The Beach Boys On CD: Brian Wilson Presents Smile

Dealing with Smile has always been a problem in this series of books. To recap, for those who aren’t completely familiar with the story, in 1966 and 1967 the Beach Boys recorded a series of sessions for an album largely written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, to be titled Smile. That album remained unfinished, and a new album, Smiley Smile, came out in its place, containing some of the same songs, some of which had been rerecorded. Then over subsequent years, various Smile tracks came out as tracks, sometimes partially or fully rerecorded, on other albums. In 1993, the box set Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys included about half an hour’s worth of Smile material, sequenced into a rough album, but missed out some crucial elements.

Then, in 2003, it was announced that Brian Wilson would, with the help of his band members, be completing a suite of Smile material to be performed at the Royal Festival Hall in 2004. The suite premiered in February 2004, and a studio recording of the material – entirely new recordings, but keeping as close as possible to the sound of the originals – came out in September that year.

That album was followed, seven years later, by a five-CD and two-vinyl-album set, The Smile Sessions, containing pretty much every releasable note of sessions from the ’66 and ’67 recordings. Notably, much of the first disc was taken up with a reconstructed Smile album that followed the 2004 track sequence almost exactly.

So in a series of books where we are looking at individual songs, this poses some problems for analysis. My decision has been to treat the 2004 album as the final version, and for the Good Vibrations and Smile Sessions entries only to talk about those things which are substantially different in the versions used, or about outtakes which didn’t make it to the 2004 album. In the entries for songs in this section I will, where appropriate, talk about the differences between the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson solo versions, other than the obvious difference of Wilson’s voice.

But what is easiest for the purposes of this book and what the artistic truth is might be two very different things. There is still a lot of debate among Beach Boys fans as to what extent the 2004 album can be considered a “finished” Smile at all. Certainly, it’s not the same recordings made in 1966 or 67 – it features none of the Beach Boys other than Brian Wilson, and his voice had changed substantially in the intervening decades. And the final sequence and arrangements owed a lot both to Darian Sahanaja, the keyboardist and (at the time) musical director with Wilson’s band, who acted as his musical secretary for the project, and to Paul von Mertens, whose string arrangements fleshed out several tracks that had previously existed only as demos.

But on the other hand, it’s a version of the album put together with the active involvement of Wilson, and of Van Dyke Parks, who was called in at an early stage when Wilson and Sahanaja couldn’t decipher a vintage lyric, and who added new lyrics to many unfinished songs and transition sections. And while it’s certainly not the album that Smile would have been had it been released in 1967 – it’s unlikely that the album would have been released as three long movements, rather than as individual tracks – at its best (notably in the second movement) it works so well that one can’t help but think that on some level this must have been how the songs were originally intended to sound.

Not everything works, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and while a lot of the Smile music had seemed underwhelming when it came out in dribs and drabs on bootlegs over a near forty-year period, it worked incredibly well as part of a finished whole.

And the questions as to who did what on the finished version miss the point. Sahanaja and Mertens both contributed a great deal, but this is still a Brian Wilson album. One of the problems with the cult of Brian Wilson as unique individual Romantic genius is that it misses the central reason for his genius, which is that he is, bar none, the greatest collaborator in popular music. Brian Wilson has always worked with other people – lyricists, session musicians, other lead singers… he is capable of creating very good music on his own, and has on occasion over the years, but that’s not where he’s at his best. He’s best at shaping the talents of those around him, and using them to create better music than any of them could have created on their own.

And whatever the reason, the fact remains that the Beach Boys in 1967 weren’t the right collaborators for him to finish Smile. The Brian Wilson Band in 2004 were.

(All songs written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, and with lead vocals by Brian Wilson, except where noted.)

Our Prayer
Songwriter: Brian Wilson
Lead vocal: Group

The album opens with a short a capella introduction, a pastiche of baroque choral music that had been released in its original version on the Beach Boys’ 20/20 album. The track is one of the most beautiful things that Wilson ever wrote, and is the perfect introduction to the record – a wordless a capella invocation, pure music, existing on its own terms rather than as a means to deliver lyrical content, but still perfectly giving the impression of a fresh start, a beginning.

Recently (as of 2016) Brian Wilson has taken to opening his live shows with this song.

Gee
Alleged songwriters: William Davis/Morris Levy
Lead vocal: Group

“Our Prayer” segues into a brief extract of “Gee”. This was originally a hit for the doo-wop group The Crows. The song was apparently written by Crows member William Davis, with the help of another vocalist, Viola Watkins, but various different people (none of whom had any involvement in its writing) have been credited as writers over the years. The current credits are to Davis and Morris Levy, a convicted extortionist with close ties to the Mafia, who has many credits on songs written by black people he never met but who didn’t want to be shot. “Gee” is often credited as the first rock and roll record to have any success with a white audience, and the song was particularly influential on the LA music scene, being covered by contemporaries of the Beach Boys as stylistically far apart as Jan & Dean and Frank Zappa.

The fragment used here, though, is a simple snatch of “dit dit” backing vocals, followed by the hook line “how I love my girl”. Only a few seconds long, it perhaps serves as another starting point – as good a choice as any for the start of rock and roll, and certainly for rock and roll vocal groups, placed at the start of the album, after the initial invocation, it seems to serve as saying “this is where the Beach Boys came from – now look where we’re going”. Then the chant of “the heroes and villains” is struck up, leading to…

Heroes and Villains

The first song proper on the album is a version of the song that had first appeared as the single from Smiley Smile, and the first song that Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks wrote in collaboration with each other. I discussed this song in great detail in volume one of this series, in the Smiley Smile entry [FOOTNOTE: I’ve also written about the song in my book California Dreaming: The LA Pop Music Scene and the 1960s], and don’t want to recapitulate that entry too much here, but what we have here is structurally very different from either the version that was originally released on Smiley Smile or the Smile-era edit that was released as a bonus track on the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey twofer.

The song starts the same as the single, with the “I’ve been in this town…” verses, and gets as far as the chorus before diverging, going into the “In the cantina…” section from the bonus track, before finally reverting to the original structure (after a “woo woo!” before “you’re under arrest!”. But here, the chorus serves to introduce a motif that will recur throughout the album, a two-chord riff with similar intervals to the “Good Vibrations” chorus, but starting on a minor chord rather than a major. Where on the single this had served just as the chorus to a pop song, here it’s a theme that will dominate the album.

On all the 1960s versions of the song, though, the same thing applies – while the verse instrumentation is dense and complex, inspired by Ike and Tina Turner’s “Save the Last Dance for Me”, the instrumentation on much of the rest of the track is minimal, often consisting of a single keyboard (either piano or harpsichord – though one of the criticisms levelled at Brian Wilson’s solo version of Smile is that the harpsichord sounds are played on a synthesiser rather than on a real harpsichord; to my ears there’s little audible difference). While parts of Smile are notable for their outstanding instrumental arrangements, much of what makes “Heroes and Villains” particularly special is the complexity of the vocal arrangements, with contrapuntal lines moving in and out of each other.

However, in the remade 2004 version, those lines are joined by a string arrangement by Paul von Mertens – a subtle addition, but one that thickens the sound considerably.

When the song ends, there’s a short vocal fragment, reminiscent of “Our Prayer” (a fragment labelled “Bridge to Indians” on the Smile Sessions box set) – this vocal fragment is now used both by Brian Wilson’s band and Mike Love’s touring Beach Boys to end their renditions of the song. This is followed by an instrumental fade (the fragment labelled “Heroes & Villains: Fade”) before…

Roll Plymouth Rock
“Heroes and Villains” gives way to another song built around the “Heroes and Villains” chorus riff. This track was originally released on the Good Vibrations box set as “Do You Like Worms?”, a title which excited much speculation, though the only lyrics recorded in the 60s were the bridge lines “rock, rock, roll, Plymouth rock, roll over”, and some pseudo-Hawaiian lines.

The track consists of several sections – a slow, plodding, section dominated by tympani, over which (in the 2004 version) the band chant lyrics (written by Van Dyke Parks in the 1960s – Wilson and Sahanaja’s inability to decipher Parks’ handwriting is what led to them calling Parks up and him assisting in completing the project) about the Sandwich islands and “waving from an ocean liner”. Parks has said that the song is about “bringing this Euro-sensibility into the taming of the American continent, from Plymouth Rock to Waikiki”.

After this, there’s a bridge, with a solo bass accompanying the mass vocals singing “rock, rock, roll, Plymouth Rock, roll over”. This stops, and we get a harpsichord performance of the “heroes and villains” chorus theme. After a couple of iterations of the theme, vocals enter again, with pseudo-”Indian”/Native American chanting, over which the lead vocal sings a variation of the chorus – “bicycle rider, just see what you’ve done/done to the church of the American Indian” (or, in the first chorus on the 2004 version, “ribbon of concrete” instead of “bicycle rider”).

This musical material all repeats, and then there’s a variation of the opening section (a tone up, and in a minor rather than a major key), with the percussion joined by a steel guitar, and the lead vocal singing cod-Hawaiian lyrics (according to Domenic Priore, these are a reference to a Hawaiian prayer), before going into a final version of the “Plymouth Rock” section and a last harpsichord instrumental version of the chorus.

Without the lead vocals, and shorn of context, this was one of the less impressive of the Smile fragments to surface on the Good Vibrations box – overlong and repetitious. In context, though, as part of a longer suite of songs, and with more variation added by the vocals, this works much better, though it’s still not a highlight of the album by any means.

The “woo woo” from “Heroes and Villains” recurs and leads us into…

Barnyard
The original version of this song, as recorded in the 1960s, was just a simple two-chord instrumental, with some animal-noise vocals. However, in the 1990s a demo tape was discovered of Wilson and Parks playing “Heroes and Villains”, “Barnyard”, and “I’m In Great Shape”. The few lines of lyric from that, a simple observation of countryside life, are used here (and in the box set version are flown in over the backing track). A charming little fragment, with not much to say about it.

The Old Master Painter
Songwriters: Haven Gillespie and Beasley Smith

An instrumental performance, on cello, of a jazz standard from 1949 (written by the same writers who wrote “That Lucky Old Sun”, which in 2007 would inspire Wilson’s next long-form piece…). Just a brief statement of a few lines of the verse melody, leading into…

You Are My Sunshine
Songwriter: Jimmie Davis

Another standard, this time radically reworked. Like much of Smile, the original is based on I-IV chords, but here the I chord becomes minor, and over a slow, mournful, string arrangement, Wilson, his voice heavily filtered (in the original recording it was Dennis, rather than Brian), sings the familiar lyrics, but in the past tense – “you were my sunshine”, and with the last line of the verse changed to “how could you take my sunshine away?”

A mournful saxophone and a string glissando lead into…

Cabin Essence

The last song of the first movement is one that, again, I dealt with in the first book in this series. As the version here is as close as possible to the original recording, I’ll reproduce some of my comments from that book below – for a longer discussion of the song, see volume one.

The result is astonishing, one of the best things the band ever did – which is to say it is one of the best musical recordings of the twentieth century. Parks’ punning, Joycean lyrics contrast an idyllic ‘home on the range’ in the verses with the ‘iron horse’, the railway that made the West possible, in the choruses, before at the end focussing on the immigrant labour that had built that railway…

The verse, in 4/4 time, starts with just a banjo, evoking the old west,… an ascending scalar phrase, singing ‘doing doing’ over and over in imitation of the banjo… bass and piano come in, before everything drops out except a harmonica and a harmonium, playing variations of the trumpet part from “Heroes and Villains”, but in counter-movement to each other, for two bars.

This musical material then repeats, before entering into a two chord waltz-time chorus with an utterly different feel. Over clanking percussion, representing the spikes being driven into the ground to hold the rails together, the band chant ‘who ran the iron horse?’ over and over, while a wailing falsetto , fuzz bass and ‘cellos race each other up and down ascending and descending scales, in much the same manner as in the similar-sounding Smile track “Mrs O’Leary’s Cow”, but much more frenzied, before collapsing back, exhausted, into the comfort of the verse.

After the second verse, we get another chorus, but this time with an additional element… a totally different, unconnected set of lyrics… buried in the mix…

We then enter a little, gentle, round as the band sing “Have you seen the grand coolie working on the railroad?” …

And then over ‘cello, banjo and harmonica, while the tinkling percussion continues … “Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield”. …

Wonderful
The second movement of Smile is, to my mind, possibly the best piece of music ever recorded, and it starts with one of the greatest songs of all time. Another song I dealt with in volume one, I’ll excerpt some of that below before talking about the differences between versions:

Quite possibly the single most beautiful song ever written… telling the story of a young girl who goes off and loses her virginity, and her innocence more generally, at a young age…

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 and Villains” melody,… 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.

All that remains true for the Smile versions, but where the Smiley Smile re-recording was deliberately difficult, with Carl Wilson’s calm, generous vocals set against Baldwin organ suddenly turning into a dissonant noise, here everything is much more obviously pretty. Brian (closely doubled by Jeffrey Foskett on the 2004 recording) sings the beautiful melody straight, backed by a harpsichord, horns, and nursery-rhyme like contrapuntal backing vocals. The Smile version also has an extra verse, not in the Smiley version:

All fall down, and lost in the mystery
Lost it all to a non-believer
And all that’s left is a girl who’s loved by her mother and father

While the last verse has a crucial lyrical change – instead of “never known as a non-believer”, “just away from her non-believer”.

Both interpretations of the song are valid, interesting, beautiful ones – and one of the few good things about the collapse of Smile is that it meant we have Smiley Smile – but the Smile version is both a more complete, and a more readily palatable, version of the song. Pure musical beauty.

The 2004 Smile version of this was released as a limited-edition vinyl single, backed with “Wind Chimes”. In the UK that single became Wilson’s highest-charting solo recording to date, reaching number 29.

Song for Children

“Wonderful” is followed by this piece, often bootlegged as “Look”. Originally an instrumental piece based around the “ta na na” section of “Good Vibrations”, here “Wonderful” segues directly into it, with a new vocal line (“Maybe not one. Maybe you too, wonderin’/Wonderin’ who. Wonderful you, a-wonderin’”), and short fragments of lyrics connecting “Wonderful” and “Child is Father of the Man”, with Jeffrey Foskett singing a couple of solo lines.

When bootlegged on its own, this was one of the less interesting pieces, sounding like just a set of cast-off ideas from “Good Vibrations” done in a toytown glockenspiel manner (it was the first instrumental track to be recorded after that song, and sounds like it), with the chorus that would later be used for “Child is Father of the Man” thrown in. However, adding the lyrics (particularly the chorus lyrics, “Child is father of the Sun” – a variant of the chorus to the next song) means it becomes a crucial element of the longer suite, and in its place it reveals wonderful riches.

The first time I heard the transition from “Wonderful” to “Song for Children” I actually cried at the sense of utter rightness – two pieces of music I knew well, but had never considered going together, fitting so beautifully and becoming something greater.

Child Is Father of the Man
This track had again been widely bootlegged without its verse lyrics, although it’s best known for its chorus being used as the end of “Surf’s Up”. It’s made up of three simple sections – a verse, consisting of E/F#, F#/B, and B chords, dominated by reverbed guitar and piano, with a haunting Morricone-esque harmonica melody (and, in the repetition of the verse, newly-written lyrics by Parks, again on the subject of children and belief); a two-chord chorus, A and E chords, with F# in the bass, over which the band chant “child, the child/father of the man”; and a tag section, again only two chords, D (or Dmaj7) and E, with B in the bass, playing a tick-tock melody similar to the first few bars of the verse.

Over this is one of the transitions, and since we haven’t discussed those much until now, and since this song is one of the less musically interesting tracks, now is as good a time as any.

As you’ll have seen from the entries above, Smile as finally released is divided into three movements, designed for continuous performance. In some cases, the transition between tracks is a simple segue, or sometimes even a momentary silence. But in other cases, newly-composed transitions have been created for the 2004 recording. These sections, usually only a few seconds long, perform a vital function in gluing a lot of pop songs and fragments into a cohesive whole.

These transitions are orchestrated by von Mertens, though I don’t know whether it was him, Wilson, Sahanaja, or Parks who came up with them (the participants have remained silent about some of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of preparing Smile for public performance). They are all, however, based on melodic motifs from other songs – often combined in ways that bring similarities between apparently-disparate parts of Smile out. In this case, as in several others, the transition uses a melodic motif which splits the difference between the lines “canvas the town and brush the backdrop/Are you sleeping?” from “Surf’s Up” and “Hanging down from my window/Those are my wind chimes” from “Wind Chimes”, while also highlighting the harmonic similarity between the former line and the verse for “Child is Father of the Man”.

Whether intentionally or not, a lot of Smile seems like variations on three or four melodic ideas. By highlighting the similarities between those variations, the transition sections in the 2004 rerecording make this seem intentional – and in the case of the second movement of Smile positively inspired.

Surf’s Up
And the second movement ends with what may be the greatest song Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks have ever written, together or separately. Once again, this is a song I’ve discussed before (this time in volume two), and so I’ll point readers to that essay [FOOTNOTE: For those who don’t have volume two, a draft of that piece can be found on my website, at https://andrewhickey.info/2012/12/31/the-beach-boys-on-cd-surfs-up/] for a detailed description of the song’s structure.

But while the Beach Boys had released a version of the song in 1971, it was a Frankenstein combination of new lead vocals by Carl Wilson, a half-finished Smile backing track, Brian Wilson’s piano demo, and Moog and backing vocal overdubs, supervised by Carl rather than Brian. This was the first time Brian Wilson had ever recorded a whole version of the song, other than piano-only demos, and so the best indication of what his vision of the song was.

And it’s superb, even given the deterioration of his voice in the intervening decades. The first section follows the pattern of the 1971 recording pretty much exactly, including the additional “bygone, bygone” backing vocals, but on the highest notes, on the lines “canvass the town and brush the backdrop/Are you sleeping brother John?” Wilson is joined by two other voices, taking a low harmony while Jeff Foskett’s falsetto soars overhead. Whether this was a result of necessity (Wilson no longer being able to hit those notes) or it had always been his intention to have those parts be harmonised, it’s impossible now to say. What we can say is that it works beautifully.

The second section, meanwhile, keeps the same piano part that was used in the demo which became part of the 1971 recording, but embellishes it with more of von Mertens’ sparse, Germanic-sounding, string arrangements, adding to its austere beauty. And again, at the end, the track reverts to the style of the 1971 recording, including the “a children’s song” lyrics apparently added by Jack Rieley, although rather than fade out the track comes to a strong close on the line “a child” – an artefact of this version of Smile being prepared for live performance.

In every version, “Surf’s Up” is an astonishing recording, and while this version may not have the pure vocal beauty of the 1971 version (or of the 2011 edit which replaces Carl Wilson’s vocal on that track with a vintage Brian Wilson vocal digitally flown in from the demo), it’s all the more powerful for coming at the end of a movement in which its musical ideas have been properly set up and prefigured.

After this, the third movement of Smile can’t help but be something of a disappointment, but it must be remembered that this is a relative assessment – after this, any other music would be a disappointment, and the third movement of Smile still has much to love when judged on its own merits.

I’m in Great Shape

The third movement starts with a transitional piece, reworking some of the “cantina” section of “Heroes and Villains”, before going into a fragment that was originally intended to be part of that song (and which on The Smile Sessions is placed between “Roll Plymouth Rock” and “Barnyard” – the only sequencing decision on that set which is different from the 2004 recording). Taylor Mills, Jeffrey Foskett, and Wilson sing one line each of the three-line song about being “in the great shape of the agriculture”, before a saxophone restates the same melody, and the track dissolves into a tape-delay explosion, segueing into…

I Wanna Be Around
Songwriters: Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt

Another standard, this one had been written by Mercer after Vimmerstedt (a grandmother from Ohio) was inspired to write the first line and send it in an envelope addressed only to “Johnny Mercer, Songwriter, New York, NY” after reading about Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner’s breakup.

That first line (“I want to be around to pick up the pieces, when someone breaks your heart in two”) is the only one used here, with Mills echoing “your heart” and “in two” before the song turns into

Workshop
Songwriter: Brian Wilson

A short piano-based instrumental, over which the band “play” hammers, drills, saws, and other tools. The saws and so on sound, in fact, absolutely identical to the versions recorded in the 1960s, and may be the same recording, and thus the only part of the original Smile to be on the remade one (to hear the original tools in isolation without the instruments, listen to the end of “Do It Again”…), although various band members are credited as “playing” them.

Vega-Tables
Another song I’ve dealt with before in its Smiley Smile version, the Smile version of this song has a much more complex backing, adding piano and percussion to the bass, although the real strength of this track comes from the complex backing vocal lines, a cascade of overlapping vocal lines that make the song sound infinitely fuller than it otherwise would. It’s still a trifle, but an entertaining one.

On a Holiday
Previously bootlegged as “Holidays”, this is a joyful little track, all clarinet and marimba, with new lyrics by Parks, about pirates going on holiday to Hawaii (with a middle section spoke-sung by Nick Walusko), and incorporating both the “Plymouth Rock roll over” chorus and shouts of “child!”, harking back to the earlier movements. After ninety seconds it comes to a hard stop and is replaced by a piano playing a short, plaintive melody (the same one Wilson had reused as the intro to “Happy Days” in 1998), over which Wilson sings “long, long ago, long ago” – a line from a nineteenth century folk song, which Wilson presumably knew in the version by Patti Page.

This in turn segues into a marimba-and-piano rendition of the “whispering winds set my wind chimes a tinkling” section of “Wind Chimes”, here placed before the track proper rather than, as in the Smiley Smile version, as its tag.

Wind Chimes
The version of “Wind Chimes” on Smile is one of the few cases where the Smile interpretation of a song is definitively worse than the Smiley Smile version. While on Smiley Smile this is a sparse, gentle, unutterably strange song, one that it’s almost impossible to imagine a human mind conceiving, here the main part of the song becomes a simple common-time melody, pleasant enough but nothing astonishing, before going into several variations of the two-chord one-step-apart changes we heard in, for example, the “over and over” part of “Cabin Essence” or the “Child is Father of the Man” chorus. It’s pleasant, and interesting enough, but what was an astonishing highlight of Smiley Smile is one of the weaker points of Smile (though it says a lot about the general quality of Smile that the worst it gets is “pleasant, and interesting enough”).

Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow
Songwriter: Brian Wilson

And here we reach the most infamous track on the album – and the only recording for which Brian Wilson ever won a Grammy. There are many legends about this track, commonly known as “Fire”, and more than any other track on the album this led to the myth of Smile. But taken for what it is, this is a remarkable piece of work.

The track starts with a Swanee whistle, after which simultaneous ascending/descending chromatic scales are played on a piano while more Swanee whistles are played and bells rung (this section, in its original recording, was released on Good Vibrations as “Heroes & Villains: intro”).

That section sounds almost comical, but then there’s a hard cut into what may be the most accurate musical depiction of a fire ever. Toms and bass drums crash, fuzz bass pounds away, cellos roar, and over the top the band sing wordlessly (the same vocal part used on “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter” from Smiley Smile). This is one of those occasions where words can’t sum up the feeling of listening to the music, but this is a track that sounds astonishing even now, nearly fifty years after it was originally conceived.

In Blue Hawaii
After the fire, comes the water. “In Blue Hawaii” is based on the track originally released as “Love to Say DaDa” on the Good Vibrations box, and is made up of some of the same elements that were used in “Cool Cool Water” from Sunflower, but in a very different arrangement.

We start with an a capella, heavily reverbed, chant of “water water water”, with strings entering, buried in the mix. Another two-chord one-tone-apart section, but this is more…well, fluid. Over the top, Wilson sings new lyrics by Parks, tying the fire and water sections of this “elements suite” together – “is it hot as hell in here or is it me?…I could really use a drop to drink”.

We then have several more two-chord sections, in the vein of parts of “On a Holiday”, “Song For Children” and “Wind Chimes”, over which Wilson sings punning lyrics about Hawaii. It’s another minor piece, once the introduction has ended, but one that’s needed to relax us after the tension of “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”.

With the line “aloha nui means goodbye”, the album proper ends – the song goes into an outro incorporating some of the motifs that have appeared throughout the album, before ending on a fragment of “Our Prayer”.

Good Vibrations
Songwriters: Brian Wilson, Michael Love, and Tony Asher

And finally, we have this – not a part of any of the three suites, but the song that kickstarted Smile. The arrangement is pretty much identical to the original single for the most part — apart from Foskett (who doubles Wilson throughout the song) singing “and I’m pickin’ up” just before the first chorus — until the “gotta keep those lovin’ good” section, which is extended to include the “hum de ah” vocal part that had been recorded for the original but discarded, making the track run a good minute longer than the original.

The track also uses Tony Asher’s dummy lyrics for the verses (apart from the first line, which is from Love’s final lyric), though keeping Love’s lyrics for the rest of the song (for which Asher never wrote a lyric).

The result is, it has to be said, somewhat disappointing – unlike the rest of Smile, the original “Good Vibrations” single was released at the time, in the way Wilson wanted it, and complete. While one can understand the desire – even the necessity – to include the song on the album, all it does is remind you how good the original is. Both vocally and lyrically, the original single is superior, and while this does an excellent job of recreating the original arrangement and atmosphere, it will never match up to it.

But that can’t be said for the rest of the album. While parts of it (notably in the patchy third movement) don’t quite live up to the thirty-seven years of hype and legend, what’s amazing is that so much of it does. Smile – the completed, 2004, album – is a masterpiece, and that it exists at all is a testament to the talents not only of Wilson and Parks, but of Sahanaja, von Mertens, and the rest of Wilson’s superb band.

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2 Responses to The Beach Boys On CD: Brian Wilson Presents Smile

  1. Belver says:

    Thank you for this article Andrew, easily the best I’ve read on the subject and one I’m sure I’ll come back to. My one experience of seeing Brian Wilson perform live was at the Smile premiere, which felt at the time like a genuine triumph for everyone involved. Watching and listening to Brian’s performance had quite a profound effect on me. I have slightly more mixed feelings about the CD version, and you’ve articulated some of my own feelings about what makes it work and what perhaps could be considered flaws.
    Thanks again.

  2. TAD says:

    I’ve heard so many bad things about Morris Levy. Supposedly he would insist that a writer change one word in a song, and then he would demand a co-writing credit. And he did this a lot. Evil man.

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