I *will*, as promised, have some non-Smile material up here later today, but I realised I’d never posted a considered view of The Smile Sessions, just my linkblog.
For disc one, which is what most casual listeners will care about, Mark Linett and Alan Boyd had to reconcile two irreconcilable objectives. Firstly, they had to make an album that was listenable to the people who would be buying just the one- or two-disc sets and expecting a great Beach Boys album. Second, they had to follow the template laid down by Brian Wilson Presents Smile, Brian Wilson’s 2004 re-recording.
This is problematic because Brian Wilson Presents Smile was much longer than an actual 1960s album would have been, and contained a lot of material that was never recorded in the 1960s. It had lead vocals on six songs – a third of the album – that never had vocals recorded in any form when Smile was originally recorded. It also had newly-composed linking material to segue between the more fragmentary tracks.
My own choice would have been to make a much tighter, ten or twelve-track, album for disc one, and not follow Wilson’s sequence at all. I’d probably have chosen a tracklist something like:
Heroes & Villains
The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine
Child Is Father Of The Man
Love To Say DaDa
Everything else I would have made a bonus track – still available, still on the CD, but not part of the sequenced listening experience for the casual fan.
But I can see why they chose this route – the 2004 line-up is the closest thing to an actual finished Smile there can ever be, and was signed off on by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. Especially given Parks’ understandable refusal to be involved in this box set, that’s as good as you’re going to get.
And given those two conflicting choices, Linett and Boyd have done a remarkable job. By flying in bits of vocals from demos, or in some cases from other songs (the ‘child’ vocals added to Look from Child Is Father Of The Man and the vocals from the Smiley Smile version of Wind Chimes and Fall Breaks And Back To Winter), they have made these pieces sound far more finished than they ever have before.
It will still, frankly, be a bit of a slog for the typical non-fan listener to get through the third movement – always the weakest and least coherent, and far scrappier than the first two – but they’ve done a remarkably good job.
As for the music itself… Smile has five songs (Good Vibrations, Heroes & Villains, Cabinessence, Wonderful and Surf’s Up) which are the equal of any music ever made. It’s not hyperbole to place them with the best of Bach, or Stravinsky, or the Beatles or Duke Ellington. There are a couple of utterly lovely little mini-tracks too – You Are My Sunshine and Our Prayer – and Fire, which is not *quite* up to the level of those five, but is still a stunningly impressive piece of music.
The rest of the album can be split roughly into silly fun songs like Vegetables and Holidays and backing tracks that hint at greatness but are clearly unfinished (Do You Like Worms, Child Is Father Of The Man).
Possibly the best way to explain this is to compare it to the Beatles’ Abbey Road – a similar combination of repeated themes and motifs, big experimental pieces, and small silly fragments. Imagine if side one of Abbey Road was pretty much complete except for the vocals on I Want You, but the long medley on side two had never been completed, and had been reconstructed with Lennon’s demos for his songs, an instrumental version of Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End, and the live version of You Never Give Me Your Money where McCartney pretends to forget the words – and none of George Martin’s orchestrations had been recorded.
If you stack this semi-completed Smile up against something like that, it emerges far and away the better listening experience, and its high points, with the pristine Beach Boys voices of 1966 and 1967, are as beautiful as anything I’ve ever heard, but it’s not a finished album and really can’t be reviewed as such.
The sessions recordings that make up the rest of the box set are invaluable for anyone who is interested in the way music is made. Hearing Wilson guide the musicians and singers through take after take, subtly altering the music each time, and hearing the isolated parts, is a wonderful education. The bulk of that material had been available before on bootlegs, but never in sound quality anything like as good as this. Linett and Boyd have also done a great job of editing out the longeurs while still preserving the essence of the sessions – nobody really needs ten minutes of tuning, but it can be instructive to hear Wilson explain to Jim Gordon or Hal Blaine how to change their snare drum pattern. We get the latter, but not the former.
On sound quality – there have been some complaints on various message boards about some fairly minor problems with the sound (an increase in hiss on the choruses on Cabinessence, a click in Heroes & Villains, an electronic whine in Love To Say DaDa). I don’t want to dismiss these problems – they could affect some people’s listening experience – but most of them are *incredibly* minor, and won’t be audible to people listening on normal equipment with normal ears. I still can’t hear some of them, even knowing what I’m listening for (though I don’t have wonderful hearing).
The ones I can hear, though, are all on the original recordings, not things that have been newly introduced for this release. 1960s recordings were far noisier, and far more likely to contain bad edits, tape hiss, and background noises than anything recorded in the last couple of decades. Given that Linett and Boyd were working with materials of hugely varying quality, ranging from at one end professionally-recorded multitracks in good condition, to at the other rough mixes that had been mixed down to acetate and then left in people’s garages for decades, the overall quality is nothing short of miraculous.
The packaging for the box set is extraordinary, too – a beautiful box, with a 3D die-cut version of Frank Holmes’ original artwork, a double vinyl album in a reproduction of the original sleeve from the 60s, a copy of the photo booklet that would have been included with the original album, a sixty-page hardback book with interviews with almost everyone involved (no interviews with Parks or the session musicians, but everyone else, down to Brian Wilson’s ex-sister-in-law) and a complete sessionography detailing who played on what and which bits were used for the finished tracks.
The very nature of this project makes it hard to rate – the full 5-CD, 2-album, 2-single box is not something anyone but the most obsessive fan or scholar will ever want. But anyone who *does* want something like this will *really* want it.
The single or double CD sets should probably get, on an objective rating, four out of five stars for a casual listener – it contains some of the best music ever made, but it’s necessarily fragmented. Brian Wilson’s 2004 reconstruction, by comparison, would get a clear five on that basis.
But for collectors, Beach Boys obsessives, and anyone interested in the making of music, the box set is a clear five-star, best-release-of-the-year slab of pure joy. It sets a new standard for what an archival release should be, just as the best music on it set a new standard for what pop music should be.
I’m writing this introductory material on the night of the thirtieth of October. If all goes well, I should be receiving my copy of The Smile Sessions tomorrow morning, the thirty-first. I’m going to hit ‘post’ on this introductory section at 8:30 AM, and then as soon as the box set arrives I’m going to start listening to it.
What order I listen depends on whether the new stylus for my record player arrives before or after the box, but my initial plan is to listen to the two singles, commenting after each side, then to the two vinyl albums, again commenting after each side, then listen to the CDs in order, reading the two books during the nineteen-song overlap between CD1 and the vinyl, commenting after each CD.
So right now, I’m going to talk a little about what we already know about this.
I’m already very familiar with a lot of the basic musical material here, through official releases, bootlegs and Brian Wilson’s solo reconstruction of the album (if anyone here still hasn’t heard that masterpiece, there’s a live performance here – the first half of the show isn’t especially worth your while, but the second half is the whole album performed note-perfect live). The interesting thing (apart from any totally new discovered stuff) about the completed album part of this will be the choices the producers have made.
Smile, you see, was not only never finished, it was recorded modularly – little sections, often no more than a few bars long, that were to be spliced together. That splicing was never done, and in some cases it’s unclear exactly which pieces belonged to which song, or what order they would have gone in.
Mark Linett and Alan Boyd, the producers of the box set, have chosen to more-or-less follow the tracklisting that Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks settled on when they completed the re-recorded version of Smile in 2004 (with the help of Darian Sahanaja and Paul Mertens).
In some ways, this is a worrying decision – many of the songs included on Brian Wilson Presents Smile were unfinished in the 60s, and had new lyrics and vocal parts added, which won’t be on the ‘finished album’ part of the new Smile release. This might well lead to people who’ve not heard this material before getting bored during what will seem on first listen to be longeurs. I’d have chosen a tighter ten- or twelve-track album, myself, and put the rest on as bonus tracks.
But on the other hand, it *is* how Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks chose to present the material when they completed it and re-recorded it. And it’s probably the ‘conservative’ decision, in that it doesn’t require Boyd or Linett to create their own running order, which would undoubtedly have every single Beach Boys fan in uproar. Deferring to the completed version is the sensible decision here.
It also makes me more curious how they’re going to sequence this – when Wilson, Parks and Sahanaja sequenced the 2004 version, they used newly-composed linking material by Paul Mertens, which highlighted repeated motifs in the music (for example his introduction to I’m In Great Shape, which repurposed the Cantina section from Heroes & Villains and showed it’s musical similarity to the song it was introducing). Without those, it will be *incredibly* difficult for them to make this work anything like as well as a listening experience.
However, I trust Boyd and Linett more than anyone else with this. Boyd produced the documentary and CD Endless Harmony, the CD version of which is the best Beach Boys rarities collection ever – so much so that it’s my standard recommendation for a first Beach Boys album – and he’s a fine musician himself, as well as being friendly with several of my friends. And Mark Linnet has worked with Wilson on all his studio and live recordings from the last twelve years (and his 1988 solo album), including the reworked Smile, and was also responsible for remastering all the Beach Boys’ music for CD, as well as co-producing the Good Vibrations box set (the definitive Beach Boys retrospective).
So these two are exactly the right people to do this. This is going to be as close to definitive as it’s possible to get, and while I’ll undoubtedly question some of their choices, I’m sure I’ll respect them all.
So now I’m off to bed. I’m going to hit post on this when I get up first thing in the morning, and then I’ll update after the first thing I listen to…
Update 1 It is now 11:38 AM. My box set was loaded onto a van in Rochdale at 9:33. It should be here any time now…
Update 11:49 The box set has arrived. My stylus hasn’t, yet, so it shall be CDs first.
Update 13:38 Wow.
First things first. This sounds extraordinary. None of this music, whether it’s been officially released or not, has ever sounded this clear.
Boyd and Linett have made the very wise decision not to go for historical authenticity, but to cobble together a Frankenstein creation from whatever’s at hand. For example, on the track Surf’s Up, they’ve used the original Smile backing track for the first half, taken Brian’s vocal from the piano demo and time-shifted it to make it fit the track, then added in Carl’s vocal from 1971 (and the backing vocals recorded at the same time) for the missing lines. It’s not ‘how it would have sounded’, but it’s the best possible job of making something listenable out of the materials at hand. Something like 95% of the music on the ‘finished album’ is from the Smile sessions, but the other 5% comes from Smiley Smile, 20/20 and Surf’s Up sessions. But that 5% *fits*
There are also constant little surprises – elements in the mix that I’ve never heard before. On the tag of You Were My Sunshine, for example, they edit in a piece of music we’ve always assumed was a Heroes & Villains session (I *think* the bit known as ‘False Barnyard’, but while I’ve always kept up enough with Smile scholarship to recognise all the music, I can’t remember all the labels that have been attached to different fragments) – but Mike Love is clearly singing fragments from You Were My Sunshine in the background!
These constant surprises – some on the original master tapes, others painstakingly created by Boyd and Linnet – make this music fresh again. I’m very familiar with the raw materials, but there are little snatches of never-bootlegged music, and decisions made in the mixing, that draw the attention back every time I start to think “Heard it before”.
One of the effects of this is to turn it from a Brian Wilson album into something that is definitely a *Beach Boys* album. There’s a lot more vocal on here than on the bootlegged versions – some flown in from other recordings, others just raised in the mix – but it’s gone from being a primarily-instrumental album to being one which sounds much more like the Beach Boys.
And it sounds *SO GOOD*. Mike Love’s vocals, in particular, are no longer buried – there’s a lot more bass in this mix than in any of the bootlegs. And my God that man could sing when he wanted to.
The third movement still has much less to offer than the first two, but having listened through the ‘finished album’, I can safely say that the only problems I have with it are very minor:
There’s a rough edit at the end of the tag of Vegetables, to stick on another section. It’s jarring and unpleasant and should have been left to fade with the tag.
Fire sounds somewhat toned down compared to some of the raw-sounding bootlegs.
And the additions to Good Vibrations, though tastefully done, seem almost blasphemous. They sound good, but Good Vibrations is the one part of Smile that was absolutely, undoubtedly, incontrovertibly *finished* at the time, and was a massive success. It should have been left as it was.
As for the bonus tracks – a lot of it’s stuff we’ve heard before, but the montage of backing vocals is still gorgeous. And the 1967 piano recording of Surf’s Up may be even better than the 1966 one. Beautiful, beautiful music.
As for other aspects, the packaging is beautiful. The book that comes with it is great, and I’m particularly glad that no punches are pulled when it comes to Mike Love – it’s made very clear that he had a problem with the lyrics and found them inappropriate, though he also says he enjoyed the music. I was also pleased to see a lot of my oldest friends thanked in the booklet, especially the thanks to the late Bob Hanes and Greg Larson, who would have loved this.
It’s incredibly disappointing, though, that Van Dyke Parks had no active participation in the booklet. Given that they managed to interview every other figure involved in any way – all the Beach Boys, Brian’s ex-wife, Brian’s ex-sister-in-law, Dean Torrence, Mark Volman, Uncle Tom Cobley And All – there should have been some way found of involving VDP. I have no idea who’s to blame for this omission, or what the politics behind it are, but *something* should have been done.
That’s taken me 32 minutes to write. I’m going to eat now, before starting on the other four discs…
Disc two there’s less to say about. Almost all sessions for Heroes & Villains and the various other tracks that started as part of that song (I’m In Great Shape, Barnyard etc), most of this material won’t be new to anyone who’s heard the various bootlegs. That said, this is in at least two generations better sound quality than I’ve heard before, and they’ve done a great job of showing the way this material evolved in the studio, and the utter professionalism of all concerned.
Disc three next.
Update 17:43 While the highlights of disc two were mostly vocal, here the highlights are instrumental – the backing track for the first half of Surf’s Up, the tag of Cabinessence, with all its bouzouki, mandolin and banjo lines weaving in and out of each other, the piano and harpsichord parts on Wonderful. Much of this stuff has been heard before of course, but never in such quality.
Another thing that you notice as you go through this material in one big session is that themes, obsessions seem to emerge. Like people being inside musical instruments or equipment – we all remember George Fell Into His French Horn, but we also have Brian in the piano, Brian in the microphone… it reminds me curiously of the people living in the piano in Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy from a year or so later than this.
Unlike the first disc, I wouldn’t recommend discs two or three to anyone who isn’t as obsessed as I am with this music. But for those who are, they’re fascinating.
Update 19:08 Of the ‘sessions’ discs, disc four is probably the most interesting as a listening experience to the non-musician, because here, as well as sessions for Smile itself, we go into the stuff surrounding Smile. So we have sessions for You’re Welcome and With Me Tonight (two Smile leftovers), for Dennis and Carl’s contemporary attempts to make music like their brother, I Don’t Know and Tones/Tune X, for Three Blind Mice (actually an outtake from before Pet Sounds, but included on Smile bootlegs so often they presumably thought it had to be there) and for Cool, Cool Water (a post-Smile reworking of some Smile material) and we have Teeter Totter Love, a track Brian wrote and produced for photographer Jasper Dailey, who has an almost Wild Man Fisher quality to his vocals.
This makes it the most varied of the discs, and the one least concerned with repeated slightly different takes of small snippets.
It also has three ‘hidden’ extra tracks, including a totally different edit of Heroes & Villains, compiled entirely from sections that weren’t used in the main edit on disc one, with different verse and cantina vocals. Well worth listening to.
And now… to disc five. The last disc (unless my stylus arrives now, which is unlikely) and one composed entirely of one song… Good Vibrations.
And so 12 hours after I hit publish on this, we come to an end.
Truth be told there’s little on disc five of this that will come as a surprise to anyone. There’s been more session material released for this track – both legitimately and otherwise – than for any other, and the main thing I noticed about this is that the sessions are far less edited down. Which, given how well I know this material, was disconcerting – “Wait, that’s not where he says ‘that really felt good, let’s hear it’” and so on.
But what we have here is essentially the ‘Good Vibrations (sessions)’ bits from the Good Vibrations box/Smiley Smile – Wild Honey CD/Hawthorne, CA CD/Pet Sounds Sessions box writ large. We hear attempts at the song from every existing session for it, of which there were many. We hear sections that don’t make it onto the final track, and we hear, slowly but surely, how Brian Wilson sculpted the perfect pop single out of what started as a couple of simple riffs.
Much like disc four, the disc ends with a Frankenstein version of Good Vibrations, with the alternate verse lyrics by Tony Asher going into the chorus from the Rarities version, then into a stereo version of the “I don’t know where but she sends me there” bit missing a few crucial vocal overdubs, then into the fuzz-bass/fast ‘hum-de-ah’ section. It’s interesting, but it’s not a patch on the single.
I’ve still not got my new stylus, so I can’t yet listen to the vinyl, but on the basis of the five CDs totalling more than six and a half hours of music, and the superb packaging, I’d say that while this isn’t something I could recommend to anyone who isn’t as obsessed with the Beach Boys as I am, anyone who’s even considering buying this box set will love it.
For some of you who aren’t, I’ll recommend the 2-CD version, but with the following caveat (which my regular readers, at least, will get) – Smile is the greatest album in the world in the same way that Evil Of The Daleks may be the best Doctor Who story. With Evil Of The Daleks we have one surviving episode, a soundtrack, a bit of film footage shot on set, a load of still photographs and a novelisation. From that, we can tell it was great, but you’re not going to convince anyone who only quite liked David Tennant. In the same way, The Smile Sessions, in whatever form, is a wonderful collection of all the evidence we need to show that had Smile been finishable in 1967, it would undoubtedly have been the best album released up to that point. But those of you who just want something nice to listen to should stick with Brian Wilson’s 2004 completed version.
Polished as it has been, this is still music that requires a great deal of work on the part of the listener. The amazing thing is, it repays that work.
The Smile that you send out returns to you.
The first time I heard Smile I was seventeen. Just after Christmas, 1995. I’d got myself the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey twofer. I knew Smiley Smile had a bad reputation, but it was the album that came after Pet Sounds – how bad could it be? Anyway, I knew Good Vibrations, Heroes & Villains, Wild Honey and Darlin’ from compilations, so even if it just had those on, it’d be pretty good.
I was amazed. That album changed my view of music forever. The sparse, ethereal counterpoint at the end of Wind Chimes, the hum-de-ah Good Vibrations vocals, and most of all Wonderful, easily the best song I’d ever heard up to that point. Pet Sounds was what made me appreciate the Beach Boys, but this was what made me a fan.
The first time I heard Smile I was nineteen. Late 1997. I’d bought the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set for sixty pounds, the most money I’d ever spent to that point on anything. I put the first three discs in the changer, turned off the lights, lay down and listened.
I knew most of the proper songs by then, of course, but hearing them in context with the other work of the time was still amazing. The new-to-me version of Wind Chimes didn’t really work, and some of the instrumental bits sounded like noodling, but the harpsichord version of Wondrful and the solo piano version of Surf’s Up were two of the most magnificent things I’d ever heard.
The first time I heard Smile I was twenty, late 1998. I’d never yet bought a bootleg, though that would change very soon, but I’d found someone on the internet, a couple of years younger than me, who had a copy of the Vigotone Smile bootleg that he was willing to tape for me if I taped him a few things he couldn’t afford from legitimate CDs.
By this point, Smile had become a puzzle for me, and I made endless cassette duplicates of bits of that tape and things I had on CD, trying to fit a workable running order out of these snatches and phrases, outtakes and completed songs.
The first time I heard Smile I was twenty-five, in February 2004. I couldn’t afford to go and see the premiere when Brian Wilson announced he was completing the album and performing it live, but I waited up all night, and as soon as the first MP3s were up, I grabbed them with my superfast 200 k/s broadband.
My jaw dropped when I heard the transition from Wonderful into Look, and by the end of the second movement I was in tears. He’d done it. He’d actually pulled together all those bits and pieces, all those plinky instrumental bits and half-finished demos, into something that really was the greatest album in the world. He’d been right all along.
I saw that tour twice, and still treasure my copy of the setlist that I got from Darian in Manchester.
The first time I heard Smile I was twenty-five. It was August 2004, and my friend Gavin (not either of the two Gavins who regularly comment here – Gavin seems to be a name that is unusually common among the best sort of people) had got a promo copy of Brian Wilson Presents Smile from the record shop where he worked, a month before it was officially released. He invited me and my then-girlfriend (now-wife) Holly to come and listen to it, because he knew we’d appreciate it. We sat in silence from the opening “ooh” of Our Prayer to the closing ‘cello fade of Good Vibrations, and I knew that here, finally, was the complete album I’d been waiting nine years to hear.
The first time I hear Smile will be some time in the next four days…
So, the Beach Boys’ SMiLE Sessions (as it’s now officially called, capitalisation and all) is now out. It’s not officially released until Monday (UK) and Tuesday (US), but people have seen it in shops, and some people have got their copy. Unfortunately for me, I’m not one of them – I pre-ordered from Amazon, and they’ve still not even dispatched their copies, while people who ordered from Sainsbury’s (SAINSBURY’S!) have already received theirs.
So right now I’m twitching like I’ve drunk thirty cups of coffee, and checking my email every fifteen seconds to see if Amazon have dispatched it yet. They haven’t. They still haven’t.
But I thought I’d let people know what they should know, before they go out and buy this.
Firstly, Smile is not a finished album. Alan Boyd and Mark Linnet have done their best to get something as complete as possible, but a lot of vocal parts simply weren’t recorded in 1966 and 1967. Unless there’s something I’ve not heard about yet, and that none of the lucky bastards who’ve got their copies have said, the tracks Do You Like Worms, Look, Child Is Father Of The Man, I Wanna Be Around, Holidays and Love To Say DaDa are all missing lead vocals.
If you want a complete Smile listening experience, buy Brian Wilson Presents Smile either the 2004 CD or the (preferable) live DVD version. Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, his collaborator, put together a completed version of Smile in 2004, with lead vocals, extra bits of linking instrumentation and so forth. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and quite probably the best album ever released. It doesn’t feature the Beach Boys’ vocals, but it’s still great, and the closest thing possible to hearing how Wilson and Parks intended the album to sound.
Nonetheless, this Smile will definitely be worth getting. If you like Brian Wilson Presents Smile, you *will* like this. Any album containing Heroes And Villains, Cabinessence, Wonderful and Surf’s Up would, just on the fact of containing those four tracks, be a contender for greatest album ever recorded. Just remember that what you’re getting is closer to the Beatles’ Anthology series than to, say, Revolver.
The good stuff is as good as any music out there. Mike Taylor once asked me to recommend a Beach Boys album, and seemed unhappy when I couldn’t give a straightforward recommendation of a classic album (other than Pet Sounds, with which he was unimpressed). The Beach Boys didn’t really work in album terms – they had good and bad tracks, and which of those tracks actually got released had little or no correlation with quality. This is a band that didn’t release Still I Dream Of It, possibly the most heartbreaking song ever recorded, but did release Hey Little Tomboy, one of the creepiest. This being unreleased music doesn’t mean it’s not great.
Be aware of the different versions There are at least five separate configurations for this music out there:
The single-CD version. This is just a reconstruction of the album, following the template of Brian Wilson Presents Smile, along with a handful of bonus tracks. This is what you should get if you’ve heard and enjoyed BWPS, and maybe own Pet Sounds and a Beach Boys Greatest Hits, but aren’t really a huge fan or anything.
The double-CD version. Same as the single-CD, with a second disc of highlights from the recording sessions. Get this if you’ve got most of the Beach Boys’ stuff already, maybe got the Good Vibrations box set, but aren’t hugely interested in how the tracks are put together.
The double-vinyl version. Sides one to three are the reconstruction of the album, as on the single CD, but side four is a different set of bonus tracks not available on CD. Buy this if you like vinyl.
The box set. This has the double vinyl, the single CD, two vinyl singles (apparently including at least one mix that’s slightly different from anything on CD), four CDs of session outtakes, two books, a poster, and a pretty box. Buy this if you’re me.
The download version of the box set. This just has the music from the five CDs. Buy this if you’re as obsessed with this music as me, but don’t have a turntable and don’t want some pretty books, because it’s cheaper.
Assuming I get this before Tuesday, I’ll be liveblogging the whole Smile experience here, all five CDs, four vinyl records and two books of it. In the meantime, why not visit Arkhonia ? He’s done a wonderful *long* series of posts on Smile, the myth of it, the music, and its portrayal in the media. I disagree with quite a bit of it, especially his dismissal of Smiley Smile, but he’s doing a great job of showing just why this is so important, and why I’m still twitching like mad waiting for this thing.
A revised version of this essay appears in my book The Beach Boys On CD. If you like this, please consider buying it. Hardback Paperback PDF Kindle (US) Kindle (UK) Kindle (DE) All other ebook formats
Smiley Smile/Wild Honey
1967 was in many ways the most important turning point in the Beach Boys’ career. After Pet Sounds, the musical world was waiting on tenterhooks for the next Beach Boys album, Smile, a collaboration between Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks that would, according to Dennis Wilson, ‘make Pet Sounds stink’.
Due to a combination of intra-band tensions, legal problems between the band and Capitol records, and Brian Wilson’s worsening mental health, the album was never finished, though most of it has surfaced over the years on compilations, and Brian Wilson made a re-recorded, complete, version in 2004, with Parks’ assistance.
Instead, the band regrouped – initially without Johnston, who was disaffected enough to leave the band for a few months, and recorded a new album, Smiley Smile, based on the Smile material but featuring mostly just the Beach Boys themselves instrumentally.
This stripped-down, almost amateurish, sound, which continued in various forms for the two albums after this, was a critical and commercial flop. Where listeners had been promised a progressive, psychedelic masterpiece, they got stoned giggling, songs about vegetables, and something that sounded small and intimate at a time when everyone was expecting bigger, more flamboyant, recordings.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, these albums contain some of the band’s very best work.
Smiley Smile shares two things in common with The Beach Boys Love You, an album that came out ten years later – they are the only two Beach Boys albums to consist entirely of previously-unreleased Brian Wilson songs, and they are the two albums which most polarise Beach Boys fandom.
In general, the split for both is along age-related lines. Those under about forty-five, whose musical tastes were influenced by punk and post-punk indie music, tend to love both albums, and think of them as examples of raw, unvarnished genius. Those older than that see them as embarassing, shambolic messes. (There are, of course, exceptions on both sides).
I am thirty-two, and Smiley Smile and Love You are my two favourite Beach Boys albums.
Recorded almost entirely in Brian Wilson’s home studio, Smiley Smile is an astonishingly fragile, beautiful album, unlike anything I’ve ever heard in the history of popular music. Over extraordinarily bare instrumental tracks – often just a single Baldwin organ or one-note piano or bass part, with ambient noises and stoned laughter, and with a certain amount of studio trickery (mostly playing with tape speed), we have fragile, whimsical, half-thought-out but gorgeous melodies, sung with some of the greatest vocal performances of all time.
It’s minimalist, beautiful, fragile, gorgeous, at times hilariously funny, at times impenetrable. Although it was released as much through desperation as anything else, it’s probably the bravest album ever released by a major artist – the sudden shifts in style of a Dylan or Bowie are nothing compared to this.
This was also the first Beach Boys album to feature Carl Wilson’s voice more prominently than any other, and the first to have a credit of ‘produced by the Beach Boys’ rather than ‘produced by Brian Wilson’. Both of these are signs of things to come.
Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston (tracks one, two and six only)
Heroes & Villains
According to legend (and where Smile is concerned there’s more legend than fact), on the first day Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks collaborated, they wrote four songs – Heroes & Villains, Wonderful, Cabinessence and Surf’s Up. If true, this may well have been the most productive day’s work in history – at least two of those four songs have a reasonable claim for the title of ‘greatest song ever written’.
Whether true or not, it is known that this song definitely was the first collaboration between the two, and it was to have been the centrepiece of the Smile album – its themes both lyrical (growing old and looking back at youth and forward to the youth of the next generation, the Old West, escape) and musical (the chorus theme recurs in the majority of the Smile music) would have tied the album together. And the song went through a huge number of reworkings in the studio, with many sections being recorded and discarded.
The version that was finally released as a single, consisting mostly of Smile recordings, is a masterpiece, though a more intellectual one than the Beach Boys’ earlier works – whereas Brian and his previous collaborators are or were primarily concerned with evoking emotion, Parks at this point was more interested in exploring ideas.
Starting off over a track based very closely on Phil Spector’s production of Save The Last Dance For Me for Ike and Tina Turner, the melody and chord sequence of the first two verses are almost moronically simple – a simple stepwise descent (scales, especially descending ones, show up over and over again in Smile) over a chord sequence of I, V-of-V and V.
But while Brian had obviously been thinking of Phil Spector when writing the music, Parks had been thinking of Marty Robbins and Western ballads, and so we have a torrent of punning syllables telling a story of the old west:
I’ve been in this town so long that back in the city I’ve been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long, long time
Fell in love years ago with an innocent girl from the Spanish and Indian home of the heroes and villains
Once at night cotillion squared the fight and she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down
But she’s still dancing in the night unafraid of what a dude’ll do in the town full of heroes and villains
Clever as it seems, some of this lyric loses a great deal out of the larger context of the Smile album – the ‘dude’ll do’ for example is meant to reference a cock crow, which would tie in to the song Barnyard (“Out in the barnyard, the chickens do their number”), and dancing, American Indians, and facing one’s fear would all recur in many of the other songs.
Brian sings these lines over a thumping bass and drum track with the rest of the band providing simple ‘ooh’ harmonies in the first verse, growing steadily more complex and contrapuntal before we go into the chorus.
The chorus to Heroes & Villains is yet another example of the musical idea that had been obsessing Brian for the previous two years and that dominated the unreleased Smile – a two-chord riff (similar intervals to the Good Vibrations chorus, but a tone lower, and with the first chord in the riff being minor rather than major) repeated, which then moves up a whole tone (as in both Good Vibrations and California Girls ). In many ways this chorus can be seen as the culmination of the previous two years’ work.
But whereas those songs had intricate, multi-layered orchestrations, the instrumentation on the chorus here is just a harpsichord playing a repeated figure, a Baldwin organ holding down a single note, and some hand percussion. Everything else on this astonishing section of music is the Beach Boys’ voices, and the fact that the track can sound so full with so little instrumentation shows how utterly unique they were as a vocal group – something that shines through throughout this album.
We then have a reprise of the verse material, largely wordless, before a fully a capella verse which again shows just how far the band had come vocally even in a year – compare the intricate, shimmering, layered contrapuntal motion here to the simple lines of, say, Sloop John B .
The next section, featuring vocals, Baldwin and harpsichord again (“my children were raised”) has the same melody as the verses, but a totally different chord sequence, the top of the chord (the ‘right hand’) alternating between C# and F# (the same kind of two-chord shuffle as in the Good Vibrations chorus) but with a bassline going up and down an ascending scale from C# to G# and back again. While they don’t sound similar, rehearsal takes of this show that it was clearly inspired by Mister Sandman by the Chordettes. (For those who are wondering, the backing vocals under this section are singing “boys and girls and boys and girls and…”)
And we finish with an a capella verse – the melody remaining the same but harmonised much more richly – followed by the chorus to fade.
While one of the best singles the band had ever released to this point, this ‘only’ reached number 12 in the US chart when it was released, and to all intents and purposes this is the song that marks the end of the Beach Boys as a commercial force in their own country.
This second Wilson/Parks collaboration couldn’t be more different – partly because some of Parks’ more idiosyncratic original lyrics weren’t used.
Over a backing track of just a bass, a blown jug, some sound effects and percussion created by crunching on vegetables, the band sing in unison a simple song about the joys of eating one’s greens. Then, at the end, we segue into a recording of the song from the Smile sessions – a cascade of overlapping vocals over just a piano (though again, it sounds far, far fuller than that), with Brian singing “I know that you’ll feel better when you send us in a letter and tell us the name of your favourite vegetable”.
This is so unlike everything else released at the time (though lyrically surprisingly similar to Frank Zappa’s roughly contemporaneous Call Any Vegetable ) that it’s unsurprising that listeners turned away in droves. Listening now, though, it still sounds fresh and interesting in a way that much of the more critically-acclaimed music of the time doesn’t.
Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony)
A reworking of an instrumental recorded for Smile, Mrs O’Leary’s Cow (sometimes known as Fire) , whereas that track was full of sturm und drang, this is gentle and contemplative. Staying for the most part on one chord, we have some absurdly low organ bass going up and down a chromatic scale, while the band sing block-harmony ‘aahs’. There’s a feeling of nature about the track – what sounds like a harmonica playing excerpts from the Woody Woodpecker theme, and percussion sounding like a woodpecker’s beak on wood, while the bass vocals (presumably by Love, though with the tape slowed down) are reminiscent of a bullfrog.
She’s Goin’ Bald
Credited to Wilson/Love/Parks , Van Dyke Parks’ credit is because the earlier part of this song is based on a Smile track, He Gives Speeches, for which Parks wrote the lyrics. This is actually a wonderfully bizarre Wilson/Love comedy song.
Over a three-chord sequence ( I-ii-V7 in F) played on organ and bongos, the band sing a backing vocal part originally written for an unused section of Heroes and Villains, while Brian (with Mike answering him) tells a story of peeking in to the room of a woman whose hair is falling out. (Shades of Swift’s The Lady’s Dressing Room here). Quite why Love found this a laughing matter given that his own hairline was rapidly receding I don’t know.
We then have a section with a huge amount of tape speed-up – to the point that the band sound like they’re singing through helium – where to the tune of Get A Job by the Silhouettes, the band sing “what a blow” (apparently as a play on words – “blow” “job”).
Then, in a manner similar to the introductory narration of 1940s radio adventure serials or children’s adventure cartoons, we have a description of the woman’s actions “she made a bee-line to her room and grabbed all kinda juice/she started pouring it on her head and thought she’d grow it back”) over diminished chords on the piano, rising in a chromatic scale from Edim to Bdim.
And we end with a bluesy variant of the original three chord sequence (I7-II7-V in B\flat ), played on piano, bass and acoustic guitar (the first guitar to appear on this album) as the band sing “you’re too late, mama, ain’t nothin’ upside your head”. They’re all heart…
A gorgeous little song by Brian with almost no lyrics, this starts with the band giggling and singing the song in comedy voices, before breaking into some gorgeous hummed harmonies with Hawaiian guitar. We then alternate between Carl, backed by guitar, singing wordlessly, Carl backed by organ and clip-clop percussion singing single lines about wanting “a little pad in Hawaii”, and the band backed by piano and guitar humming.
The song’s a nothing, but it’s a gentle, heartfelt, beautiful vocal performance.
With Me Tonight
And here, for the first time since Summer Days, we have the return of the Fannie Mae riff. The song alternates between the band singing “on and on she go down be doo dah” to the same tune as, for example, “help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda”, and wordlessly backing Carl as he sings “with me tonight, I know you’re with me tonight”.
Rather than being a fully constructed song, this is one of many little fragments of indescribable beauty scattered throughout the album. With just an organ, a bass and his family’s voices, Brian Wilson could conjure heart-stopping wonder out of the simplest ingredients.
Another utterly strange track that defies analysis in any conventional sense, this is one of the most beautifully strange pieces of music the band ever commited to vinyl. A Wilson/Parks song originally intended for Smile, the Smile version is a fairly standard pop song in structure, with a steady beat.
The Smiley Smile version, though, does everything in its power to get rid of the standard pulse of pop music. While it’s still (more or less) keeping to a regular beat, the backing track is just held chords on piano and organ, the titular wind chimes themselves, and free-tempo guitar, and the vocals (shared between Brian, Carl, Dennis and Mike) are sung in a free, off-tempo manner. The whole thing conspires to give the impression of random beauty, while not having a note out of place.
And then, just as the song ends, we have so far down in the mix it’s almost inaudible without turning the volume up all the way, one of the most glorious pieces of music in the band’s career – the band singing, as a round, the phrase “whispering winds set my wind chimes a tinklin’”. Exquisite.
A Wilson/Love song, this one points the way forward to the R&B flavour of the Wild Honey album, but this kind of simplistic rock song doesn’t really work in the stripped-down Smiley Smile style, and it’s the one truly weak track on the album.
Someone must have disagreed, though, because the truly bizarre decision was made to release this as a single – and not even under the Beach Boys’ name but as by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a hit.
Love seems to have had a soft spot for the song, though, as he remade it in the late 70s with his side-project, Celebration.
Quite possibly the single most beautiful song ever written, Wonderful is another Wilson/Parks song, telling the story of a young girl who goes off and loses her virginity, and her innocence more generally, at a young age:
Farther down the path was a mystery,
Through the recess, the chalk and numbers
A boy bumped into her one, one, wonderful
before returning, older and wiser, to her parents:
She’ll return, in love with her liberty,
Never known as a non-believer
She’ll smile and thank God for one, one, wonderful
In many ways, this can be seen as a counterpart both of Caroline, No and of the Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home, but where those songs are judgemental either of the girl or of the parents, this song seeks reconciliation and forgiveness on both sides and suggests that innocence can actually be regained with experience. It’s a more mature, reflective song than the other two, great as they undoubtedly are.
Not only that, it manages this while having concern for the aesthetics of the lyric in a way that neither of those other songs do. Both the other songs treat words functionally, as a means of conveying a single piece of information. By contrast, Parks’ lyrics are carefully chosen to be beautiful themselves, independent of the meaning they carry. At this point Parks was almost certainly the most artistically advanced lyricist in the music industry.
And the music matches this. A variant of the Heroes & Villains melody, this relationship is far less audible on the Smiley Smile version than on the version recorded for Smile, thanks to the lack of backing vocals, but harmonically this is far closer to pieces like Caroline, No or Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) than the harmonically simplistic material elsewhere on the album, with a chord change almost every beat.
Carl Wilson’s soft, beautiful vocal performance over a piano and organ is suddenly interrupted straight after the ‘boy bumping’ by a totally different piece of music. Here we have the sounds of a rather stoned party, with people saying things like “don’t think you’re God… vibrations” while Mike Love sings a lounge singer version of the Heroes & Villains melody over a piano, before we return to the main song. Often dismissed as an unwanted interruption, this new section actually manages to dramatise the situation surrounding our protagonist’s loss of innocence well.
If there was any justice in the world, this song would now be regarded as every bit the classic that God Only Knows is, as on every level that matters – musical and lyrical sophistication, beauty, the compassion that pours out of every syllable of the song – this is the superior of that song and almost every other I’ve heard.
And the album finishes with another simple, fragmentary vocal chant, written by Brian most notable for Mike’s bass vocal part.
Whereas Smiley Smile had been an act of desperation, on Wild Honey, the band seem to have deliberately chosen to keep the stripped-down aesthetic they’d started on the previous album, but to turn it towards more conventional R&B-flavoured rock/pop music.
While it’s a less challenging listen than Smiley Smile, it also sounds like it was less challenging to record. While it has its moments, it’s the first Beach Boys album about which there’s nothing innovative, nothing new. Parts of it are half-arsed at best, and there’s a distinct feeling of “will this do?” hanging over all but a handful of the best tracks.
This is hardly surprising – Brian Wilson was starting his long process of withdrawal from the band in the wake of the Smile disaster, and the rest of the band weren’t yet ready to fill his shoes. While all but two of these songs are Wilson/Love collaborations, Carl Wilson’s description of this as “a very un-Brian album” is largely true.
Possibly this was understandable. In total this was the sixteenth album the band released in a little over five years. 1967 was to be the last year in which the band would release multiple studio albums, and the music improved because of it.
Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston
The album starts out strong with this great rocker, showcasing a soulful side of Carl Wilson’s voice that hadn’t been heard before (when I’ve played this track to people who aren’t familiar with it, nobody has guessed it’s a Beach Boys track – some have even guessed it’s Jack White singing). Based around a simple chord sequence (slightly similar to the other great Beach Boys attempt at R&B, Sail On, Sailor ), with a piano vamp and an electro-theremin part by Paul Tanner, this should have been a massive hit.
And had it been released a few months later, when every band was going ‘back to its roots’ and 50s nostalgia was starting to come in, it would have been. In the context of spring 1968, with Lady Madonna in the charts, Bill Haley charting again in the UK, and Elvis back on form with Guitar Man and U.S. Male, this would have made perfect sense. In October 1967, though, with San Francisco ( Flowers In Your Hair ), and King Midas In Reverse in the charts, this sounded like yesterday, not tomorrow, and accordingly only reached number 31 in the US and twenty-nine in the UK.
Aren’t You Glad
A rather lovely little poppy track that remained in the band’s setlist for a couple of years, this song, with its 6th chords, is the most harmonically interesting of the new songs on the album (though that’s not saying much). The lead vocal is shared between Mike, Brian and Carl.
Love’s verse vocal is one of his very best – he’s high in his tenor range here, but singing with hardly a hint of the nasality that usually plagues him in this range, and comfortably bouncing along on top of the music with a light touch he normally doesn’t have. And the two Carls on the chorus again show his newfound soul vocal skills.
On the other hand, on the bridge Brian is sounding notably thinner than he had even a year or so earlier, and seems to be straining for notes he would previously have reached with ease. It might be apathy, or it might be the first sign of the slow vocal deterioration that would set in rapidly by the mid-70s, but appears to have slowly started earlier.
I Was Made To Love Her
A creditable cover of Stevie Wonder’s then-current hit, this version cuts out the rather jarring “through thick and thin” section from the original (the band recorded this section too, but discarded it), and misses out Wonder’s harmonica part. This version swaps the original’s light fluidity for something a little heavier and clunkier (the bass on the track is clearly inferior to James Jamerson’s wonderful playing, so they’ve sensibly gone for power over finesse) but also showcases Carl Wilson’s talents as a vocal chameleon – his performance here sounds eerily like Wonder.
The most Smiley Smile-esque of the tracks here, this is another one backed by organ and piano (though this time also with bass and drums) and alternating between wordless vocals and simple, repetitive lyrics chanted by the group. Melodically a rewrite of Da Doo Ron Ron, this is a far gentler, softer thing than that record, with a lovely falsetto flourish at the end of each chorus.
A Thing Or Two
I think it says everything that needs to be said about this song that I’ve listened to this album maybe once a month on average since I bought it sixteen years ago, meaning I must have heard this song a minimum two hundred times, yet when I looked through the tracklist I thought “which one’s that again?”
To all intents and purposes a rewrite of Gettin’ Hungry , it’s a more coherent, but more banal, performance and arrangement than that track, though Love and Carl Wilson do their best with the material.
A rewrite of Thinkin’ ‘Bout You, Baby , a song Brian and Mike had written for singer Sharon Marie some three years earlier, the astonishing thing about this is how well the same (or similar) musical material works both at expressing wistful longing in the original and lustful joy in this new version.
Originally offered by Brian to Redwood, the band that later became Three Dog Night, this is a joyous uptempo rocker whose augmented chords and major sevenths make it more harmonically sophisticated than the material around it, and it’s a production which has had some attention paid to it, again unlike the surrounding songs. Unfortunately the lyrics haven’t had quite the same attention paid to them – “I’m gonna love you every single night, because I think that you’re doggone outtasight” is a hard line to sing with any conviction. Fortunately, Carl Wilson more than manages.
Released as a single, this just scraped the top twenty in the US and reached number 11 in the UK. It remains in the setlist of the Beach Boys (and the members’ various post-1998 projects) to this day, being one of their best-loved late-60s singles.
I’d Love Just Once To See You
While this song is credited to Wilson/Love, I suspect it was just agreed to give both men joint credit for every song on the album, because this is as obvious an example of a Brian Wilson solo composition as I’ve ever heard.
This is the first of a series of slice-of-life songs that would become a minor thread running through the next few years of Brian’s work, where he would write a song that just described whatever he was thinking or doing at the time. Often these would be some of the best things he would produce.
This isn’t one of his best songs, but it is a fun, light song that manages to overcome its obviously impromptu nature by virtue of its childlike lightness of touch and honesty. And the punchline to the song is genuinely funny the first time you hear it.
Brian sings lead here, and sounds more engaged than on anything else on the album. He’s occasionally performed this live (notably on the Smile tours in 2004).
Here Comes The Night
Another Brian lead, and we’re back to the organ-led R&B feel again. Not the Them song of the same name, this is a rather by-the-numbers song which however manages the interesting trick of having the chorus apparently lose its tonal centre altogether – normally one would have a harmonically simple chorus while the verses are complex, but this has simple verses in C but a chorus whose chords are Cmin, A\flat 7 and F, which are chords that just should not go together.
Not one of the better songs on the album, this was nonetheless liked enough by the band that they remade it twelve years later in an ill-advised attempt to ‘go disco’.
Let The Wind Blow
A Wilson/Love song, apparently more by Love than Wilson, this is rightly regarded as a classic. Harmonically simplistic, this has a gorgeous melody which does have more of Love’s fingerprints than Wilson’s on it (compare to, say, Big Sur from the Holland album). The ‘arched’ backing vocals, going up and down the scale wordlessly, are definitely Wilson’s contribution, though, bearing a strong resemblance to motifs that show up throughout Smile.
This is also, astonishingly, the first waltz the band ever recorded (sections of Cabinessence, which had not yet been released, are also in waltz time, as was part of an unreleased version of Heroes & Villains, but this is the first time an entire song is in 3/4). And Brian, Carl and Mike all add great vocals.
But lyrically, the song has a central problem. The lyrics are all pleas, of the form “let X, let Y, but don’t let her go”. This is a familar form – e.g. Blue Suede Shoes (“you can knock me down, tread on my face, slander my name all over the place… but don’t you step on my blue suede shoes”).
But here, X and Y are all positive things – “let the bees make honey, let the poor find money, take away their sorrow, give them sunshine tomorrow, but don’t take her out of my life…”
This avails itself of only two possible interpretations – either Mike Love is such a misanthrope that he hates bees, helping the poor, sunshine and so on, and is only willing to tolerate them if the nameless woman remains with him, or he is the greediest person in the world and wants the moon on a stick.
Great track anyway though.
How She Boogalooed It
Easily the worst song on the album, this track still has an important historical status, as it’s the first original Beach Boys song (not counting surf instrumentals) that doesn’t have a Brian Wilson co-writing credit. Credited to Love, Johnston, Jardine and Carl Wilson,, with Jardine on lead vocals, this sounds like it was the result of a jam session with a couple of quick overdubs thrown on, and probably took slightly less time to write than it takes to listen to. All four co-writers would do better later.
Credited to Wilson and Love, this little vocal chant (the words “eat a lot, sleep a lot, brush ‘em like crazy/run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy” repeated over and over) is a snippet that was originally part of Vegetables, and was recorded as such for Smile.
CD Bonus Tracks
Heroes And Villains (Alternate Take)
Not quite an alternate take, despite the title, the first part of this is identical to the single version as a performance, though a slightly different mix. But where the single goes into the chorus, this skips both the chorus and the ‘la la la’ verse, and goes straight into the a capella wordless verse (in what sounds like the same performance, but with either a very different mix or a different recording of at least Love’s part).
We then move into a totally different piece of music – the ‘cantina’ section. This is a waltz time section, which returns to the dancing girl and the shooting from the first verse, over Western saloon-bar piano, with Brian and Mike trading off vocal lines, before ending with a jokey “You’re under arrest!”
We then go back to familiar territory, going into the “my children were raised” section as used in the single, but where the single version ends “healthy, wealthy and wise” before tailing off in ‘boys and girls and’ vocals, this has a sharp edit and becomes “healthy, wealthy and often wise”, with the piano coming in again on ‘often’.
We then have half a verse over the same backing track used for the first two verses – “at three score and five, I’m very much alive, I’ve still got the jive to survive with the heroes and villains” – before heavily echoed bass vocals and whistling are used to emulate the sound of a train picking up speed and going into the distance.
And to finish we have a vaguely cowboy-film sounding fade into the distance – pizzicato strings, acoustic guitar, harmonica, clip-clop percussion and wordless vocals in a variant of the verse musical material. In the entire song we haven’t heard what became the chorus of the finished version. This version is, if anything, slightly superior to the finished one, but it’s far less catchy and commercial.
Good Vibrations (Various Sessions)
This is a sequence of snippets from various sessions during the process of recording Good Vibrations, starting with the very first session and ending with a pieced together mostly-instrumental version of the track including a lot of unused sections, including an interesting fuzz-bass part and a gorgeous ‘hum de ah’ vocal harmony part.
Good Vibrations (Early Take)
This is the February 17th backing track with the February 18th guide vocal with Tony Asher’s lyrics, as discussed in more detail in the main Good Vibrations section.
The B-side of Heroes & Villains, this is a simple three-chord vocal chant with a ton of reverb, backed only with a glockenspiel and a bass drum, but is absolutely lovely.
Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring
Before the Wild Honey album was decided on, the Beach Boys (with Brian and minus Bruce) were going to release a live album called Lei’d In Hawaii, featuring Smiley Smile-esque arrangements. Unfortunately, the tapes were deemed unusable, even after a session of ‘as live’ re-recording. This recording is taken from the rehearsals for the live shows, and is an a capella recording of an old Four Freshmen song by Bobby Troup, which the group had already recorded with different lyrics as A Young Man Has Gone.
The song itself is a sentimental piece of nothing – it tries to encompass the lives of two people, but we’re given no actual information about them except that they married, eventually died, and ‘their hearts were full of spring’, so have no real reason to care. The band do an exceptional job of the vocals, but it’s not really worth a listen.
This song has been a staple of the band throughout its existence, from their first recordings through to today’s touring version of the band, and so many more recordings of it exist, with two more official releases still to go (on Live In London and the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set), and comparing versions by different line-ups can be interesting in showing the strengths and weaknesses of various vocalists, but other than that this is immensely skippable.
Can’t Wait Too Long
In his liner notes for the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey twofer, David Leaf refers to this as the best piece of unreleased music in the Beach Boys’ vaults, which suggests that he’d not listened to very much of it. Which isn’t to say that this Wild Honey-era piece isn’t nice, but most of it’s just slight variations on a two-chord melodic idea originally sketched out during the Smile sessions. It’s nicely arranged, with good vocals in the few sections where there are vocals (though an alternate version of this showed up on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys box set with more vocals), but it’s nothing extraordinary. It does, however, at the end, feature a bass fade playing something very like the riff from Shortenin’ Bread – a riff which we’ll return to a lot in volumes two and three…