The Beach Boys On CD: Smiley Smile/Wild Honey

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

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.

line-up

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.

Vegetables

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…

Little Pad

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.

Good Vibrations

See separate entry

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.

Wind Chimes

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.

Gettin’ Hungry

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.

Wonderful

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.

Whistle In

And the album finishes with another simple, fragmentary vocal chant, written by Brian most notable for Mike’s bass vocal part.

Wild Honey

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.

line-up

Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston

Wild Honey

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.

Country Air

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.

Darlin’

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.

Mama Says

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.

You’re Welcome

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…

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15 Responses to The Beach Boys On CD: Smiley Smile/Wild Honey

  1. S. Barrios says:

    great work! i’m a long-time partisan of “Litte Pad” .. not sure there’s anything remotely like it, unless you want to fast-forward four years to P. McCartney’s simpler “Ram On” (a common feel, maybe? maybe the Beach Boys presaged a Golden Age of Fragments .. Neil Young’s “Crippled Creek Ferry” maybe?)j.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah, Ram generally is probably the closest thing there is to the feel of Smiley Smile…

      • S. Barrios says:

        hmm .. i wasn’t really thinking of the Ram album as a whole (mainly ’cause i don’t find most of it *memorable*) .. although “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” *does* tower in sophistication over the rest of the record the way, say, “Heroes an’ Villians” does over the other. in any case, Smiley Smile is the much stronger, more varied document (if i’m thinking “Beatle,” it’s owing to coming up on the end of the .. oddly infamous Albert Goldman bio of Lennon. not sure why the book aroused so.much ire in G8 representative-at-large Bono .. though i’m just now noticing the “ono” component of his name / but, really, she comes off as one of the great “characters” of literature, i’m thinking).

  2. Ben kirchner says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I enjoyed vol 1 of your beach boys book on kindle. Any plans for the next installment?!

    Thanks,

    Ben

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks!
      I’ll be starting to serialise the chapters for volume two once I’ve got the comics book I’m working on out, so in about ten days. Once that’s done, I’ll be turning the posts into a book as I did with vol. 1.
      I’m also going to go and see Mike Love & Bruce Johnston live on Thursday, and will probably post a review of that on Friday or Saturday if you’re interested.

  3. arkhonia says:

    > Let The Wind Blow / ‘A Wilson/Love song, apparently more by Love than Wilson’

    Andrew, I’m looking everywhere for documentation that supports this being a Love/Wilson song rather than Mike’s lyrics as an articulation of a Brian sentiment – can you point me towards quotes or otherwise that corroborate this? I’m constructing a thesis, and, as in the past, you’re the best source for Beach Boys data I know, and I don’t want to make a chump of myself by seeming ill-informed. Feel free to mail me. And thank you in advance.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Replying here because I’ve been having email problems recently. The information that it was more by Love comes from Andrew Doe’s book (The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beach Boys by Andrew Doe and John Tobler — Tobler apparently contributed little, but they did a couple of books and split the money or something). I don’t know where he got the information from, but I’ve literally never known him to make a statement about the Beach Boys that isn’t entirely backed up by facts. I could ask him where he got the information, if you’d like? (Though if it was from a private source he may well not be able to say). AGD’s knowledge of the Beach Boys is to mine as mine is to the average person who only knows Surfin’ USA.

      To my ears, as well, it has Love’s fingerprints on it more than Brian’s — Brian at this time was writing very long, convoluted melodic phrases, while this is made up of short, disconnected melodic fragments that sound like they’ve been worked out without an instrument. It’s also nowhere near as rangey as a typical Brian melody — Brian’s tunes jump about all over the place, while Love tends to stay in one register on his rare solo songs, and in that respect this is closer to, say, Sumahama or Big Sur than to, say, Wonderful.

      My guess (and it *is* a guess) is that Love came up with the “Let the wind blow, let the grass grow, but don’t let her go” part, and that Brian added the “don’t take her out of my life” sections, the chords and the vocal arrangement (the backing vocal line just *is* a Brian line — no question at all of that in my mind). The main reason I think the split went that way is that Love, when writing on his own, always writes stuff that’s comfortable for him to sing, and I have almost exactly the same vocal strengths and weaknesses, and range, as Love (nasal and pitching problems in the tenor range, relatively decent soft baritone in a very limited range, and then sounding good but very weak in the bass range) and can sing those first few lines comfortably, before the song goes somewhere I can’t even begin to cope with.

  4. arkhonia says:

    Ah cheers for so much detail! I can concede to AGD’s source as ‘private’ (although I just cannot accept the H&V Lei’d ‘comedy skit’ explanation, with him as source, because it makes no sense, in purely *human* terms…but I’ve said this already; doesn’t undermine any trust or faith in him as a source, just that, maybe, his own source may have had an agenda…).

    It’s specifically the words, although what you say about the melodic limitations reflecting Mike’s own vocal range makes sense. But for what I’m formulating, “don’t take her out of my life” is the KEY line. And so, as you have given me enough corroboration to at least postulate the argument, may I quote you? Not as authority as such, more to save paraphrasing you…?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely — in general, you have permission to quote anything I say here in your stuff. Just make sure you make clear that it’s speculation on my part (albeit informed speculation). I’ve asked AGD for his source, anyway — just in case it may shed more light on things.

      My gut feel is that “don’t take her out of my life” is Brian’s contribution. I wouldn’t stake a *huge* amount of money on it, but I’d be prepared to bet a fiver or so…

  5. arkhonia says:

    Thing is, *everything* I have said so far *is* speculation – how can it not be anything but? Point of including so much source material myself is: ‘here is the evidence for my thesis’, NOT ‘here is PROOF’.

    Cheers!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh, I know — but there’s a difference between speculation from documentary sources and speculation based on musical style, and the former is, to my mind, slightly more rigorous than what I was doing there.

      Though thinking further, I’m actually revising upward my estimate of Brian writing “don’t take her out of my life” because that little bit (and none of the rest of the song) is so similar to parts of the melody of Time To Get Alone, which had been written but not released at that point. I think it’s Brian reusing a little scrap of melody that he liked from a song that had been thrown away (as he thought at the time) — it’s the snatches of melody that go “pine-scented…good to my soul”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh, and on a different note, do I remember right that you said you don’t have a copy of Back To The Beach? I may be coming up to see you and Chris on Thursday if I’m well enough (been chatting with Chris a bit over the last couple of days) and would gladly lend you my rather battered, coffee-stained copy, if there’s anything in there you don’t already have in other books.

  6. arkhonia says:

    Oh cheers for the Back To The Beach offer, but, fortuitously, the endless resource that is Tod market (Thursdays) offered up a copy when I needed it most, and for a quid, last November:

    http://arkhonia.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/smile-my-first-25-years-some-more-sources/

    be good to see however!

  7. arkhonia says:

    Andrew, I’ve written so much, even I forget sometimes what I’ve said!

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