes and Villains" was the ultimate keystone for the musical structure of the album, and the considerable time and effort that Wilson devoted to it is indicative of its importance, both as a single and as part of the Smile narrative. Like "Good Vibrations", it was edited together from many discrete sections. Additionally, most individual tracks on Smile were composed as potential sections of "Heroes and Villains".[nb 16] Nearly thirty sessions for the various versions of "Heroes and Villains" spanned from May 1966 to July 1967.[111] There are dozens of takes spanning each section of the song, multiple versions of both the variant sections, and many attempts to splice together final mixes. One of the other centerpieces of Smile was to be "Surf's Up", which had been for many years perceived as the intended ending climax of Smile, preceding a section described as a "choral amen sort of thing."[28][nb 17] "Good Vibrations" was completed by Wilson and released in October 1966 while Smile sessions were underway.

All of the other tracks were either not recorded or only exist in part-completed form, and many Smile-era recordings lack their full vocal arrangements, lyrics and melodies. Many of the shorter tracks, along with many other brief instrumental and vocal pieces, were evidently intended to serve as bridging sections that would have been edited in to provide links between the major songs.[43] Nearly all of the Smile tracks fluxed in state between August 1966 and May 1967, with the only exception being "Our Prayer": a short hymn intended by Wilson to be the opening "spiritual invocation" of the Smile album.[113][114] A track entitled "Holidays" was recorded as an oblique instrumental in September 1966, and is one of the few pieces from Smile where every section was performed as part of one whole take.[58][nb 18] "You're Welcome" is a short chant sung by the Beach Boys over a thumpy background track featuring a glockenspiel and a timpani.[nb 19] The other Wilson brothers also experimented with their own compositions in between sessions for the Smile album, but it's doubtful if they were to have been included in the album.[nb 20] A brief medley of the traditional standards "The Old Master Painter" and "You Are My Sunshine" was also recorded,[nb 21] along with a short instrumental cover version of "I Wanna Be Around".[nb 22]

Artwork and packaging

The Smile logo that was pictured on the original cover art

Capitol began production on a lavish gatefold cover with a twelve-page booklet in December 1966. Considered by some to be one of the one of the most legendary album covers in rock,[115] its artwork was commissioned from Frank Holmes, a friend of Van Dyke Parks he had met at a coffeehouse three years earlier.[116] Holmes based the cover art from an abandoned jewelry store he'd seen near his home in Pasadena, added onto several visual interpretations of the album's lyrics that were illustrated by Holmes for the bonus Smile booklet scheduled for its packaging.[116] According to Michael Vosse, the "Smile shop" portrayed on the cover came from Brian's desire for a humor album, "and everybody who knew anything about graphics, and about art, thought that the cover was not terribly well done... but Brian knew better; he was right. It was exactly what he wanted, precisely what he wanted."[28][27] The cover image, now considered iconic, would have been one of the earliest instances of a popular music group featuring original commissioned artwork rather than a photograph of the performers.[117]

Holmes met with Wilson and Parks in June 1966, suggesting to Capitol Records executives that the album be packaged with a booklet of his illustrations. Holmes explains his role in the project: "Van Dyke introduced me to Brian. "Hey, Brian’s doing this album," he says, "and I’m going to be writing music with him." So I said, "Do you have a cover?" "No." And I said, "Well, let me give you some ideas." So I came up with that store-front idea ... I thought that was a good image because of the way, any time you go into a store, you’re entering something, and the door opens and you go in, but its designed; it’s like a funnel. So I thought, "Well, this would be a good graphic image on the front cover" – something that would pull you in. I knew that sales were important in selling music. This was something that would be pulling you into the world of Smile – the Smile Shoppe – and it had these little smiles all around. There’s two people in there, too, a husband and wife – a kind of early-Americana, old-style, 19th-century kind of image."[118] By October, Holmes completed his contributions.[118]

Parks considered work by Holmes to be the "third equation" of Smile, and that they would have not continued on the project the way they did without thinking of it in cartoon terms, as Parks believes: "To me, it was a musical cartoon, and Frank showed that, without being told anything. There is some reference: Frank was supposed to do something 'light-hearted', but there were no specific instructions and he came up with the perfect video vessel for realizing what we were doing, something I thought was an integral part of the situation. I think that still stands; I think of Smile in visual terms."[119] Capitol later added the repeated written instances of "Good Vibrations" on the album cover, which were not featured on the original design by Holmes.[109] Color photographs of the group were also taken by Guy Webster. 466,000 covers and 419,000 booklets were printed by early January 1967; with the aforementioned track list displayed on the back cover, along with a photographed depiction of the group minus Brian surrounded by astrological symbols.[119][120]


I also recall [a conversation] with Brian and Dennis about the Beach Boys never having written surf music or songs about cars; that the Beach Boys had never been involved in any way with the surf and drag fads...they would not concede.

Derek Taylor[106]

Sometime after Pet Sounds was released, the Beatles' press agent Derek Taylor started working as a publicist for the group, gradually becoming aware of Brian's reputation as a "genius" among musician friends.[121] Taylor was confused, wondering to himself: "'If that's so, why doesn't anyone outside think so?'"[121] In response, Taylor devised a campaign that would reestablish the band's outdated surfing image, and thus promoted Brian as an exceptional "genius" among pop artists, something which Taylor personally believed himself.[121] As a result, the Beach Boys were profiled extensively during the Smile era. Band members Al Jardine,[122] Mike Love,[123][124] and Bruce Johnston[125] all spoke positively of the album's recording sessions in contemporary music journals, with Dennis Wilson famously confessing to a reporter: "In my opinion it makes Pet Sounds stink—that's how good it is!".[126][127]

In November 1966, Brian Wilson was filmed performing a solo version of "Surf's Up" on grand piano for a CBS News special on popular music: Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution.[128] Although he was filmed in late 1966, the special was not aired until several months later. The month after filming for CBS, the KRLA Beat magazine published a surreal vegetable-themed psychedelic piece written by Wilson. The story described the experiences of "Brian Gemini" as he encountered various characters lurking within the "Vegetable Forest", a few of which were based upon real-life acquaintances Anderle, Vosse, and Hal Blaine.[129]

In December 1966, Hit Parader wrote: "The Beach Boys' album Smile and single "Heroes And Villains" will make them the greatest group in the world. We predict they'll take over where The Beatles left off."[118] Some time that month, Brian informed Capitol that Smile would not be ready by January 1, 1967, but he advised that he would deliver it prior to January 15.[109] Capitol continued sending promotional materials to record distributors and dealers, and ads were placed in Billboard[130] and teenage magazines[131] including Teen Set.[132] Within these ads, the album had been compared as an artistic achievement to the films Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, both directed by film auteur Orson Welles. Capitol also circulated a promotional ad for employees at its label, using "Good Vibrations" as the backdrop against a voice-over reciting the album's promotional tagline:

With a happy album cover, the really happy sounds inside, and a happy in-store display piece, you can't miss! We're sure to sell a million units... in January![132]

Project collapse

Once Brian missed the January 1967 deadline, he rigorously continued work mostly on "Heroes and Villains" and "Vega-Tables" as potential singles.[133] Throughout the first half of 1967, the album's release date was repeatedly postponed as Brian tinkered with the recordings, experimenting with different takes and mixes, unable or unwilling to supply a completed version of the album.[131] Desperate for a new product from the group, EMI released "Then I Kissed Her" as a single without the band's approval.[134]

On April 14, 1967,[135][136] after gradually distancing himself from Wilson and the group, Van Dyke Parks left the project in the wake of signing a record deal with Warner Bros. Records so he could work on his debut album Song Cycle.[137] As a result of Parks having quit, Brian lost sight of the album's direction.[137] He went back and forth considering many different ways to execute Smile, fluctuating between ideas such as a sound effects collage, a comedy album, and a "health food" album.[25] Eventually, the number of possible variations for song edits became too overwhelming for him.[49] After undergoing several months of internal conflict, Derek Taylor announced to the British press on May 6, 1967 that the Smile tapes had been destroyed and would not see release.[138] Later that month, Taylor terminated his employment with the group in order to focus his attention on organizing the Monterey Pop Festival, an event the Beach Boys declined to headline at the last minute. This cancellation came to be seen as an admission of the band's failure to integrate with the burgeoning 1960s counterculture, resulting in a cataclysmic blow to their reputation.[139]

I told the company, "No, I don't want this to be released; I want this to go on the shelf." We didn't tell them for how long. We told them "For a while."

—Brian Wilson, 2011[49]

In the documentary An American Band, Wilson expressed: "Time can be spent in the studio to the point where you get so next to it, you don’t know where you are with it, you decide to just chuck it for a while."[140] Brian gradually retreated from the public eye and over the ensuing years became disabled by his mental health problems to fluctuating degrees.[131] The Smile period is often reported as the pivotal episode in his decline, causing him to become tagged as one of the most notorious celebrity drug casualties of the rock era.[141][131][not in citation given]

History of availability

Smiley Smile

The Beach Boys still needed to complete an LP record to fulfill their obligations to Capitol Records, so an album replacement was recorded throughout June and July 1967. As Wilson retreated to his recently acquired Bel Air mansion, it became the venue for the recording of much of the Beach Boys' next album, Smiley Smile.[142] Released that September, the album included newly stripped-down recordings of several Smile tracks. It was received with confusion by critics and was the group's lowest-selling album to date in the US, making only number 41 on the Billboard 200, although it fared considerably better in Britain, where it reached number nine on the album chart.[143] The album was later described by Carl Wilson as "a bunt instead of a grand slam".[144]


Carl Wilson (pictured in 1970) frequently revisited the Smile tapes for their possible release

In mid-June 1967, before the release of Smiley Smile, Capitol A&R director Karl Engemann began circulating a memo which discussed conversations between him and Wilson of a 10-track Smile album. It would have followed up the release of Smiley Smile, and would not have included the selections "Heroes and Villains" nor "Vegetables".[145][146] During promotion for the June 24 release of the "Heroes and Villains" single, Bruce Johnston told NME that the Smile album was expected for release within two months.[147][page needed] By July, the group's dispute with Capitol was resolved; it was then agreed that Smile would not be the band's next album.[85][page needed] Carl would soon frequently revisit the session tapes, taking into mind the possibility of salvaging them for future release.[102] This amounted to a portion of "Workshop" being recycled for the closing of the 1969 single "Do It Again", in addition to him and Dennis completing the tracks "Our Prayer" and "Cabin Essence" for the Beach Boys' album 20/20.[citation needed][nb 23]

A contract signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1970 following the group's departure from Capitol included a clause that stipulated a finished Smile to be delivered by May 1, 1973. Later in 1970, Brian spoke in a radio interview with Jack Rieley—who was then a DJ that Brian had recently met at his health food store called The Radiant Radish—about the track "Surf's Up", saying "It's just that it's too long. Instead of putting it on a record, I would rather just leave it as a song. It rambles. It's too long to make it for me as a record, unless it were an album cut, which I guess it would have to be anyway. It's so far from a singles sound. It could never be a single."[148] Rieley then became the group's manager and adviser. With permission from Brian, between mid June and early July 1971, Rieley and Carl retrieved most of the original Smile multi-tracks for careful examination. The primary reason for this trawl was to locate the masters for "Surf's Up", which was decided for inclusion on the Beach Boys forthcoming album of the same name. As progress continued, Brian gradually withdrew from the song's assembly, presumably due to the negative memories associated with the Smile sessions. Yet, the Surf's Up album was completed and released in August 1971 with its title track serving as the album's closer.[149] Besides its title track, Surf's Up bears no connection to Smile neither thematically nor musically, and no other tapes from the latter's sessions were used. Sometime after, Brian and American Spring contributed guest vocals for a cover of "Vegetables" by Jan and Dean.[147][page needed]

The Beach Boys (pictured left to right: Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Mike Love) performing without Brian in 1971

Early in 1972, the Beach Boys announced that they would be finishing Smile to follow up on the critical and commercial success of Surf's Up. By the end of the year, the idea was either abandoned or forgotten, with Brian refusing to participate in any further Smile-related reworkings, leading the group to pay a $50,000 fine.[93][102] When asked about Smile in a 1973 interview at his home, Brian told Melody Maker that there wasn't enough material to put together the album, and that it would never be released. Suddenly on a whim, he then performed the beginning of "Heroes and Villains" on piano while "switching into an unfamiliar lyric and tune" which was explained by Brian to be the song's full original version. Wife Marilyn was astonished when told of the event, as Brian hadn't performed "Heroes and Villains" for anybody in years.[150] Asked again three years later, Brian said that he still felt an obligation to put out the album, and that it would be released "probably in a couple years."[151] Later in the 1970s, Bruce Johnston said that an assembled release of Smile would be a "bad idea" commercially. He expounded that its release could only satisfy a highly-niche audience, deeming the material too inaccessible for mainstream record-buyers, and explained, "Sometimes, you're kind of let down. Say you discover the tapes and you say, 'Oh yeah?' It's been talked about so much…It would live up to your expectations [only] if you were Zubin Mehta analyzing a young composer's work."[152]

In 1981, Johnston announced that there were plans to issue a brief six-minute compilation of the album's recording sessions without Brian's knowledge. He reasoned, "It's better to do it that way, because musically now, as opposed to '66 or '78, it would be more interesting to just give you a peek at it than to do the whole thing. There's been too much press on it. It's like talking about bringing out the '67 Rolls Royce and they finally show it in '81. You go, 'Oh, no.'"[153] Sometime in 1988, Wilson confirmed that Smile was being compiled and mixed for an imminent release,[92] but that it "got sidetracked with business" and worried whether the album would sell due to it being mostly background tracks; he also considered asking the Beach Boys to overdub the remaining vocal tracks.[154]

Bootlegs and official releases

By the beginning of the 1990s, Smile had earned its place as the most famous unreleased pop album, and was a focal point for bootleg recording makers and collectors.[3] Throughout the 1980s, cassette bootlegs of the album's sessions were being passed around various musician circles.[103][155] These recordings made it clear that Smile had been much closer to completion than had previously been thought,[131] and this prompted much excitement by fans over what additional songs might exist, and debate about how the songs fit into the Smile running order.[citation needed]

Smile has given rise to a community of fans, thriving on the internet, who make, exchange and disseminate Smile in countless versions. Smile was to dematerialize only to instantaneously rematerialize with new signification as bootleg, as MP3, as rumor and as myth.

—Jeremy Glogan[156][page needed]

Unofficial reconstructions of the album were often attempted by fans in order to give the recordings a cohesive listening structure, thus "completing" the album.[157] For decades, fan-created playlists were the only way for the public to listen to an approximation of Smile as it would have been heard performed by the Beach Boys.[20][nb 24] The idea of personalized Smile tape mixes could be credited to Domenic Priore, whom within his 1988 book Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! encouraged readers with blank home-made cassette tapes to compile their own Smile album.[36] Parks himself has since attributed Smile to be a "pioneering event" for interactive record design.[159][160]

With the emerging popularity of the Internet in the mid-1990s, the bootlegged Smile recordings became more widely available through a series of websites and "tape trees". A few websites offered full downloads of the tracks, and fan edits and arrangements started to appear. Beginning in 1997, the bootleg label Sea of Tunes (named after the Beach Boys' original publishing company) began releasing a series of CDs featuring high quality outtakes, session tracks and alternate recordings that ranged across the group's entire career. Among these was a three-CD set featuring over three hours of sessions for "Good Vibrations", and several multi-CD sets containing a significant number of the tracking, overdubbing and mixing sessions for Smile.[161] Those involved with releasing these bootlegs were later apprehended by authorities, and it was reported that nearly 10,000 discs were seized.[162]

In 1993, the five-CD box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys was released containing almost 30 minutes of archival Smile material.[nb 25] It also contained the first official release of a reconstructed Smile album, with its sequencing ordered by David Leaf, Andy Paley, and Mark Linett.[163] There was hope that the 1997 box set The Pet Sounds Sessions would be followed up with a dedicated Smile release, but it failed to materialize, with one reason being the arduous compiling and sequencing.[164] In 1995, a three-CD box set entitled The Smile Era was reported for release in the fall which evidently never happened.[165] Don Was reported: "We showed Brian an interactive CD-ROM of Todd Rundgren's and told him that this is how he should release Smile. He could load up an interactive CD with seven hours of stuff from those sessions and just tell the people who buy it, 'You finish it.' Brian's into it; now it's up to the record company."[166]

Brian Wilson Presents Smile
Wilson and his band performing Smile in 2005

Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks revisited Smile with Brian's touring musicians in 2004, 37 years after its conception. First, in a series of concerts (debuting at London's Royal Festival Hall on February 20, 2004), then as the solo album Brian Wilson Presents Smile, released in September 2004.[20] The album debuted at number 13 on the Billboard 200 chart, and later earned three Grammy nominations, winning Brian Wilson his first solo Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance ("Mrs. O'Leary's Cow").

The Smile Sessions

On October 31, 2011, a compilation of the Smile recordings was released under the title The Smile Sessions.[167] The recording features a disc that presents a listening experience mimicking the template of Brian Wilson Presents Smile. This compilation was released to mass acclaim and won the Best Historical Album award at the 55th Grammy Awards.[15]

Retrospection and legacy

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[168]
Stylus Magazine (A+)[169]

Brian Torff, referring to Smile's advanced structures, noted: "Here was a guy who could craft something that was almost symphonic. … Not many people had that craft in pop music at that time. … [He was] really expanding the boundaries of what rock and pop music could be."[77] In 2011, Uncut voted Smile the number one "greatest bootleg recording of all time".[170] The album is often compared by critics to works by other artists that have either remained unreleased or unfinished due to various circumstances. Similarly-fated albums include Charles Mingus' Epitaph,[117] Brian Eno's My Squelchy Life,[171] Mark Wirtz's A Teenage Opera,[172] and The Who's Lifehouse project.[173][174]

So will the [album's] release ... finally earn Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys the same pride of place in American music history held by other great innovators? ... Sadly, probably not. But this has more to do with the vagaries of reception history than with actual history.

—Frank Oteri, 2011[117]

Devoted to "new American music that is outside the commercial mainstream," online publication NewMusicBox took exception with Smile, with it being "an album recorded more than 45 years ago by one of the biggest (and most financially lucrative) musical acts of all time."[117] It explained that: "Wilson’s experiments in 1966 and 1967 seem normative of the kinds of things most interesting musicians in any genre were up to at that point and even tamer than some of them. The blurring of boundaries between musical genres was pretty much commonplace at that time, as was the attitude, however real or imagined, that just about any musical undertaking was somehow an expansion beyond anything that had come before it," and that "the same pride of place in American music history held by other great innovators" such as Charles Ives, George Gershwin, John Cage, John Coltrane, and James Brown, would "probably" never include Smile, as it explains: "For many people, the Beach Boys will always be perceived as a light-hearted party band that drooled over 'California Girls' while on a 'Surfing Safari'."[117]

Tom Nolan wrote that Smile was "a step, not 'better than Sgt. Pepper'", and that "it was just so new. even in its raw form. It didn't even need lyrics."[25] Williams felt necessary to point out, "You should not feel dumb if you don't enjoy it. It's not a work of genius. It's a passionate experiment that both succeeds and fails. As a failure, it's famous. Its success, now that we all can hear it, is likely to be much more modest."[46]


Smile and conceptual art both emerged from the same Era. Each signaled a radical from what had preceded in popular music and art respectively, and each heralded a shift away from "the art object", whether LP record or formal art object, as a definitive self-referential statement.

—Jeremy Glogan[156][page needed]

Toop argues that attempts to complete Smile are "misguided", naming Smile a "labyrinth" which exists "in a memory house into which Wilson invited all those who could externalize its elements" notwithstanding the user's familiarity with the album's fragments. He then proposes the inquiry: "Can a song say it all, depth breadth and flow, break its banks in flood yet still be a song?"[175] Freaky Trigger shared the same view, writing: "There is no ‘correct’ track sequence, there is no completed album, because Smile isn’t a linear progression of tracks. As a collection of modular melodic ideas it is by nature organic and resists being bookended."[176] David Anderle believed "there never was a Smile" while Marshall Heiser says "Possibly the best term offered yet to describe the project is: 'sonic menagerie'".[43]

The Beach Boys' views

The reunited Beach Boys in 2012, performing "Heroes and Villains" during their 50th anniversary tour

For many years after its shelving, Brian Wilson was terrified of Smile; repeatedly denouncing the album while associating its music with all of his failures.[20] At various points, he considered the recordings "contrived with no soul,"[177] being imitations of Phil Spector without "getting anywhere near him,"[139] and "corny drug influenced music."[178] Over the years, he gradually became more comfortable discussing the work, calling it "too advanced" to have been released in 1967. Biographer Peter Ames Carlin disputes this, saying that Wilson invented this story as a generic line to feed journalists in 2004, and that "[being] ahead of his time is exactly what they were looking for."[49] In 1993, Mike Love believed that Smile "would have been a great record," but in its unfinished state is "nothing, it's just fragments."[179] In 2013, Jardine felt "There's performances we probably should have finished. I can't tell you exactly what they are, but that's the way I feel."[80] In the early 1990s, Carl said that he loved the Smile lyrics.[98]

Love has asserted that whatever misgivings he had toward Smile laid specifically toward some of the lyrics and not the music.[180][181] His statements were corroborated by Carl in the 1990s.[98] In 2013, Al Jardine spoke regarding Love: "He's a big Chuck Berry fan and he loves those kind of lyrics. … Mike was always trying to pinpoint Van Dyke saying, 'What does that mean?' And he would go, 'I don't know, I was high' (laughs). Mike would go, 'That's disgusting, that doesn't make any sense.'"[141]

Influence on music

The potential of what Smile would have been was the primary thing that inspired us (Elephant 6). When we started hearing Smile bootlegs, it was mind-blowing. It was what we had hoped it would be, but a lot of those songs weren't finished, so there was still this mystery of not hearing the melodies and lyrics. We wondered, "What are these songs and how do they fit together? Is this a verse?"

Robert Schneider[85][page needed]

Smile became the progenitor for indie rock.[117] and its saga became a touchstone for the more art-inclined branches of post-punk.[182] Various artists have cited Smile and its themes as a major influence. Kevin Shields of the Irish shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine has said that the 2013 album MBV was inspired by Smile, expounding "The idea was to bring a lot of parts together, riffs or chord changes without making a song out of it. … I wanted to see what would happen if I worked in a more impressionistic way, so that it only comes together at the end."[183] Composers for the 1994 Super NES role-playing video game EarthBound cited Smile and related work as major influences on the game's soundtrack.[184] The Elephant 6 Recording Company, a collective of independent artists which include Apples in Stereo, the Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beulah, Elf Power, and Of Montreal, was founded through a mutual admiration of 1960s pop music, with Smile being "their Holy Grail".[85][page needed] According to Kevin Barnes, of Montreal's album Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse (2001) was partially based on Smile.[185]

The album Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One (1999) by the Olivia Tremor Control has been compared to Smile for its dichotomous vocal harmony pop and avant-garde tape manipulation.[162][186] Domenic Priore believes that Smile influence is evident on the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin (1999), Mercury Rev's All Is Dream (2001), the Apples in Stereo's Her Wallpaper Reverie (1999), Heavy Blinkers' 2000 eponymous LP, the Thrills' So Much for the City (2000), and XTC's Oranges & Lemons (1989).[187] He also reported that Lindsey Buckingham accessed Smile master tapes for research purposes during the making of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk (1979), and that the tracks "That's All For Everyone" and "Beautiful Child" most strongly exemplify the results.[188]

Independent musicians and groups such as Ant-Bee, Melt-Banana, Jim O'Rourke, Adventures in Stereo, Rufus Wainwright, and Secret Chiefs 3 have all recorded cover versions of Smile tracks. Smiling Pets (1998) is a tribute album which largely focuses on various artists' interpretations of Smile-era recordings by the Beach Boys.[162][189] In 1995, the Wondermints performed a live cover of "Surf's Up" at the Morgan-Wixon Theater in Los Angeles with Brian in the audience, who was then quoted saying "If I'd had these guys back in '66, I could've taken Smile on the road."[190]

Other artists

Elvis Costello described a Smile piano demo of "Surf's Up" as akin to an original recording of Mozart in performance, and added "It's such an amazing tune. The words are very much of the time, they sound beautiful when they're sung—and quite of lot of that is true with the rest of the songs that come from this period, where obviously there was a stress and strain in realizing the music."[191] Power pop musician Matthew Sweet felt: "Van Dyke's lyrics are so cool and Brian did right by them. He and Brian are trying to capture an impressionistic thing. That time is so experimental, and looking at it now, it's easy to see why it could be overlooked — because people just don't instantly understand really abstract stuff. It takes time to have a conversation about it before we realize what an amazing thing they did."[85][page needed] Referring to a Smile track where "a whole bunch of tubas [are] having a conversation with trumpets," Questlove of neo soul band the Roots said "[Brian Wilson]'s a modern-day Stravinsky … The way he constructs his music, he's a madman. … He was doing stuff [40 years ago] that modern people do now, looping his work and stuff."[192]

Black Flag vocalist Henry Rollins has written enormous praise to Smile, calling the album "one of the best things you are likely to hear in all of your life. There are moments on Smile that are so astonishingly good you might find yourself just staring at your speakers in unguarded wonder, as I have."[193] Don Was of Was (Not Was) has said, "In the fall of 1989, I was working with a band who turned me on to the bootlegged recordings of Brian Wilson's legendary, aborted Smile sessions. Like a musical burning bush, these tapes awakened me to a higher consciousness in record making. I was amazed that one, single human could dream up this unprecedented and radically advanced approach to rock 'n roll."[155] Speaking about Smile, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins has said, "I really hear America. I really feel that he was trying to sum up America. He was literally trying to bring Mark Twain into rock and roll, and he almost got there."[194]

In popular culture

Both albums Making God Smile: An Artists' Tribute to the Songs of Beach Boy Brian Wilson (2002) and Smiles, Vibes & Harmony: A Tribute to Brian Wilson (1990) features cover artwork reworked from the original Smile album artwork. The cover artwork for power pop band Velvet Crush's Teenage Symphonies to God (1994) was based on Frank Holmes' artwork for Smile.[187] Dutch avant-garde group Palnickx paid homage to Smile on their 1996 rock-themed concept album The Psychedelic Years; the tracks "Phase Ten/Thirteen (Brian Wilson)" and "Phase Twelve (Fire/Rebuilding After the Fire)" feature multiple references to the project's themes, tracks, and legends.[195] Weird Al Yankovic recorded a song on his 2006 album Straight Outta Lynwood modeled after Smile's aesthetic, entitled "Pancreas". Brian Wilson himself would later revisit Smile's themes and cut-up structure within his eponymous debut solo album Brian Wilson (1988), which features the eight-minute-long psychedelic western saga "Rio Grande".[196]

Scenes from the films Grace of My Heart and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story both feature homages to Smile. The latter contains the song "Black Sheep", a parody of Brian Wilson's music style composed by Van Dyke Parks. The album's sessions were dramatized in the made-for-television biopics Summer Dreams: The Story of the Beach Boys and The Beach Boys: An American Family. Portions of the Smile sessions will evidently also be dramatized in the upcoming Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, featuring Paul Dano as Brian Wilson and Max Schneider as Van Dyke Parks. The 1993 fiction novel Glimpses by Lewis Shiner contains a chapter in which the protagonist travels back in time to November 1966 and helps Wilson complete Smile.[162] References to Smile, its bootlegs, and the Beach Boys are made in the 2006 novel Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta.[197]

Historical speculation

Wilson was quoted saying that if Smile had been released, "Sgt. Pepper would have kicked our ass",[198] though several critics believe Smile challenges the legacy of the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper.[83][199][20][200][201]

It is widely believed that the release of Smile would have reformed the public perception of the Beach Boys.[143] Pitchfork Media has described the album as a "rite of passage for students of pop music history," and adds "If you're wired a certain way, once you learn the Smile story, you long to hear the album that never was. It looms out there in imagination, an album that lends itself to storytelling and legend, like the aural equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. … So you might start hunting down bootlegs, poring over the fragments, and finding competing edits and track sequences, which only feeds your desire to know what the 'real' Smile could have been."[3] They also believed that the album could have dramatically veered the course of popular music history and speculated: "Perhaps we wouldn't be so monotheistic in our pop leanings, worshiping only at the Beatles' altar the way some do today."[199] For a special Smile edition of the 33 1/3 book series, Luis Sanchez writes:

If the counterculture had suddenly made it possible for a generation of Americans to define themselves against their cultural inheritance, Brian and Parks weren't convinced. Their work spoke of an urge to explore their native culture not as outsiders, but to identify with it emphatically and see where it led them. If Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were going to survive as the defining force of American pop music they were, Smile was a conscious attempt to rediscover the impulses and ideas that power American consciousness from the inside out. It was a collaboration that led to some incredible music, which, if it had been completed as an album and delivered to the public in 1966, might have had an incredible impact.

Considering the material that does survive, on its own terms, we can try to understand why Smile remains vital, and why it still matters as music. ... The music appeals not through any kind of detached countercultural outlook, but by taking the best aspects of The Beach Boys' music–scope of studio production, vocal harmonies, a sense of possibility–and shifting in a way that makes them sound total, consummate, as if this music is the music Brian was meant to make. There is nothing phony or fawning about any of it.[202]

David Zahl of Mockingbird refers to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as the album's "obvious reference point".[84] Paste Magazine suggested that Smile would have had a greater impact than Sgt. Pepper, explaining: "There have been countless rock opera, art rock and prog rock projects, but most have merely dressed up mediocre rock 'n’ roll in the gowns of grandiosity. But Wilson used the moving parts and shifting textures of art music not to show off but to reflect adulthood's mixed emotions. He used the through-line of classical composition not to replace pop's intimacy but to reinforce it, linking one personal moment to the next."[20] Arizona publication AZ Central wrote in 2011: "If Smile had arrived in 1967, it would have placed the Beach Boys on the front lines of pop's psychedelic revolution, out there with the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Doors' first album and the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? It doesn't sound like any of those albums, but it clearly shares their spirit of adventure in a way that would have been unthinkable just two years earlier."[49] In 1999, Freaky Trigger wrote that the album was not "the best album ever," but that it is "astoundingly original" for being antithetical to contemporary rock music, and that the nature of its "twilight existence challenges the legitimacy of that legend of rock which puts Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at its summit." It concludes that:

Smile is so attractive is because it's the tangible evidence of an alternative rock history which turned out differently ... None of which would matter a damn if the record was boring. It isn't ... The very idea of basing an album around laughter and good health seems cracked, naive and baffling, but that's what Smile allegedly is: a humour record. And given that every year the angst, contrariness and cynicism of rock’n’roll culture gets more tedious, more oppressive, maybe even more dangerous, the more people exposed to Wilson’s damaged but beautiful humanism the better.[200]

Notes and references

  1. Of these, they were "Surf's Up", "Heroes and Villains", "Wonderful", "Cabin Essence" and "Wind Chimes".[29] Wilson removed the sandbox installation once he realized his pets were using it as a litter box.[30]
  2. Wilson honed his atypical production methods over several years. In the 1960s, it was common for pop music to be recorded in a single take, but the Beach Boys' approach differed.[53] Using multitrack technology, elements such as backing vocals and guitar solos were often recorded independently and would later be combined to the basic track. From 1964 onward Wilson also began to physically cut tape to craft his recordings, allowing hard-to-sing vocal sections to be recorded, cut and attached with sticky tape to the start or endings of songs. By the time of the Summer Days album in 1965, Wilson was becoming more adventurous in his use of tape splicing. An example is the a cappella track "And Your Dream Comes True", which was recorded in sections and then carefully edited together to create the final song.[54]
  3. When compiling The Smile Sessions, Boyd made use of film editing software Final Cut Pro. In an MOJO interview with Harvey Kubernik, Linett recounts that someone once said, "Brian was trying to do digital editing 20 or 30 years before it was invented."[57]
  4. Among these include "Brian Falls into a Piano", "Brian Falls into a Microphone", "Moaning Laughing", and "Underwater Chant".
  5. The only fruitful product of these sessions turned out to be "Workshop", which was a recording of various power tools later recycled for the Beach Boys' 1968 single "Do It Again". Among those participating in these recordings directed by Brian included his wife Marilyn, sister-in-law Diane Rovell, Van Dyke Parks, Jules Siegel, Danny Hutton, David Anderle, photographer Bob Gordon, and friend Michael Vosse.[58]
  6. One particular segment, "George Fell into His French Horn", was where Brian instructed session musicians to speak to each other while blowing into their French horn mouth pieces.[47]
  7. When asked whether Wilson enjoyed the then-recent use of the sitar in pop music, Wilson responded, "Yeah. I think it's interesting, and if I feel I can make a record that uses an instrument such as a sitar, then I'll do it."[51]
  8. Jules Siegel stated the "vegetative" elements their marijuana use brought on inspired Wilson to write "Vega-Tables".[89] Despite this, Parks has denied that lyrics for Smile promoted or were based upon drug use.[90]
  9. After being asked in a 1988 interview about whether his music is or was religiously influenced, Wilson referred to the 1962-published A Toehold on Zen, and said that he believed that he possessed what is called a "toehold," defined metaphorically as "any small step which allows one to move toward a greater goal." He elaborated, "I learned from that book and from people who had a toehold on... say somebody had a grasp on life, a good grasp—they ought to be able to transfer that over to another thing."[92]
  10. Although Wilson often claimed during the 1960s that he was attempting to create a new "white spiritual sound" and move into religious music,[95] in 2004 he denied that Smile was religiously influenced.[12] Parks has commented that his associations with the spiritual aspect of Wilson's work were "inescapable", but disliked writing lyrics which dealt with religious belief, believing it gives the appearance of "trying to be uppity".[96]
  11. One example is "Vega-Tables", which includes the lines "I'm gonna do well, my vegetables, cart off and sell my vegetables"; the phrase "cart off and" is a bilingual pun on the word kartoffeln, which is German for potatoes.[citation needed]
  12. "Fire" (also known as "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow") is the only surviving recording that is certain to have been part of any identifiable movement on the original Smile album, while "Vega-Tables' was considered to fulfill the "Earth" portion of the movement. For Brian Wilson Presents Smile, the other missing components were filled in "Wind Chimes" (Air) and "Love to Say Dada", which lost its birth/rebirth origins and was instead repurposed as "In Blue Hawaii" (Water).[101]
  13. Smile was presented as three complete movements for Brian Wilson Presents Smile and The Smile Sessions: Americana, Cycle of Life, and The Elements.[44]
  14. Domenic Priore speculates: "When Brian put together a song listing for Capitol so that they could commission artwork for the back of the Smile album in 1966, 'Vega-Tables' and 'Wind Chimes' were listed as separate tracks from 'The Elements'. This has also led to some confusion, but is rectified by the Frank Holmes artwork entitled 'My Vega-Tables', which is listed by his drawing as part of 'The Elements'. Had Smile been released in 1966, perhaps we would have seen a track listing on the record itself, featuring ‘The Elements’ — a numeric listing — ahead of its various section titles, listed alphabetically."[110]
  15. Written inside scribbled brackets, suggesting that the track had been in a state of flux.
  16. This includes "Do You Like Worms?", "I'm in Great Shape", "Vega-Tables", "Love to Say Dada", "He Gives Speeches", "Cabin Essence", and "My Only Sunshine". The complexity of Wilson's production at this time can be gauged by the sheer bulk of session material that has survived—more than 60 tracks in the five-CD The Smile Sessions boxed set are session recordings for "Heroes and Villains".[74][better source needed]
  17. Domenic Priore reported in 2011: "I don’t always subscribe to things Brian Wilson may say now because, a lot of the time, I think Brian is kind of reading ad copy, in a way, when you talk to him. But when the Smile compilation was done in 2004, Brian actually revealed to Darian that 'Surf's Up' was part of 'Wonderful' and 'Child Is Father to the Man.' But memory can be a weird and unexpectedly moving part."[112]
  18. "Holidays" was re-recorded with vocals for Brian Wilson Presents Smile as "On A Holiday" in 2004.
  19. It was later released as the B-side to the 1967 "Heroes and Villains" single.
  20. Of these, instrumental tracks labelled "I Don't Know" (by Dennis Wilson) and "Tones" (also known as "Tune X"; by Carl Wilson) have survived.[58]
  21. It was marked as "My Only Sunshine" on tape boxes.
  22. Domenic Priore noted: "One odd thing about the release of Brian Wilson Presents Smile in 2004 was a change in the original sequencing of pieces. ... Brian had informed studio bass player Carol Kaye that 'I Wanna Be Around' and 'Workshop' had been put together as a 'rebuilding after the fire' – a coda. In 1988, Wilson also mentioned to Andy Paley that the musical reference of Johnny Mercer's song 'I Wanna Be Around' was specifically used to invoke the lyrical phrase 'I wanna be around to pick up the pieces of our broken love affair' – that is to say, picking up the pieces after the fire. In two places, and in two different eras, Brian had laid down clues to collaborators that the 'I Wanna Be Around'/’Workshop' combination was a cool-out and reconstruction after 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow'."[63]
  23. Elsewhere a portion of "Vega-Tables" was rerecorded for Wild Honey as "Mama Says", while a section written for "Child Is Father of the Man" appears in "Little Bird" for Friends.[citation needed]
  24. One of the most popular of which, Purple Chick presents: The Beach Boys Smile, was an online mix tape assembled shortly after Wilson began performing the Smile material in 2004. The mix combined bootlegged 1960s Smile sessions with recordings from Wilson's finished 2004 solo album.[158]
  25. Never-before-released tracks included "Do You Like Worms?", "I Love To Say Da Da"; the Smile versions of "Wonderful", "Wind Chimes", "Vegetables"; session highlights of "Surf's Up", "Cabinessence"; and some erroneously titled "Heroes and Villains" outtakes.
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