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The Beach Boys Smiley Smile (1967)

0001941631_500From amazon.com

Review This is one of the most misunderstood and in many peoples eyes disappointing album by The Beach Boys cause they make the mistake of comparing it to the classic “Smile” which was to be released in it’s stead but was shelved due to the pressures placed upon Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks by Capitol Records and Mike Love in particular. This album is not the original “Smile”, more to the point, it’s never been intended to be such. I recently read a comment describing it as “Smile Light” and I think that is the perfect way to describe it. It is a “lighter” more palatable version of “Smile”, a version were Brian could still release a bulk of the songs he and Parks had created while appeasing both Love and the record company.

This album has to be listed to on it’s own merit and not by trying to judge it against the original over even the “Brian Wilson Presents” version released in 2004. It was not arranged or produced in the same manner, the vocals on most of the song are vastly different in some cases than the original. Brian truly toned down this album and even with that, the genius of his compositions, Parks’ lyrical content and the gorgeous harmonies by the band still come shining through loud and clear. I know it’s a difficult task to try and separate the “Smile” from “Smiley Smile” but I think to truly appreciate both, you must. I’ve even had to go long periods of time between listening to the two albums to keep my thoughts on both separate.

The amazing thing about “Smiley Smile” to me, aside from the incredible songs, is that Brian was, in the midst of all the stresses his was dealing with, able to shelve the original and produce this album and release it within the same year of 1967. It’s unfortunate that the tensions forced his partnership with Van Dyke Parks to eventually fall apart. I think sometimes people forget just how popular this band was and how far reaching their influence had become by this time. The were already a chart topping band who had traveled the world doing shows and influencing musicians, singers and songwriters to produce songs from the heart and their majestic melodies were without equal in the 1960’s and for that matter, few bands have ever been ever to produce the sounds you heard on a Beach Boys LP.

I personally think of “Smiley Smile” as a triumph for Brian Wilson as I don’t know how many other artists could produce an album of this magnitude with all that was going on around him. If you want to know that he meant to music of the time, read the articles of the day were you have The Beatles, George Martin and a host of others singing their praises. Sgt Pepper is a direct attempt to recreate the magic of “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” was something that no one up to that point in rock music had thought of. Brian Wilson was truly on a whole other level and groups like The Beatles understood that. This was a very important and creative time in popular music and Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were very much a part of it and, in many ways, at the forefront of what was going on.

So, if you have had trouble with this album previously, give it another try and allow it to stand on it’s own and put it in it’s own context apart from “Smile” as it was never meant to be that. Give the songs a fresh listen and see if you can find more appreciation for what the Boys accomplished and what their legendary leader, Brian Wilson, was able to pull off against very trying and stress filled circumstances. I think if you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Review After the one-two artistic triumph of Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations,” expectations ran high for the next projected Beach Boys album, Smile. That mythical record never happened, and its legend cast a long shadow over every subsequent Beach Boys recording, unfortunately obscuring the merits of a string of rewarding, esoteric works, Smiley Smile being the first of these.

Though many have lamented that this album’s interpretations of the Smile material are but pale facsimiles of that opus’ full-blown productions, these criticisms are one-sided and unfair, Smiley Smile being quite remarkable in its own right. In many ways, it’s even more challenging and avant garde than what had been planned for Smile; Smiley Smile is easily the single weirdest thing the Beach Boys have ever released.

And Smiley Smile is not just anamolous in the Beach Boys’ catalog — nobody else has made a record that sounds anything like it, either. The barely-there production makes it sound like a collection of demos, often featuring just vocals, keyboards and incidental production, lending a creepy edge particularly to the re-recorded Smile material, which was pretty ghoulish to begin with. Some of the remakes, like the bizarre “She’s Goin’ Bald,” even improve upon the originals, and the included spectral doo-wop take on “Wonderful” is as immortal as the long-lost Smile version.

“Heroes and Villains” says more about the whole Smile era in three minutes than the several books that have covered the subject since. In addition to these cuts and the million-selling “Good Vibrations” (which is best programmed out for consistency), there’s also a dissonant, impressionistic instrumental (“Fall Breaks and Back to Winter”), and “Gettin’ Hungry,” a released single (oddly credited to “Brian and Mike”) that revolves around swirling organ drones rivalling anything conjured up by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, also featuring a great Brian Wilson a capella vocal break. Wilson cultists pining for an official Smile release should give a(nother) listen to this underrated disc; it’s a small gem, but is shines brightly nonetheless.

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May 4, 2013 Posted by | The Beach Boys Smiley Smile | | Leave a comment