I suppose that it was only a matter of time before I had a crack at this. ‘Smile’ by The Beach Boys is the the Holy Grail of unreleased records. The whole things started with the release of the ‘Good Vibrations’ single. Sounding like nothing that had been before, and since, ‘Good Vibrations’ was made up of sections edited together to make a whole. Essentially what we got was a pocket symphony lasting just over three and a half minutes.
This was a complete departure musically with the lyrics reflecting the burgeoning psychedelic movement. Brian Wilson’s approach was justified as it was a top ten single in most of the major record buying markets, and went to number 1 in the USA and UK. Emboldened by the success of the single, Wilson looked to make an album using the same modular approach as ‘Good Vibrations’. Over a ten month period, sessions for ‘Smile’ would continue before collapsing for a myriad of reasons. These included:
The band (who were not involved in the majority of the Smile sessions in a musical way since Wilson used the legendary Wrecking Crew of top notch sessions musicians to interpret his vision) were confused by this new direction. For the early sessions, they had been away on tour and were unaware of Wilson was up to in the studio.
Brian Wilson was gradually becoming more unstable during the recording sessions. This became apparent during the recording of the song ‘Fire’ when Wilson felt that the music had caused conflagrations in the area around the studio. This increased stability and paranoia may have increased due to his drug intact.
The band decided to take out a lawsuit against their record label for the non payment of royalties. Even if the album had been ready to go in mid 1967, it is unlikely that it would have been released at that time until the lawsuit was settled. With the music scene in the 60s never sticking to one genre too long, a delayed ‘Smile’ may well have been out of place musically and that would have effected sales.
The fact that the method Brian Wilson was using to put this album together was taxing at best, and near impossible in reality. With all of the music committed to tape, the only way to fit all of the sections together was by cutting and splicing the material together. Wilson had also spent so much time listening to the music, he could not longer see where the project was going as he couldn’t make up his mind what sections were worth using and where they would fit together.
These were not the only reasons why this album was not finished but it could be argued that these were the core. The Smile album has hung like a weight around the neck of the bands ever since the sessions collapsed in 1967. A version of ‘Heroes & Villains’ was released as a single, but did not match the success of ‘Good Vibrations’. Wilson felt that ‘Heroes & Villains’ would take the band away from the girls and surf music songs that they had been known for. It also ended Wilson’ self imposed need to compete with The Beatles. The failure of that single was taken to heart by Wilson and he slowly distance himself from the creative process.
‘Smile’ was never finished but that did not stop The Beach Boys from raiding the archive to include songs form the project to fill out that gaps left by Brian Wilson’s lack of creativity. ‘Cabin Essence’ and ‘Our Prayer’ would both appear on the ’20/20’ album. Sound effects from ‘Workshop’ would be included as the coda to the ’20/20’ version of ‘Do It Again’ ‘Surf’s Up’ would become the title track of their 1971 album with Carl Wilson recording the lead vocal that Brian was either unwilling or unable to record (due to the damage to his voice from smoking and drug habit). This version would also include the ‘Child Is The Father To The Man’ vocals included in the coda, which was included by Carl. ‘Mama Says’ from ‘Wild Honey’ was based on a section from the song ‘Vega-Tables’ and a part for the bridge if ‘Little Bird’ from the ‘Friends’ album also has a nod to the ‘Smile’ project in the form of the brass sound that was ultimately used.
Still ‘Smile’ refused to go away. When the band negotiated a contract with Warner Brothers Records in 1969, it was stipulated that they needed to provide a complete ‘Smile’ by 1973. Even though Carl Wilson said that the release was imitate, ‘Smile’ still didn’t appear. In the late 70s, the idea of releasing the sessions as a series of records, but this and a similar idea that was put forward in the early 80s came to nothing. It would take until 1993 and the ‘Good Vibrations: 30 Years of The Beach Boys’ box set for the first officially sanctioned release of ‘Smile’ material. At the same time, the sessions were becoming widely bootlegged, especially when CD replaced vinyl as the format of choice for the listener. It would take until 2004 for something resemble Smile to come out.
After the success of taking ‘Pet Sounds’ out on the road, Wilson was persuaded to go back to ‘Smile’ and a series of live concerts were performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 2003. An album followed in 2004, which did not include any of the original sessions and with original lyrical contributor Van Dyke Parks coming on board to finish off the words that had been left unsaid in the 60s. The concerts were a huge success and I was lucky enough to see it on opening night. The album was Wilson’s most successful solo work to that date. This in turn lead to the release of 2011s ‘The Smile Sessions’ where a version of ‘Smile was presented using the 2004 release as a template. It also include a number of sessions as well as a comprehensive guide to the recording sessions. The release was a success and won the Grammy for best Historical Album.
So why produce my own version? The great things about ‘Smile’ is that because it was never finished, nor a running order set out until 2004, it is easy to make your own. Using the 2011 mix as a guide and only including material from the box set, I split the music into two sections. Section 1 is labels ‘Heroes & Villains’ as the riff used for that song crops up in a good number of the tunes included here. This finishes with Cabin Essence. Section 2 is The Elements. This includes songs that reference each of the four elements; earth (‘Vega-Tables’), water (‘Cool, Cool Water’), air (‘Wind Chimes’) and fire (Mrs O’Leary’s Cow’). Apart from the fire element, these songs did not make up Brian Wilson’s proposed song cycle for this suite, but like so much of ‘Smile’ he did not record all of the pieces so I have just utilised some of the material for my own ends. As a bonus song, I have included the double sided ‘Heroes & Villains’ single that was included in the 2011 box set.
A number of these songs were never destined for the original ‘Smile’ record, but as they were all on the 2011 box set, they were fair game as far as I was concerned. This is also a rare compilation for me as I did not look to make the music fit to the playing time of a vinyl record. This was designed to utilise the expanded playing time of a CD. Enjoy.
- You’re Welcome
- The Heroes & Villains Suite
- My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine)
- Wonderful (Version 3)/ Child Is The Father Of Man
- Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)/Love To Say Dada Pt.1
- He Gives Speeches
- I’m In Great Shape
- Cabin Essence
- Our Prayer
- Good Vibrations
- Wind Chines
- The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow)
- I Wanna Be Around/Workshop
- Love To Say Dada Pt.2
- Look (Song For Children)
- Cool, Cool Water
- You’re With Me Tonight
- Surf’s Up
- Good Vibrations (Reprise)
- Heroes & Villains (Part 1)
- Heroes & Villains (Part 2)
For the cover artwork, I decided against using the sleeve that was produced back in 1967, but instead went for a fan version. This was produced by Dillon Carson and I did need to do a little bit of editing on it as his track listing did not match my own. I also added in the Capitol Records logo. You can find more of his work can be found on his website: https://www.dilloncarson.com.
He is also responsible for responsible for the cover artwork on the 2021 Beach Boys box set, ‘Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971’.