Note: already after I’ve finished writing this review, I suddenly remembered that a weird former part of myself actually already wrote a review of this album, and not on the Prindle site.
I checked it out and was excited to learn I still share a lot of those opinions, but since there were a few actual differences, plus, the old review’s style was a bit, er, obsolete, to put it roughly, after some inner debates I decided to keep the new one after all. Here’s a link to the old classic weird review, then (see the Friends entry, of course).
Back to the new one, now. After Wild Honey, I guess it was obvious that the Beach Boys had entirely given up on competition of any sorts, and both of last year’s albums had cemented the “dated” image of the boys so firmly in the public opinion that it was impossible to compete anyway. In this respect, I don’t think Brian ever had any illusions about potential success when he and the boys were recording Friends.
The album seems to go entirely against the trends and norms of 1968, in almost every single respect, even more so than the Kinks. It’s abysmally short, about twenty five minutes long, bringing back the era of Surfin’ Safari. It’s based on singles. It’s drastically underproduced, with many of the tunes employing just a single organ pattern or a trivial piano-bass interplay. Worse of all, it’s softer than any other record released at the time – rock record, at least, if we’re to consider the Beach Boys a rock band.
But it’s a good record, twenty five minutes of calm, quiet, and exceptionally tuneful relaxation. It’s just that the record is so stripped down that at times I get the feeling I’m listening to Smiley Smile again. Fortunately, it is not so: all of the compositions on here are all very well thought-out and finished, all of them joining together in one intentional package of briefness, charm and soothingness. It just takes time to get into; a time and a mood. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t yet had a chance to get into the required mood, but I’ll try to fake it.
After all, there’s a time for everything, and just because I haven’t been patient enough to wait for the time for Friends, do you think I can bash a good album just like that? No way!
I can bash certain songs, though. Like almost everybody, I can, will and even feel myself obliged to bash the chitlins out of ‘Transcendental Meditation’, one of the band’s lowest points of the epoch. What an ugly and dumb way to end the record – with a two-minute pseudo-rocker based on discordant jazzy brass work and corny, sappy vocals that have absolutely nothing to do with transcendental meditation. The only excuse I can take for the existence of the song is that it has to be taken tongue-in-cheek, based on the Beach Boys’ unhappy experience of touring with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. If they ever wanted to make fun of his doctrine, they couldn’t have taken a better route… and even so, it still sucks.
More arguable would be my dismissal of the two compositions by Dennis. Despite the hugely laudable liner notes about Dennis’ enormous creative potential and beautiful voice, I can only say that (a) if Dennis ever had a potential in the first place, it wouldn’t start coming out until a couple of albums later and (b) out of all the Beach Boys’ voices, his is undeniably the worst – not exactly lacking expression, but very insecure of itself and, well, ordinary compared to the rest. ‘Little Bird’ is at least upbeat in its own humble way, but ‘Be Still’ just passes me by like a stone: minimalistic organ notes and near a cappella singing in that shaky tone don’t really make up for substantial listening.
So let’s stick to the real thing, shall we? There are nine more songs, which all rule in one of the nine possible ways. Way number one: take the same minimalist organ pattern as in ‘Be Still’, but supplement it with a great emotional vocal hook and cute backing vocals and make a half-minute intro. That’s ‘Meant For You’, as gorgeous an introduction to an album that there ever was.
Way number two: make up a cheerful, delightful waltz that will make you feel at home even if you’re listening to it through a gap in Lucifer’s jaws. That’s the title track. Way number three: to punch up some emotionality, take a music-hall melody and play it in a minor key to put an inch of melancholy into the pudding (‘Wake The World’). Way number four: sing a song in a pitch higher than everything you did before (‘Be Here In The Morning’). And so on…
I’ll just mention three songs more because there are substantial things I think I can say about ’em. ‘Passing By’, although instrumental, is also one of the very best instrumentals ever recorded by the band. Unlike the early obligatory surf send-ups or the “experimental for the sake of experimentation” stuff on Pet Sounds, this one has a really interesting original melody that’s just as soothing as everything else on here but doesn’t suffer from cheaply penned lyrics. Cool harmony lines, oh so cool harmony lines, too. Next: ‘Anna Lee The Healer’ is beautiful.
A bit McCartneyesque in style, and I could care less if Mike Love’s lyrics are ridiculous beyond belief, set out to celebrate the talents of a masseuse of all people. Finally, ‘Diamond Head’ is another instrumental and one of the weirdest ones they ever did. Who said experimentation days are over? It describes a Hawaiian landmark and does so in a million different ways and so vivaciously I really gape in awe. Listen to the sound effects, the slide guitars, the complex percussion, the way the melodies fade out and come back in a different way… a whole world of its own.
And that’s about it. I know I mentioned the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society in the previous review already, but I can’t help but make a comparison again – this album is the equivalent, with the nice charming rural atmosphere overwhelming the listener. Even the album cover with all the ‘green’ overtones brings on associations. Needless to say, both albums sank equally low at the time… and were replaced on the pedestal as time went by.
Still, let us not forget Friends is not a masterpiece – too short, too much filler for such a short album, and, well, hey, it’s no Pet Sounds, you know, as banal as it sounds.
There’s something to be said for trashy biographies, as long as a reader is somewhat prepared to take what he or she reads at less than face value. “Heroes & Villains” has undeniable readability, throws up some arresting caricatures that must bear some proximation to the subjects described, and is more lurid than mean-spirited in its design.
But you really wonder about factual accuracy with a book about a group of pop music giants that manages to misspell the names of Jimi Hendrix, Glen Campbell, and Sam Cooke. That’s a rock, country, and soul trifecta for those keeping score, not to mention Campbell was briefly a member of the Beach Boys’ touring band. Or how about a book that is ostensibly about the Boys but spills more ink about the bodyguard who had an affair with Brian Wilson’s wife than it does on Al Jardine or Bruce Johnston, actual members of the band?
At least Gaines throws in a kind mention of Bruce Johnston’s classic “Disney Girls (1957),” which was nice for this fan to read. It’s more notable because there’s not much attention in this book to the Beach Boys music, other than their earliest, career-making singles, “Good Vibrations,” and the Pet Sounds album. He skims over so much there’s no mention of such classics as “Wendy,” “Do It Again,” “Little Honda,” “Come Go With Me,” “All Summer Long,” and “Good Timin’.” There’s nothing said of “Kokomo” either, though since the book was published in 1986, two years before that final number-one hit was released, you can’t blame Gaines for missing it. (If only the Beach Boys had.)
The advantage of Gaines approach is you do get drawn in, right away as he begins by recounting the last hours of Dennis Wilson’s troubled life, then back-pedals to the abusive Hawthorne, CA household where frustrated songwriter Murry Wilson browbeats and, at times, just beats his three sons into becoming the closest answer America ever had to the Beatles. Murry is one guy you can’t worry about being too unfair with, and to his credit, Gaines attempts to separate fact from fiction with this nasty fellow.
But the book sags notably once the band’s career takes off. Gaines can’t really focus on the music, or even on the band’s upward trajectory or its influence on popular culture. His interest is exclusively on What Went Wrong. As a result, this reads at times more like an autopsy report than the history of a band so successful it became an institution. Unlike Gaines’ Beatles book, “The Love You Make,” there’s no narrative thread to sustain the story. The most wretched lowpoints are thrown up one after another with minimal context.
There’s fun to be had here, with a character list right out of Dickens, everyone seemingly scrambling to be more messed up than the next. Brian and Dennis Wilson are obvious centers of attention, as is a manager who apparently got the bright idea of moving America’s Band to the Netherlands just so he could have a cozier place to be with his boyfriend. A succession of managers, wives, girlfriends, and hangers-on create an environment so chaotic and dysfunctional you are hardly surprised when the Manson Family drops in for an extended stay.
Brian’s ’70s excesses prompts one funny question from Gaines, “how a 240-pound, unwashed, emotionally-disturbed man could wind up with three women fighting over him?” The answer of course, is money and fame can blind a lot of people. The problem is, in a different way, it blinds Gaines, too, making him look less at the Beach Boys as confused mortals than as depraved gods making a gorgeous mess of their Mt. Olympus.
Unless you have some personal stake in the Beach Boys, and many do, there’s probably more to like in this book than not, provided you don’t take it seriously. The bitter recollections of hangers-on don’t really make for a definitive story, though the claims made in “Heroes & Villains” are the kind any serious biographer will need to address, which is more a good thing than not. I liked reading it more for entertainment than illumination, but I needed to take a shower when I was done.
Being that I’m a massive fan of The Beach Boys, I approached their newest album with great trepidation.
After all, only seven months prior marked the triumphant release of The Smile Sessions, the mythical album that actually lived up to (and even exceeded) the years of anticipation built up behind it finally seeing the light of day. I didn’t want anything to lessen that accomplishment. More than that, I guess I just didn’t want to see Brian Wilson embarrass himself this late in the game. Which is why it honestly pleases me to say that, while their new album is (obviously) no Pet Sounds, it’s (thankfully) no Still Cruisin’ either.
More than half of the album is loaded with bright songs that bring to mind the first few post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys’ albums. First single, “That’s Why God Made The Radio”, even harkens back a little further, sounding like it could have fit right in the middle of the track-list for Today.
Admittedly it’s pretty cheesy lyrically, but the harmonies and production are as good as they’ve sounded in over thirty years. And honestly, the same could be said of the lyrics to a lot of the songs on their first ten albums, so it’s not detrimental to the essence of The Beach Boys.
That said, not all of the sunnier tracks are winners. “The Private Life of Bill and Sue” ventures a little too far into the schmaltz that plagued the Mike Love-driven incarnation of the band, for example. Still, most of them are adequate (“Spring Vacation”) to good (“Shelter”), with a few that are downright great (“Daybreak Over The Ocean”, “Beaches in Mind”).
However, what really makes the album work are the songs where the band gets introspective. Whereas the introspection on Pet Sounds focused on Wilson’s personal issues and his feelings of not belonging, this time it’s a more universal theme, dealing with the pain and sadness of growing old.
The final three tracks on the album, which deal with this theme in one way or another, are stunningly good–and in all honesty they push the album from “passable” to “good”. First up is the Al Jardine-fronted ballad “From There To Back Again”, which is their best ballad since the 70s.
Up next is the under-two-minute “Pacific Coast Highway”, which makes the most out of its short length with its soaring vocals. But the album closer, “Summer’s Gone”, is the definite album highlight, in which Wilson’s heartbreaking lyrics on aging, losing friends, and knowing he’s approaching the late-stages of his life are aided by mournful production and classic harmonization by the rest of the band.
By all accounts, a reunited Beach Boys album released in 2012 could have been the sound of a band coasting, resting on their laurels and simply putting out a quick cash-grab. Luckily they’ve shown more respect to their fans and themselves, and put out a piece of work that sounds like it had a lot of effort behind it. The band has never quite been the same–and never will be–without Dennis and Carl, so even with obvious effort it doesn’t always strike gold. But when it does it hits way closer to the highs of the band in their prime than it should.
If they never make another album, they can feel good knowing they went out on a high note, and I can’t think of a better song to close out a legendary career than “Summer’s Gone”—for a number of reasons.
Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin (2007)
Review Beach Boys fans read this excellent book at their peril.
There are a very few good vibrations in the story of Brian Wilson and his group, but there’s no shortage of extremely bad vibrations. By the end of the book you may feel you’re heartily sick of each and every drug-addled, money-obsessed, talentless washed-out Beach Boy with the exception of Brian himself. These days they’re a living, breathing embarrassment. They sue each other perpetually, and Al Jardine and Mike Love now tour America with rival bands claiming to be the Beach Boys.
Pity rich pop star Brian Wilson. First he was bullied and humiliated by his father, the repulsive Murray Wilson. Later he was bullied and harrassed by Mike Love. Years after that he was taken prisoner by a deranged psychiatrist who bullied him 24 hours a day. What all these people wanted was – more hit songs! More! Another million seller! Now!
The exhilaration of making hit record after hit record quickly became a relentless treadmill. Brian was the sole creative force in the group. By the age of 22 he was composer, lead singer, bass player, arranger and producer. After two years of that he had his first breakdown and quit touring. The wave crested in 1965 when everything was working out – they’d fired Murray as manager, Brian stayed home and wrote more hits and the group toured.
But then he began to change. Within three years there was “Pet Sounds”, the still astonishing single “Good Vibrations”, and then the disaster of “Smile”, Brian’s increasing psychological problems, and by 1968 the Beach Boys were pulling crowds of 200, hopelessly out of fashion. The 1960s was a very fast decade.
During the next 20 years (!) Brian was not a functioning human being. His colossal intake of drugs and food was in inverse proportion to his tiny output of songs. The whole sorry saga makes for gruesome reading. “As Carnie remembers, her father began most of his days with a dozen eggs and an entire loaf of bread” and for dinner “he’d eat his entire steak in two bites”. From the late 60s to the mid-80s the other Beach Boys were perpetually dancing around trying to get Brian to lay more golden eggs for them.
They tried anything they could think of, including tough love (pretending to fire him from the group). They ended up hiring a 24-hour-a-day showbiz psychiatrist to rescue him, Dr Eugene Landy. And before you could say “medical ethics” Brian had started writing songs again but they were credited to “Wilson/Landy”. So the Beach Boys sued the psychiatrist.
The grim story does have a kind of happy ending though – after trudging through this (always well-written and readable) catalogue of unhappiness we arrive at the year 2001 when Brian, now married to Melinda Ledbetter (who sounds like one of the few really nice people in the whole book), finally – 34 years later! – finishes “Smile” and even performs it live on stage to universal acclaim. As you finish the book you think “Enough – I don’t ever want to read another word about these horrible people or about poor tormented Brian – I just want to listen to their beautiful music”.
And in some ways I’m sorry I did read this book. It’s strange to admire the Beach Boys’ great mass of brilliant music so much but to dislike them all as human beings, except Brian of course. You don’t dislike him, but you do pity him. I don’t believe the author intended to perform hatchet jobs on all these people, he just let the awful facts speak for themselves. And now I’m hoping the remaining Beach Boys won’t sue me for this review.
Review What makes this particular biography unique is the fact that it was written with the consent and participation of Brian Wilson. Trying, as it would seem, to set the record straight, or at least correct some of the falsehoods perpetuated by his physician/guru Eugene Landy, who purportedly had a very strong influence on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story.”
Peter Ames Carlin explores the history of the Beach Boys through their leader (at least for the first decade) and he writes as an obvious fan of the group and their music.
In writing of Brian’s gradual coming apart, he give amples time and space to the other members of the group, who in Brian’s absence, continued to write and record some of the Beach Boys best and most creative albums. Yes, “Pet Sounds” is a masterpiece, but what about “Sunflower,” “Friends,” “20/20?” These albums stand on their own as fantastic contributions to the world of music.
Mental illness is a grey area, and thankfully, Carlin doesn’t put Brian on the couch and try to dissect why he is the way he is. Of course, Brian’s relationship with his father, his wife, and the other band members is looked at, but Carlin doesn’t attempt to explain away what is essentially a state of being, a creative mind that buckled under the weight of the world.
I haven’t read any other Beach Boy or Brian Wilson biographies, so I can’t compare or judge based on what isn’t here. On it’s own, this book provides an extremely insightful look at one musical genius and the history of the Beach Boys through that lens.
Obviously, for any fan of the group, for anyone who truly appreciates the Beach Boys legacy and not just their “fun in the sun” albums, this is a great book.
It struck me amazing when I read the announcement that every living member of The Beach Boys were going to release a brand new album (with songs co-written by Brian Wilson) and even embark on a world tour together. In particular since they hadn’t released an album since 1992, and Wilson hadn’t toured with the group since 1965. In other words: This was history. (Or at least an afterthought of history, to those of you scratching your heads why I like going to see these dinosaur acts.) So naturally, I had to go to this. And how lucky I felt when I learned that they were going to stop by the Chateau Ste Michelle winery, a local venue I’ve been to four times in the past two years? Tickets went on sale exactly at 10 o’clock on April 28, and I was incessantly hitting the “refresh” button on my Internet browser to get tickets the exact millisecond they went on sale.
Last year, I claimed I was going to join their wine club for $400 a year, which would have allowed me to buy tickets a few days earlier. Doing that probably would have meant I could secure a seat somewhere in the first few rows. However, I didn’t end up doing that. I after all don’t have much use for wine, having approximately the culinary sophistication of a raccoon, and it’s difficult to get me to spend $400 on something that’s only liquid anyway. Nevertheless, I managed to score seats in the 13th row. Not too shabby at all.
The line-up they were advertising of course made me very eager to part with my hard-earned cash: This was Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks. Marks, in case you’re not a total geek, was the rhythm guitarist for the band during their first four albums. He was the replacement for Al Jardine who had been temporarily absent from the group. (Although there was a brief period when both Jardine and Marks were part of the Beach Boys roster.) Of course these classic five couldn’t have embarked on this tour to recreate live the lush sounds of their catalog without a little help. Or a lot of help, rather. As a matter of fact, they had so much help that I don’t think the actual sound of the concert would have been very much affected if the core-Five played absolutely nothing. (That is with the exception of David Marks who let rip two or three spirited electric guitar solos.) Naturally, I’m still highly appreciative of at least watching these guys play. We all would have been at a loss without those visuals. But anyway, the backing band they toured with practically constituted an entire army. Among them were three percussionists, a guy who played various woodwind instruments, and many-an-extra-guitarist. Most of these performers also helped provide the thick background vocals required for virtually all Beach Boys songs. One guy of special note was Jeff Fosket who sings all the falsetto stuff in lieu of Brian Wilson, who’s no longer able to reach such notes.
I’ll also mention with beaming eyes that I remember the very first song performed at the concert without help from reading set-lists. It was “Do it Again.” Although I figured that would be their first song, anyway. I mean, what a better choice? This would become the first of many, many, many songs they’d sing that evening. Fourty-seven in total for a concert spanning three hours. These songs were each performed each in their entirety (which wasn’t impossible since many of them are hardly two minutes long), but quite a few were done in succession without pauses in between. These guys of course didn’t go three hours without an intermission, but even the intermission seemed rather short. (I remember The Moody Blues last year taking their sweet old time to come back on stage after the intermission.)
Mike Love announced a few times to the crowd that he was up for going late, late, late into the night; however, the winery forces them to stop the show promptly at 10 o’clock. (His kind of circus-ringmaster tone when he talked made it pretty obvious he was insincere about that; I’m sure if they actually performed an extra song, he’d be at the gate collecting a few dollar bills from everybody leaving.) Love was also adamantly peddling Beach Boys merchandise in a manner that somehow managed to be jokey and serious at the same time. He said they wanted to sell as many copies of their new album as possible, so they bundled them together 10 for $100. The reason you’d actually want to buy this is because one copy of the CDs has their autographs on it. (One thing I refuse to do in life: Acquire autographs.) I caught a YouTube clip of Love in 1969 begging the audience to buy copies of all their albums, so I guess this is part of his standard schtick. I’ve never seen Love in concert before, so I am new to this.
By the way, I’m not a Mike Love basher. I might poke fun at him sometimes, but I’m not bashing him. As far as the mass-hatred this guy seems to receive, I don’t think it’s always so necessary. One thing that’s undeniable is that he’s an integral part of the band’s history. So many of the group’s classic tunes feature his vocals on lead, and they sure as hell wouldn’t have been the same without ’em. (You might argue they would have been better without him, but how would you ever know for sure?) However, I suppose I agree it’s annoying how often he seems to be suing his bandmates and perhaps even more annoying how proud he is of the #1 Hit Single “Kokomo.” Then again, I suppose he had good reasons for those lawsuits, and… er… “Kokomo” isn’t so awful anyway. The worst thing I can say about “Kokomo” is there are at least 75 Beach Boys songs I like better. But that really only goes to show how many great songs these guys have come up with over the years.
And I know writing this is going to be like a dagger in the heart to the Mike Love haters, but here I go: I saw Brian Wilson sing along a little bit with “Kokomo.” I know. A lot of people wish he would cover his ears and cower in pain every time that song pops up, but it was no dice. He was even grinning ear-to-ear as it was starting. …Although that might not have been specifically because of “Kokomo.” He might have had a funny thought, or something.
…By the way, even though Wilson has approximately the stage presence of Frankenstein’s Monster, I think he’s far more lucid than he seems. Check out some of his recent television interviews where he not only talks coherently in a jovial manner but also jokes around and pulls out deep memories from childhood that he’s never told anyone before. The reason for his heavy touring over these last 10 years, I think, must have been to make up for lost time. Though he does seem awfully out of it on stage; he was seated at a white baby grand piano for the vast majority of the show, sometimes watching the band almost as if he were an audience member. And I’m positive a teleprompter or something was telling him to turn to the audience occasionally and wave. Whenever he’d wave, those moments came off as sudden and quite awkward. (I remember vividly seeing him perform the Smile album in 2005 and he was even reading out loud things on the teleprompter written in brackets, such as [Instrumental].) But as awkward as he might be on stage, it’s great he can still get out and tour with The Beach Boys. I know this has been said a million times already, but I don’t think anyone would have predicted he’d have been the one to survive into his 70s without either of his brothers by his side. Perhaps it’s nothing short of a miracle.
And even though Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson couldn’t have been there in person (and I found myself really yearning for that), The Beach Boys found a way to bring them back in spirit. Brian Wilson read off a line stating that the next portion of the show we were about to experience was to honor their memories. What we got first was a video of Dennis singing “Forever,” and the remaining Beach Boys provided background vocals and instruments. It was quite a moment. That song easily is one of the most beautiful they have ever done–and by proxy, it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Amazingly, isn’t as celebrated as it should be. (Hmm… I haven’t even celebrated that song; I just looked at my review of Sunflower from four or five years ago, and I only gave it a B+. I’m going to write myself some flame-mail for that.) After that, we got a video of Carl singing “God Only Knows,” and this marked another intensely beautiful moment.
The massive running length of this show certainly allotted them enough time to perform every Greatest Hit you could possibly think of. They lumped together all their famous cars songs like this: “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around.” The second song performed that evening, “Little Honda,” was not part of this group, because that’s about a motorcycle, duh! (OK, OK, I don’t think I knew that until now!) They also performed all their surfing/beach songs at the beginning of the show: “Catch a Wave,” “Hawaii,” “Don’t Back Down,” “Surfin’ Safari,” and “Surfer Girl.” However, they saved “Surfin’ USA” for their final song of that night, sans the encore.
They also played one song early on in the show that I couldn’t quite place. It turns out it was “Getcha Back” from The Beach Boys ’85. So far I’ve avoided what has been called their “horrible ’80s,” but that will be rectified soon enough. Yes, I’m even going to take a gander at Keepin’ the Summer Alive. Even though “Getcha Back” has nothing on their classics, it was quite a lot of fun to see them do. (This just goes to show that I found everything enjoyable at the show. And I truly did.) There was even a selection from vastly non-celebrated album L.A. Light Album, “Good Timin’.” …Again, not that great of a song compared to their ‘hits,’ but it was nice to hear anyway. More than anything, this shows us that they’re not blowing their noses at any particular part of their back-catalog. Naturally, of course the ’60s was the best part of their back-catalog. Everyone in the crowd probably realized that immediately when they gave their highly spirited rendition of “Wendy,” which was clearly one of the highlights of the show’s first half. One of my favorite portions of the second half was “All Summer Long” from the same album, a song I’ve been listening to a lot leading up to this concert. (Whatever it is about that song *clicked* with me suddenly.)
One album that was especially well-represented was Today!, which should have been good news to anyone who thinks that’s their best album. All that stuff constituted some of the show’s main highlights. Among them were “Please Let Me Wonder” and “Kiss Me Baby.” Their cover of “Do You Wanna Dance?” was the middle song performed in the encore, which lent its hand in helping the concert end on an explosive note. However, the final song from the encore was “Fun, Fun, Fun,” that ditty ‘inspired’ by Chuck Berry. That was some pure old-school electricity there. (Another massively upbeat song I would have wished to hear from Today! was “Dance, Dance, Dance,” but with a catalog like theirs, I guess it had to be left off!)
But another song from Today! they did perform was “When I Grow Up to Be a Man.” When it started, though, it was only a few seconds before it was suddenly halted by Mike Love. He screamed in his microphone: “Stop! This isn’t right!” The players on stage looked confused. Al Jardine said “Well, we got a few notes out.” What I thought Love was going to do next was a joke–something along the lines of “Look at us! Haven’t we grown into men by now?” What he said instead was simply that the intro was botched and that we in the audience deserved better. So, he directed the group to start over. I’m not exactly sure what was botched about it, but I wouldn’t want to question his judgement. Speaking of botching things, I could barely hear Love’s vocals in “Kokomo.” Maybe there was a certain Brian-Wilson-fanboy in the sound-mixing station who did that on purpose?
There were one or two pretty substantial cracks at their old ages at the show. Love knelt on the ground to sing the blaring-saxophone intro to “Be True To Your School,” but he had to enlist the younger members of the group to help him back up. As they did so, there were sound effects of bones cracking. Also, about three songs into the set, Love jokingly announced that it was time for an intermission, because they needed a nap. Another thing Love did was lay thickly some pretty big compliments on his band-mates, especially Brian Wilson. “How do you like those chord progressions? That’s pure Brian Wilson there,” he said at one point. The cynic in me, of course, assumes Love only said those things to appease people in the crowd who wouldn’t have attended this concert if Wilson wasn’t there. But on the other hand, how about those chord progressions?
Love’s repartee with the crowd was usually very corny and he almost certainly said the same things everywhere he went on this tour. But I nevertheless enjoyed watching him. I figured, before the show, I’d only want to keep my eyes fixed on pop-royalty Brian Wilson, but I found out that Love was hogging my attention more than anyone. Also earning quite a bit of my attention was the insatiably spirited Al Jardine. He was probably the only Beach Boy people in the crowd were able to recognize, if they only knew them from their old photographs. His voice was also the most preserved.
The evening’s definitive WTF moment was a rendition of their psychedelic oddity from Carl and the Passions called “All This is That.” Even though a set-list published the day after the show confirmed that I’d heard that song, as well as distinctly recalling them singing that familiar nursery-rhyme melody, I could have sworn I’d also heard a little smidgeon of “Transcendental Meditation” played before it. (I was probably confused, because I remember distinctly Mike Love saying “Transcendental Meditation” before the performance.) I’m not sure exactly why they needed to play “All This is That” when I’m sure the crowd would have reacted far more positively to at least 40 other songs in The Beach Boys’ catalog that I can rattle of off the top of my head. But whatever. As they were singing it, I had a thought that I should rush up to the stage and yell at Mike Love to play “Student Demonstration Time.” …He probably would have loved that. However, my ultimate idea of a WTF moment would be for them to play “Johnny Carson” and supplement it with random photos of Johnny Carson on their big screen. That would have caused mass confusion. Except to the few people who’ve actually heard that album, and I don’t think a whole lot of people there have. (Speaking of the big screen, what’s with all those bikini girl models they kept showing there? I found that very distracting. And we can all go home and see that stuff in the privacy of our own Internet, thanks. With that said, something they also showed frequently on their screen that I did appreciate was classic footage of the band.)
Another unexpected song that I actually loved hearing was Al Jardine’s “California Saga/California.” This was the moment of the show Jardine was especially allowed to shine, even though that wasn’t the only time he sang lead vocals. Additionally, Bruce Johnston’s special moment was “Disney Girls (1957),” which was a lovely and unexpected pick from their ’70s catalog. However, it’s not too well known; while he sang that, I heard a macaw-voiced woman behind me screech “What song is that?!” (Awwww… Everyone who went to that show should own a copy of Surf’s Up, dang it!) Somehow through age, Johnston’s voice gained more of a cutesy, sugar-encrusted tinge to it than it ever had before. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a song like that. Mike Love was even threatening to let Johnston sing “I Write the Songs,” the world-famous tune that ended up with Barry Manilow. But no. They weren’t allowed to let the concert go past 10. (In my opinion “Disney Girls” is far superior, but of course the schlock-ridden Manilow song gets all the love!)
During the intermission, I had noted that I had heard nothing from Pet Sounds. Fortunately, my desires to hear anything they could muster from that album were quenched swimmingly immediately after. That was when David Marks came on stage to play that guitar line from the title track I have so engrained in my mind. The rest of the backing band came on to accompany him for that, of course. Soon after, he was joined by the rest of The Beach Boys who played through three Pet Sounds songs without pauses: “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” (featuring the lead vocals of Brian Wilson), “Sloop John B,” and the most electrifying of the bunch, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
There were only two songs from the Smile era, and they naturally picked the two I assume everybody yearned to hear most: “Heroes and Villains” and “Good Vibrations.” Naturally, every song at this concert was played as closely to their studio counterparts as possible; “Good Vibrations” even went so far as to use a modified theremin. (It wasn’t actually a theremin, but it also wasn’t a keyboard. It was a special instrument with a giant knob that sat idle most of the concert.)
Now, more about Mike Love. (As if he didn’t hog most of this review anyway!) I was witness to something a little bit creepy that went on between him and a girl seated two rows in front of me. She must’ve been about 18 with long dirty blond hair and a cleavage revealing green striped beach-party shirt. Most people at the show were seated in their chairs most the time–because that’s this venue’s policy. However, she was one of the few people who stood up and danced through much of the show. At one point, I saw Mike Love point to this girl and then loosely wiggle his ring-encrusted fingers at her like some kind of prissy French monarch. He then made a poppy-eyed expression and mouthed “Whoah!” What I don’t think he noticed was that this young lady happened to be standing between her parents. I laughed at that, thinking the parents were going to tell their daughter “OK, maybe you should sit down now, sweetie.” Instead, the father enthusiastically gave Love the thumbs-up sign. ……..Brrrr. Am I wrong to think that’s creepy? What was a far cuter scene, though, was when Love invited her on the stage to dance and sing along to “Barbara Ann,” and she was as spirited as can be. She was even allowed to sing in a microphone (I think taking the place of Johnston at the keyboards), and she knew all the words. Far better than I would’ve done, that’s for sure. (The sound-mixers must’ve been very on-the-ball, because I couldn’t hear a female voice singing there at all.)
Another thing that was going on at the concert was that people were tossing around plastic beach balls. I’m sure the band’s roadies had unleashed these things on the crowd; they do that at all the shows. But the problem with doing that at this venue was that it was a winery, and a lot of people were sitting in chairs sipping on glasses of wine. …So a common sight I saw was someone in the middle of sipping a glass of wine and BAM be hit in the back of the head with a beach ball! There was one lady in particular nearby me who got hit five or six times. Hilarious. How many times did I get hit, you might ask? Zero. That’s because I’ve got mojo.
It’s unclear whether The Beach Boys will ever tour again in this capacity, and if they came to your town, I hope you took the opportunity to go to it. You were probably able to tell from the tone-of-voice in this review that I thought this concert was a blast and a half, and as old as these guys might be, they can still put on an electrifying time. (That is, thanks in a large part to the help of their army of back-up singers and musicians! Which, you know, helped make the show worth the steep $125 per ticket.) My only complaint about it is that as long as they were bringing back old Beach Boys members, why couldn’t they also have dug up Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar? Chaplin, after all, was the original lead singer of “Sail on, Sailor.” …However, perhaps it was best that that the song was returned to Brian Wilson, perhaps its rightful owner, who sang it at the show.
Dennis Wilson had been emerging as one of the Beach Boys’ main songwriters in previous albums, but he suddenly left that stage for Surf’s Up. On top of that, Brian also was less-functional when it came to song writing. Apart from a few co-writing credits (in which he most likely only ‘help a bit’), his only contributions were a depressing ballad, “Til I Die,” a minimalist tune about a tree, “Day in the Life of a Tree,” and an unused outtake from the busted Smile sessions, the title track. This of course meant that Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston had to come up with the remaining songs. And they did it surprisingly well. (Except for Mike Love.)
Carl Wilson, who apparently hadn’t penned anything for the band at this point, contributed “Free Flows,” an oddball and completely original song that proved the guy had some bottled up creativity. The chord-progressions certainly aren’t as majestic as Brian’s (in fact, there are only two chords being used in a major section of this), but the harmonies aren’t the point of it. The choppy chords are somehow mesmerizing, and that mystical jam in the middle (basically a duet between a flute and a mysterious electric guitar) is quite exciting. It more closely resembles Frank Zappa than the classic Beach Boys, and that is a really compelling aspect of it. (Of course, they still wanted it to be relatively accessible whereas that wasn’t a main concern for Zappa…) Carl also wrote the more traditional “Long Promised Road,” a multi-part suite that is nearly as ‘epic’ and tuneful as one of Brian’s. The only major difference, again, is it doesn’t quite exhibit Brian’s incredible knack for harmonies. But it was surprisingly close.
Bruce Johnston wrote a surprisingly heart warming gem, “Disney Girls (1957).” It’s a ballad that probably belongs in 1957, but I guess that was the point. It’s a sweet song with one of those melodies that’s prone to stick in your mind. Al Jardine co-wrote a quirky pop tune (with some help from Brian), “Take a Load Off Your Feet.” You’re more likely to remember the somewhat overactive vocal performance amidst the sound-effects-ridden instrumentation, which could be described as ‘a lot of knocks.’ It’s sort of fun to hear, though. “Don’t Go Near the Water” is another funny pop song, except the melody is a little cliché and Mike Love wrote terrible lyrics about water pollution. I do like those rubbery synthesizers they use to give the overall song a watery texture! That was a brilliant move in what would have otherwise been a dull, routine pop song with terrible lyrics. Another Al Jardine contribution was the folk ballad “Lookin’ At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song),” a formidable piece of song writing but ultimately unmemorable.
A lot of die hard Beach Boys really hate Mike Love. Whether or not such sentiments are deserved, his only major contribution is the only real drag on Surf’s Up. “Student Demonstration Time” is the same thing as “Riot in Cell Block #9,” a blues song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, but he rewrote the lyrics to reflect the college campus protest riots. The Beach Boys weren’t known for playing blues-rock, but they did OK considering they’re the whitest band on earth. But that melody was already generic blues-rock, and those incredibly pretentious and dated lyrics don’t help. Bluh!
Naturally, the three Brian Wilson contributions are the ultimate highlights. Even though the band members hated it, “Til I Die,” is a gorgeous masterpiece and further proof that the guy had a natural ear for harmonies. True, it’s incredibly depressing, but there is a lot of beauty to be seen in this black-and-white picture. “A Day in the Life of a Tree” isn’t as compelling to me, although it’s much more minimal than you’d expect a Beach Boys song to be. The predominant instrument there is a very plain-sounding organ and somewhat shaky vocals. It’s not Brian’s best work, for sure, but it is also oddly majestic and something that could be easy to take to heart. And the title track, of course, is a fairly well-known classic. It’s one of those classic sentimental, multi-part suite that shows all the pre-breakdown Brian Wilson at the height of his powers. It sounds a little bit like a demo to me (though with a little bit of orchestration that was actually recorded in 1966), but they probably lacked the budget and inspiration to go crazy with the song production they had originally planned.
Despite its flaws, Surf’s Up is a very enjoyable middle-period Beach Boys album that any pop-rock fan should listen to. There’s too much good material here to pass up. Considering it’s available on the same CD as the also-splendid Sunflower, there’s really no excuse for not picking it up.
Definitely a huge improvement over Smiley Smile in every possible way – except that Smiley Smile is such an oddball record it can’t even stand to comparisons. Anyway, the critics bashed it in any case because by the time of the album’s release it was obvious the Beach Boys were no longer ‘on the cutting edge’, and the disillusionment was at its peak. And, of course, sales plummeted down both because of the bummer of the predecessor and because by now America turned its attention towards the Summer of Love bands, San Francisco and stuff. You know.
In the process, Wild Honey was missed. It’s not a masterpiece – but it’s the first in a lengthy, lengthy series of hit-and-miss albums where minor chef-d’oeuvres walk hand in hand with “weird” stuff as well as with ugly filler, a situation not unlike the one with, say, the late Kinks’ catalog. By now, Brian was in a pretty malfunctioning state: it’s not that he was completely “disabled” as rumours sometimes go, it’s just that he was essentially disinterested in making ‘perfect’ music.
You know, when your dream world crumbles around you and the project of your life comes to naught and you find yourself unjustly despised and forgotten and you still have to commit yourself to making music, if only for the sake of your comrades and the few remaining fans, what good can come out of it? It’s amazing that Brian even could be further writing good songs. But essentially, starting from Wild Honey, the Beach Boys go back to becoming a real ‘band’, maybe even more so than ever before. At around this time, Dennis and Carl started to emerge as songwriters, Mike Love took over the lyrics, and Carl even started trying his hand at production – all spurred on by Brian’s example.
The only true genius in the band was Brian, of course, but let us not forget the importance of influence within a single band. Would George Harrison go on to produce such a masterpiece as All Things Must Pass had he not spent a dozen years working side by side with Lennon and McCartney? I know I can’t prove it, but every rational and irrational thought I’ve ever had tell me ‘no’. So let’s not underestimate the separate Beach Boys’ abilities, either. A lot of ugly things came out of it, but a lot of beauty as well.
In any case, the majority of Wild Honey numbers are still dominated by Brian’s song writing. But it’s a kind of song writing that has nothing to do with the barocco beauty of Pet Sounds, and even less so with the weirdness of Smiley Smile. It’s a nice pop album with not a single true stinker in sight; neither do we see the Beach Boys’ harmonies – apart from two or three numbers, the classic multi-track harmonizing is almost entirely replaced by isolated lead vocals.
Wild Honey has often been called the Beach Boys’ ‘soul’ album, which, to my mind, is due to two factors: (a) Carl’s wailing vocals on several of the tracks which defy the “pre-established pattern” by going all over the place and rising to passionate screaming from time to time; (b) their cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Was Made To Love Her’. Otherwise, it’s just a pop album. It’s just instrumentated in a pretty different way; organ, electric piano, Theremin, and a cappella singing come in to replace primitive Berryesque strumming of the earliest stuff. It’s simple – for the most part, and certainly fell out of the contemporary culture like a stone. But so did the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society.
It’s telling, though, that the best number on here is undeniably ‘Darlin’ – a number written by Brian as early as 1963 (why the hell didn’t they put up the song on an album like Surfer Girl is beyond me, it’s stronger than almost everything on there). It’s a fully-produced up-tempo number that’s really distinguished by an adventurous brass section and Carl’s magnificent vocalizing – there’s a wonderfully subtle ‘fragility’ to his vocals that gives a feeling of insecurity and maybe even ‘cowardice’ even as the singer is wailing about how ‘I love the way you soften my life with your love’.
Few other songs come close to the level established by this piece of brilliancy: maybe the title track, with its almost “astral” Theremin riff and more of that funny Carl wailing, this time positively psychotic.
Minor highlights abound, though. ‘Easy-going’, light quasi-throwaway numbers at close sight turn out to be quite endearing, like, for instance, the simple piano-led ‘Aren’t You Glad’ (a bit in the ‘Good Day Sunshine’ vein, if you know what I mean, only more romantic), or Brian’s tiny ditty ‘I’d Love Just Once To See You’ where he betrays his feelings in the end by adding ‘…in the nude’. Tee hee. ‘Let The Wind Blow’, while I don’t find it too memorable, has a strong vocal harmony showcase, if only to remind us that the Beach Boys were still strong at their main game even if, for whatever reasons, they preferred to hide it on most other tracks.
The other upbeat tunes are actually first-rate, as well: the Stevie Wonder cover is pretty energetic (of course, it was also given to Carl – Wild Honey is, without a doubt, the place where the guy really found his vocal style), and ‘Here Comes The Night’, with its complex and unpredictable chorus – I particularly love the moody organ pattern on it, which adds an entire new dimension to the song – is beautiful, if only you manage to forget the hiccupy disco remake on L.A.
I suppose the only upbeat number that a Beach Boys lover can have trouble with is the ‘rock sendup’ ‘How She Boogalooed It’, where even Carl’s vocals can’t help the feeling of corniness; not coincidentally, it’s the only number on the record written by the other members of the band without Brian’s support. But I don’t find it offensive – the guitar/organ interplay is interesting at the least, so it works for me. Finally, let’s not forget the delicious ‘Country Air’ with its convincing celebration of “outside” delights… remember I mentioned Village Green Preservation Society? the two albums certainly have their moments in common.
Finally, we get ousted out of the record by Brian’s mantraic chanting of ‘eat a lot, sleep a lot, brush ’em like crazy, run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy’ (‘Mama Says’) – weird, eh? – and taking a chance to reevaluate what we just heard, we come to the conclusion that it’s one of the Beach Boys’ strongest albums of the Sixties. No, it’s not innovative, but neither, in a direct sense, was the White Album. What IS innovative about both of these records is that both the Beach Boys and the Beatles go and ‘revisit their roots’ armed by their newly-found experience, professionalism, and amazing musical discoveries of the past two years.
Neither ‘Wild Honey’ nor ‘Here Comes The Night’ nor ‘Darlin’ would have been able to sound that good in 1963; Brian Wilson had to go through Pet Sounds and Smile to establish that style. That’s progress, in a certain sense.
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.
In the “Tribute Concert to Brian Wilson” on DVD, released a couple of years ago, Sir George Martin took the stage and narrated a short film about how Brian Wilson was the biggest influence (and challenge) to The Beatles. How they were blown away when they heard “Pet Sounds.” (Paul McCartney has called “God Only Knows” the greatest song ever written.. ) ..
He talked about how it took his own combined talents as their producer, the writing talents of Lennon and McCartney, and the instrumental virtuosity of all four Beatles to create their records, but Brian Wilson did ALL of that for the Beach Boys.. wrote the songs, arranged them, sang them, played instruments and ran the board during production and editing. What George Martin was saying was that it took him and all four Beatles to do what Brian could do alone.
Now who am I to argue with Sir George. As much as I love and adore The Beatles’ music, he was right. I can almost picture John and Paul sitting slack jawed when they first heared “Pet Sounds.” To which they answered with “Revolver” to which Brian was going to answer with “Smile” but then.. you know the rest.
The catch phrase going around about “Smile” is “Imagine if Sgt. Pepper had been shelved and released 37 years later.” It is a very apt and fitting description of the feeling, the tears of joy, that any fan of Brian’s will get when they play this album.
Of course, Carl and Dennis are deeply missed, and yes, Brian, now 62 years old, doesn’t have that soaring falsetto he had forty years ago (on the same DVD I mentioned above, a must-buy if you are a true fan, Vince Gill performs “Warmth of the Sun” and the high falsettos in “Surf’s Up” and he was chosen for that concert, specifically to sing those songs, because his crystalline pure falsetto can reach those notes that Brian can’t any more..) ..
The Wondermints, Brian’s new band, totally get it. I’m not sure if anyone totally gets Brian, but it’s evident that he has a band of guys half his age who are totally devoted to him to the point of worship, and their goal was to do his songs justice. And that is what they’ve done.
Brian’s wife, Melinda has described many times the inner demons that still haunt him, even on stage. The man has gone through some fundamentally sad, tragic, near-fatal periods of total suffering in his life, and for him to emerge from all that’s happened to him, decide to revive “Smile” and release an album this beautiful is nothing less than unbelievable.
Sure I have various bootlegs of the 37 year old tapes. What true fan doesn’t? And yes, it would be nice to have a companion piece to this new recording made from those original tapes. I wonder what the dolts at Capitol Records think of watching what might have been their album soar to #1 on a little Warners’ house label like Nonesuch..
But let’s not get bitter here.. the album is, afterall, “Smile” and that’s what it will make you do. The music is not always easy. It might take a couple of listens, but it just goes to show again that a true artist is always ahead of his audience, not the other way around. A truly talented artist challenges his audience, whatever medium he works in. Think about it, it’s 2004, and this is 1967 music that’s still ahead of its audience.
I can only chalk up some of the negative reviews of “Smile” found here to folks who simply are too young to know what 1967 was like. It was, IMO, simply the year of the best pop and rock music ever released. If you were there, if you were in High School or College back then and buying records, you know what I mean. One masterpiece after another came out that year. Maybe we Boomers wouldn’t have understood Smile if it had been released in 1967. Sgt. Pepper’s is much more accessible music. Smile pushes you to think. It’s complex. Challenging. It’s as revolutionarily brilliant as George Gershwin’s music was in the 1920s. Eighty years later, people can still enjoy and revel in “Rhapsody in Blue” or “An American in Paris.” They’re still played and new recordings of them are still released.
“Smile” is like that. This is music that people will be listening to, enjoying, and talking about for many years.
Calling Brian a genius is doing him an injustice. We’re plain lucky tha he’s still around, and could give us “Smile”.. it’s joy, and leagues and light years ahead of most of what passes for music these days. If it doesn’t click for you, put on some good headphones and listen to it seriously, block out distractions, and try to understand where this music came from, and who it came from.
On the last page of the booklet that accompanies the jewel case in the beautiful white textured slipcase, Brian dedicates “Smile” to all his fans who waited so many years for it.
Brian, it was worth the wait. It’s beautiful. Thank you!
Other than The Beatles’ GET BACK album, which still has not been released in its original form (the Spectorized Let It Be (Remastered) and the remixed, de-Spectorized Let It Be… Naked notwithstanding), The Beach Boys’ SMiLE project is the most famous (and maybe infamous) unreleased album in rock history. Originally planned as a follow-up to 1966’s Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson scrapped the project in mid-1967 after months of work, believing he had lost his competition with The Beatles, and the pressures from the other Beach Boys, plus legal problems with Capitol Records, finally wore him down.
A replacement album, Smiley Smile, cobbled together by the group using only the “Good Vibrations” single and fragments from the original sessions – the rest of the album was rerecorded – was a critical and commercial flop. Fragments of SMiLE were issued on later Beach Boys albums such as 20/20 and Surf’s Up. In 1993, about an hour of lost SMiLE music was issued on the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys boxed set. Then, in 2004, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks completed a new version of SMiLE and recorded it with Brian’s new band, The Wondermints (Brian Wilson Presents Smile); a live concert version, recorded earlier that year in London, was also issued on DVD.
Now, with the impending 50th anniversary of The Beach Boys approaching, Capitol Records, along with Brian, has released two versions of THE SMiLE SESSIONS – a basic two-disc version, and a nine-disc box set (five CDs, two vinyl LPs, and two vinyl 45 RPM singles). The first CD, which contains the same contents in both releases, contains a newly revised SMiLE album, using the same running order as the 2004 remake, giving us an idea of what the album would have sounded like in 1967. Most of the tracks are mono, as Brian always preferred; he was deaf in one ear, and could not hear stereo sound properly, and as a producer, he believed that only mono mixes could present the music to the listener as he wanted it heard. Stereo, Brian believed, left too much to the listener’s equipment setup. While I would have loved to have a stereo version of the album, as was done with The Pet Sounds Sessions box set in 1996, the producers explained that unlike Pet Sounds, most of the multi-track masters and many of the components were lost, so a stereo remix of SMiLE was impossible to produce.
The second CD of the first version contains session highlights from “Our Prayer” to “Good Vibrations” – more than enough to satisfy the casual Beach Boy fan. The deluxe box set is aimed more at collectors and die-hards, and what a collection it is. CD1 is identical to the first version, but CDs 2 through 5 contain a very comprehensive view of the SMiLE sessions. So comprehensive, in fact, that the “Heroes and Villains” sections take up about 90 percent of CD2, and the “Good Vibrations” sessions take up all of CD5. While somewhat repetitive, the session tapes offer fascinating listening, showing Brian’s perfectionism and dedication to getting the right sound. I’m sure he drove the other musicians and the other Beach Boys crazy, but it was obviously worth the effort.
The two-LP vinyl album in the deluxe edition follows tracks 1-19 of CD1 for the first three sides. The fourth side contains rare stereo mixes that are not included on the CDs. The two 45s are the singles that never were, the two-part “Heroes and Villains” single, and the “Vega-Tables”/”Surf’s Up” single.
Packaging and amenities are impressive. The two-disc set includes a colorful 36-page booklet, a SMiLE button, and a fold-out poster of the album artwork. The deluxe edition is even more impressive; the artwork on the box cover has 3-D graphics; the inside of the box lid has the original back cover of the Duophonic (fake stereo) release of the album, had it been issued. Inside the box are a 60-page hardcover book with additional essays and a complete sessionography; a double-gatefold sleeve with slots for all five CDs and the two vinyl 45s; the two-record vinyl album in a mono jacket with a gatefold sleeve and a 10″ photo album inside; and a giant-economy-size version of the album artwork poster.
The casual fan will probably make do with the two-disc set, but collectors will want both.
I’d love to see The Beatles and Apple do a similar box set for the GET BACK SESSIONS, not to mention the long-lost LET IT BE DVD.
Some additional observations:
1) The vinyl LP and singles sound fine. I especially enjoyed the stereo mixes on Side 4, but wish that they had been on the CD releases. Although I grew up with vinyl, after listening to CDs for over 20 years, vinyl just sounds flat.
2) The 45 versions of “Vega-Tables” and “Surf’s Up” are the same as on the LP and CD.
3) If you have the big box set, “Heroes and Villains Part 1” and “Heroes and Villains Part 2” are only available on the vinyl 45, though the individual modules for these tracks are probably scattered throughout the four Sessions CDs. The only way to get the full versions of “Heroes and Villains Part 1” and “Heroes and Villains Part 2” on CD is to buy the two-disc set (Tracks 2 and 3 on CD2). All of the other tracks on that disc can be found on the session box set, although some of them are edited (particularly the “Good Vibrations” sessions).
4) I compared the 20/20 versions of “Cabin Essence” and “Our Prayer,” and the 1971 version of “Surf’s Up,” to the SMiLE versions. Save for stereo remixing and overdubs, the versions are almost identical. It’s amazing that the 1968 overdubbed vocals on “Our Prayer” are almost perfectly in sync with the 1966 originals – another tribute to Brian’s production genius.