My Smile Sessions box set is in the post right now. It should be arriving tomorrow. If, like me, you are getting incredibly excited for this box set’s release tomorrow, here’s a dozen or so albums from 1966 through 1968 that go well with the feel of Smile, or in some cases contrast well with it. All can be listened to free on Spotify.
First up, the Beach Boys’ own releases of 1967, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
These are often overlooked because they’re not Smile, but there are a number of incredible moments of beauty on them.
The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson, on the other hand, is much less good. But it’s interesting to note that while Brian couldn’t get his masterwork completed, his dad was able to release his own album the same year.
Song Cycle is what Van Dyke Parks did next after Smile, and is his most Smile-like material. Beautiful, baffling, utterly wonderful, this is unlike any other music Parks made later, and unlike anything anyone else did either.
Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart may seem an odd choice, but at this time, when the boundary between pop music and countercultural rock was far more porous, and the unlikeliest people were having commercial success, Beefheart’s first album actually has a lot in common with the pop music of the time. There’s a definite L.A. *sound* at this time, and there’s a continuum from Zappa and Beefheart at the most extreme end to the Beach Boys and Monkees at the other end, with Love and the Doors somewhere in the middle.
How To Speak Hip by Del Close is a comedy album with which Brian Wilson was obsessed in 1966.
Odessa by the Bee Gees is actually from 1969, so outside this timeframe, but I include it because it’s another example of a resolutely ‘square’ vocal harmony group, with three brothers in, doing something utterly bizarre and uncommercial. Oddly, Black Sheep, Van Dyke Parks’ Smile parody written and recorded for the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, sounds far more like Odessa than it does Smile.
Present Tense by Sagittarius is one of several collaborations under various names by Curt Boettcher and Brian Wilson’s old songwriting partner Gary Usher. My World Fell Down, the main single from this, is sung by Glen Campbell (who had toured as a Beach Boy) and Bruce Johnston (of the Beach Boys) and is possibly the best attempt at a Smile-alike I’ve ever heard. The album also features comedy interludes in some songs, performed by the Firesign Theatre – again, very like Wilson’s idea of doing an album full of humour.
The Pentangle by Pentangle is a bit of an odd one. In the mid-late 60s there was actually almost no back-and-forth influence between the LA musicians and their British contemporaries, apart from the huge names like the Beatles. But I think there’s something of the same spirit that animated Smile about this, with its marrying of older, ‘outdated’ forms of music (traditional folk in the case of Pentangle, vaudeville and Americana for Smile) with attempts to move popular music as a whole forward.
And likewise Gorilla by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band mixes 1920s novelty songs, comedy bits, and up-to-the-moment progressive pop.
Da Capo by Love is half of the greatest album ever made (the side-long blues jam rather spoils it for me). Intense and paranoid, yet utterly beautiful, this has a lot of the childlike creepiness of Smile.
Feelin’ Groovy by Harper’s Bizarre combines harmonies that are, if anything, over-sweet, with songwriting by people like Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, the last of whom also arranged the album.
(Albums I would have included but which are not Spotifiable – Genuine Imitation Life Gazette by the Four Seasons, Absolutely Free by the Mothers Of Invention, Switched On Bach by Wendy Carlos, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings by Michael Nesmith, Carnival Of Sound by Jan & Dean, Place Vendôme by the Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke)