Smile (album)

Missing image
Frank Holmes' original 1967 cover artwork for Smile

Perhaps the most famous unreleased rock and roll album of all time, The Beach Boys' Smile (sometimes spelled with the idiosyncratic partial capitalization SMiLE, derived from the lettering on the original cover) was intended to follow up (and surpass) their influential 1966 album Pet Sounds, but was never completed in its original form. In an event unique in popular music history, the project was resurrected in 2003 and a newly recorded version was released by Beach Boys composer and leader Brian Wilson in 2004. During the 37 years since its cancellation, Smile acquired a considerable mystique, and bootlegged recordings were sometimes traded. Many of the tracks that were originally recorded for Smile were eventually placed on subsequent albums.


The conception of Smile

On 17 February 1966, towards the end of the sessions for Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson started work on a new song, based on a statement by his mother, Audree Wilson, that dogs could feel "vibrations" from people. The result became the Beach Boys' biggest ever hit, the single "Good Vibrations", which went to #1 in both Britain and the USA. The most expensive and complex pop recording made up to that time, it still stands as a milestone in recording history.

By this time, Wilson, then 23, was already planning an ambitious new work, and one which he hoped would surpass the recent work by The Beatles, Phil Spector and Bob Dylan.

In an interview, Brian Wilson dubbed the work "a teenage symphony to God". His plan was to take his work on Pet Sounds to a new level, with an album-length suite of specially-written songs that were both thematically and musically linked, and which would be recorded using the unusual sounds and innovative production techniques that had made "Good Vibrations" so successful.

Crucial to the inception of Smile was Wilson's collaboration with singer, musician, composer and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, whom Wilson invited to write lyrics for the new album in early 1966; at that time the project was still provisionally titled Dumb Angel. The two quickly formed a close and fruitful working relationship and between April and September of 1966 they co-wrote a number of major songs including "Surf's Up", "Heroes And Villains", "Wonderful", "Cabinessence," and "Wind Chimes". Their first collaboration was "Heroes And Villains", and it is reported that when Wilson played the song's descending melody line to him, Parks devised the opening line on the spot. Their most acclaimed song, "Surf's Up", was written in a single night.

Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher wrote the original lyrics for "Good Vibrations". The hit version released in October 1966 featured a new set of lyrics co-written by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys' Mike Love. Wilson had in fact asked Parks to write new lyrics for "Good Vibrations", but Parks declined, preferring not to come in on a project that was already underway -- although he did reportedly make one very significant contribution to the arrangement, suggesting the addition of the cellos in the chorus. (Other people have been credited with this suggestion, including Carl Wilson).

Although the precise nature of its original conception is still hotly debated, several key features of Smile are generally acknowledged. Both musically and lyrically, Wilson and Parks intended Smile to be explicitly American in style and subject, a direct reaction to the British dominance of popular music at the time. It was supposedly conceived as a musical journey across America from east to west, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii, as well as traversing some of the great themes of American history and culture, including the impact of white settlement on native Americans, the influence of the Spanish, the Wild West, and the opening up of the country by railroad and highway.

As the name implies, humour was a key ingredient, and the Smile songs are replete with wordplay, puns and multiple meanings. A good example is "Vege-Tables", which includes the lines "I'm gonna do well, my vegetables, cart off and sell my vegetables" -- the phrase "...cart off and..." is a clever bi-lingual pun on the word kartoffeln, which is German for potatoes. At one stage Wilson apparently toyed with the idea of expanding Smile to include an additional 'humour' record, and a number of recordings were made in this vein, although they were apparently not successful, so the idea was dropped.

Wilson is known to have been deeply influenced by the music of George Gershwin at an early age (especially Rhapsody In Blue), and Smile contains echoes of Gershwin's emphatic American-ness, and the episodic and programmatic characteristics of the composer's works. Smile also drew heavily on American music of the past; Wilson's innovative compositions were interwoven with snippets of significant songs of yesteryear, such as "The Old Master Painter" (recorded by Peggy Lee), the perennial "You Are My Sunshine", Johnny Mercer's jazz standard "I Wanna Be Around" (recorded by Tony Bennett) and the song "Gee" by noted '50s doo-wop group The Crows, as well as quotations from other pop-culture reference points, such as the Woody Woodpecker theme.

Smile's cut-up structure was certainly unique for its time in mainstream popular music, and it indicates that Brian was familiar with the techniques of musique concrète and the use of chance operations in making art -- an approach which, according to musicologist Ian MacDonald, was also exerting a strong influence on The Beatles at this time.

Wilson's experiments with LSD were undoubtedly a significant influence on the texture and structure of the work, and one of the strongest intellectual influences on his thinking at this time was his new friend Loren Schwartz, who is said to have introduced Brian to both marijuana and LSD.

Writer Bill Tobelman suggests that Smile is filled with coded references to Brian's life and his recent LSD experiences, and that it was heavily influenced by his interest in Zen philosophy -- especially the way that Zen teaching uses absurd humour and the paradoxical riddle, the koan, to liberate the mind from preconceptions -- and that Smile as a whole can be interpreted as an extended Zen koan.

Studio techniques

Brian Wilson developed his "classic" production method over several years, bringing it to a high degree of perfection with the recording of Pet Sounds during 1965 and 1966. Using the new Ampex eight-track recorders, Wilson assembled tracks of remarkable complexity and technical brilliance, using a team of crack L.A. session musicians. Wilson's recording approach was a refinement of Spector's methods, and was based on the quasi-symphonic effects that could be created by using multiples of instruments such as bass, keyboards, and guitars in a large rock ensemble, and then blending the sound with echo and reverberation.

Although Wilson typically had arrangements worked out in his head (these were usually written out in a shorthand form for the other players by session percussionist Julius Wechter, who also founded the Baja Marimba Band), surviving tapes of his recording sessions show that he was very open to input from his musicians, took advice and suggestions from them, and even incorporated apparent "mistakes" if they provided a useful or interesting alternative.

Wilson also began to experiment widely with unusual instruments to add color. Pet Sounds had been notable for its varied instrumentation including electric and acoustic bass harmonica, theremin, accordion, koto, piccolo, flute, brass, strings, tympani, keyboards, guitars and percussion.

With "Good Vibrations" Wilson began to experiment with radical editing of his work. Now, instead of taping each backing track as a complete performance, as had been the case for all prior Beach Boys recordings, he began to break the arrangements into sections, recording multiple 'takes' of each section. He also recorded the same section at several different studios, to exploit the unique sonic characteristics or special effects available in each. He would then edit these different segments together to create a composite whole that combined the best features of production and performance.

Wilson extended this "modular" approach for the songs on Smile. Working mainly at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles (Phil Spector's favourite studio), Wilson began a long and complex series of sessions in late 1966 that continued until early 1967. He also frequently used Sunset Sound Studios and United Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard, and Capitol's own renowned in-house studio.

Much of Smile was recorded in this piecemeal manner; each of the finished tracks is a heavily-edited composite recording and many of the unreleased Smile fragments are alternate versions of backing tracks, alternate sections of these tracks, or passages intended to provide transitions between tracks.

In spite of the availability of stereo recording, Wilson always made his final mixes in mono (as did rival producer Spector). He did so for several reasons—he personally felt that mono mixing provided more sonic control over what the listener heard, minimising the vagaries of speaker placement and sound system quality. It was also motivated by the knowledge that pop radio broadcast in mono, and most domestic and car radios and record players were monophonic. Another, more personal reason for Wilson's preference was that he is deaf in one ear.

The Recordings

Recording for the new LP began in August 1966 with the songs "Wonderful" and "Wind Chimes". By September 1966, when "Good Vibrations" was released, the project had been officially named Smile, and with the new single finally out and racing up the charts, sessions for the new album began in earnest, and continued until mid-December.

In early December Brian Wilson gave Capitol Records a handwritten list of twelve tracks planned for Smile, for use on the LP back cover. This list is obviously crucial evidence of Wilson's intentions for the piece, but, since the track listing (as printed) carried the standard advisory "see label for correct playing order", it can only be taken as confirming Brian's choice of songs at that time, and not their exact sequence.

Capitol began production on a lavish gatefold cover with a 12-page booklet. Cover artwork was commissioned from Frank Holmes, a friend of Van Dyke Parks, and colour photographs of the group were taken by Guy Webster. 466,000 covers and 419,000 booklets were printed by early January; promotional materials were sent to record distributors and dealers and ads were placed in Billboard and teenage magazines including Teen Set.

Some time in December, Brian informed Capitol that Smile would not be ready that month, but he advised that he would deliver it "prior to 15 January". Wilson's conception of the work evidently changed around this time, possibly as a result of pressure from within the band. Early in 1967 work was halted on all the Smile tracks except for "Heroes And Villains" and "Vega-Tables".

"Heroes and Villains"

Capitol records scheduled 13 January 1967 as the release date for the next single, "Heroes And Villains".

Although renowned for his efficiency in the studio, Brian clearly struggled for several months to complete "Heroes And Villains", but despite more than twenty sessions between December 1966 and March 1967, he was unable to complete it to his satisfaction.

"Heroes & Villains" was a semi-autobiographical piece couched as a Wild West fantasy and featured some of Parks's most intriguing lyrics. It is arguably the keystone for the musical structure of almost all the songs on the album, and like "Good Vibrations" it was edited together from several discrete sections.

Like most of the Smile songs, "Heroes And Villains" is based around a deceptively simple three-chord pattern. It encapsulates Wilson's musical approach for the project, which was to create songs that were (for the most part) structurally very simple but which were overlaid with extremely complex and often highly chromatic vocal and instrumental arrangements, and capped by Parks' remarkable lyrics.

The considerable time and effort that Wilson devoted to "Heroes And Villains" is indicative of its importance, both as a single and as part of Smile -- sessions for the various versions and sections extended over more than a year, from May 1966 to July 1967. It now appears that the song underwent many changes during its production and that several important elements, including the so-called "Cantina scene" and the segment commonly known as "Bicycle Rider" were taken out of the finished single and album versions, although they were included in other unreleased mixes. A single version of the song was released in mid-1967, but rumours persist of a far longer edit, and it is known that several alternate versions were put together. Both Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys frequently included "Bicycle Rider" when performing the song in concert.

"Surf's Up"

"Surf's Up" was written in a single night. It was certainly fully composed by November 1966, when Brian Wilson was filmed performing the song on piano for a CBS News special on popular music, hosted by Leonard Bernstein. An apparently complete backing track for the first (2:20) section was recorded and mixed in November 1966, but vocals and other overdubs were still to be added, and work on the middle and closing sections was either never undertaken, or never finished. It is notable that the flourishes played on muted trumpet in the verses of "Surf's Up" are almost identical to the familiar 'laughing' refrain of the theme for the cartoon series Woody Woodpecker. This musical reference recurs in the instrumental piece "Fall Breaks And Back To Winter" on Smiley Smile, (which was in fact subtitled "Woody Woodpecker Symphony").

A full-length version of "Surf's Up" was eventually assembled by Carl Wilson and released on the 1971 Surf's Up LP.

Other tracks

There is much debate over how many of the major songs intended for Smile were at or near completion when the project was abandoned, and speculation about the intended nature of the work has long been hampered by Brian Wilson's extreme reluctance to discuss it, and by the fact that a number of tapes have evidently disappeared. Although Wilson produced few finished recordings in this period, session bassist Carol Kaye (who played on most of the major Beach Boys recordings) has stated that in her opinion the Smile album was in fact quite close to completion -- the major songs had evidently all been written, nearly all the constituent parts (except the later sections of "Surf's Up") had been recorded, and most of the recordings were either complete or ready to assemble, awaiting only final vocal overdubs, editing and mixing.

It is generally agreed that the major songs slated for the album were "Heroes & Villains", "Good Vibrations", "Cabinessence", "Wonderful", "Wind Chimes", "Vega-Tables", "Our Prayer" and "Surf's Up"; there was also said to be a planned "Elemental Suite" featuring instrumental segments representing the traditional four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

"Good Vibrations" had of course already been released. It has been reported that Brian would have preferred to leave it off the album, but Capitol insisted on its inclusion (as indicated by the prominent use of the song's title on the Smile cover art).

During the months of the "Heroes and Villains" sessions, Wilson composed and recorded tracks for several new songs including "With Me Tonight", "I Love to Say Dada", and an untitled instrumental, as well as a cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Little Red Book". Carl and Dennis Wilson also recorded and produced tracks on their own.

At least four other key Smile tracks -- "Our Prayer", "Cabinessence", "Wonderful" and "Wind Chimes" -- were substantially complete. "Cabinessence" needed to be edited together and was missing a lead vocal, and "Our Prayer" needed the addition of some vocal 'sweetening'. These were eventually finished by the rest of the band -- primarily Carl and Dennis Wilson -- and were included on the 20/20 album in 1968. The Smile versions of "Wonderful" and "Wind Chimes" remained unreleased until 1990, but they were obviously more or less complete, and probably only required some final overdubbing.

A significant number of other tracks, track segments, and many beautiful vocal and instrumental fragments (some only a few seconds long) were recorded, and most still exist in the Capitol archives, but their place in Wilson's final design for the album remains uncertain. Major fragments that have emerged over the years include the pieces known as "Barnyard", "Holidays", "Tones", "I'm in Great Shape", "The Elements" (aka "Fire" and "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"), "I Ran" (aka "Look"), "The Old Master Painter", "You Are My Sunshine" and "George Fell into His French Horn".

A central question about Smile is whether Wilson and Parks had sequenced the songs and linking segments as they were being composed, or whether the final decision was to be made after the recordings were complete. It would appear that (apart from completing the unfinished tracks) Wilson's main remaining task was deciding which of the many link segments he wanted to use, and how they would be sequenced.

The project collapses

According to most sources, Brian Wilson began to encounter serious problems with SMiLE around the time that he recorded the basic track for the "Fire” section of the 'Elements Suite' on 28 November 1966. He was by then beginning to exhibit early signs of depression and paranoia and it is reported that during the "Fire" session he became irrationally concerned that the music was responsible for starting several fires in the neighborhood of the studio. For many years it was rumored that Brian had tried to burn the tapes of this session, but this is not true. He did, however, abandon the "Fire" piece for good. It has also been noted in several accounts that Parks deliberately stayed away from the session (during which Wilson encouraged the musicians to wear toy firemen's hats) and that he later described Wilson's behaviour as "regressive".

Wilson's mental deterioration and eventual breakdown was the result of a complex web of causes. As Beach Boys chronicler Timothy White has noted, Brian Wilson came from a troubled family background; there was a family history of mental illness, including suicide, and his father Murry, although never formally diagnosed, showed unmistakable signs of suffering from bipolar disorder. Brian had a fraught relationship with his troubled and sometimes violent father and he finally fired Murry as the band's manager following a violent argument during a recording session in 1965.

There had been other signs of his growing problems, but these were more or less unheeded at the time. Wilson had been forced to withdraw from touring in December 1964 after suffering a terrifying anxiety attack during an airline flight. In late 1966, after flying to Michigan to rehearse The Beach Boys for their first stage performance of "Good Vibrations", he suffered another panic attack on the return flight and was only placated by having had the flight crew radio ahead to Los Angeles to arrange a welcoming committee. Wilson had also begun to exhibit obsessive-compulsive traits -- he became intensely obsessed with many pieces of music, but none more so than The Ronettes’ single "Be My Baby"; according to his daughter Carnie Wilson, he played it over and over, every day, for months on end. Wilson also probably aggravated his pre-existing problems by reputedly smoking large amounts of marijuana and hashish during the Smile period, as well as using amphetamines and experimenting with the powerful hallucinogen LSD.

Some time in early 1967, Brian was deeply troubled by a viewing of the surreal and disturbing John Frankenheimer film thriller Seconds, starring Rock Hudson. In his increasingly vulnerable and confused state, Brian convinced himself that the film's opening line "Good morning, Mr Wilson" -- and indeed in most of the film's content -- somehow referred to him. He also reportedly became obsessed by the notion that his rival/mentor Phil Spector was somehow trying to control, dominate or even kill him.

As well as Brian's mental problems, there were many other business and legal worries surrounding the Beach Boys during the recording of SMiLE. These included Carl Wilson's call-up notice for the draft (which he was to fight as a conscientious objector), and the group's contractual disputes with Capitol over royalty payments, as well as their attempt to terminate their contract (a legacy of Murry's management) and establish their own label, Brother Records.

Amidst his increasingly erratic behavior and his escalating use of drugs, Brian Wilson's condition began to become a concern for his friends, colleagues and family. Yet, although stories of his sometimes bizarre behavior have now become the stuff of legend, his session musicians have often stated that they never saw Wilson behave in the studio with anything less than total professionalism.

Creatively speaking, Wilson was in a uniquely vulnerable position compared to his major commercial rivals, and there is no doubt that he was under considerable pressure to "deliver the goods" and provide music that would continue the group's remarkable run of chart success. Phil Spector routinely used the services of top-notch professional songwriters like Carole King and Gerry Goffin and professional arrangers such as Jack Nitszche, as well as using the same groups of "first call" session musicians as Wilson. The Beatles boasted three world-class songwriters and could call on the vast experience and expertise of their classically trained producer-arranger George Martin. By contrast, Wilson -- who was totally self-taught -- had co-written, arranged, engineered and produced almost all the Beach Boys music, a task which, from Pet Sounds onwards he had accomplished in the face of increasing resistance from within the band.

The growing conflict within the Beach Boys about Smile , which reached a peak during December 1966, was arguably the single most significant reason why Smile was repeatedly postponed and finally scrapped. It is likely that the 6 December 1966 session for "Cabinessence" was the scene of the famous argument about the song's lyrics between Van Dyke and Mike Love, and the situation evidently worsened during the 15 December vocal sessions for "Surf's Up" and "Wonderful". The band was filmed by CBS during this session which, according to Jules Siegel, went "very badly". Later the same day, Wilson recorded his now-legendary solo piano demo of "Surf's Up". Although there were more Smile sessions (on 23 December, 9 January and 23 January) work on most of the major tracks effectively stopped after 15 December.

The major source of conflict appears to have been the increasing antagonism between Mike Love and the Brian Wilson / Van Dyke Parks partnership, although Bruce Johnston has also indicated in a web forum discussion that there was wider opposition to the project, and named both Capitol Records and Wilson's father Murry.

Love had written lyrics for most of the Beach Boys songs prior to Pet Sounds, so it is not surprising that he would have been resentful of Parks' role as Brian's new writing partner; he was probably also concerned about the consequent loss of income from royalties. But he is on record as saying that he was fearful that the band risked losing their audience if they tinkered with their proven hit formula. In a recent interview in Mojo magazine, Love also stated that he was suspicious of the new 'friends' with whom Brian was associating, and that his opposition to these people -- whom he regarded as hangers-on who were exploiting Brian and supplying him with 'hard' drugs -- was another major source of conflict, and that some who have been critical of him did so because he had told them to "take a hike".

Whatever the motives, there is no doubt that Love became increasingly strident in his criticism of Wilson's experimentalism, which during Pet Sounds he derisively labelled as "Brian's ego music". On a practical level, it is also likely that Love had a genuine concern that Wilson's new music was becoming too complex for the group to be able to perform live.

In a 2004 interview with British music magazine Mojo, Love denied disliking Pet Sounds and claimed that he liked the Smile music and only disliked the lyrics, but this is contradicted by several other participants, most notably Van Dyke Parks himself. Responding to the article in a letter to the magazine's editor, Parks was strongly critical of Love's comments, which he described as "revisionism", and he was unequivocal in naming Love's dislike of "Smile" as one of the major factors in the collapse of the project.

Love -- who had written the final lyrics to "Good Vibrations" -- became a vocal critic of Parks' lyrics, and he reportedly considered them to be pretentious and wilfully obscure. The conflict reached a crisis point during the infamous 6 December 1966 vocal session for "Cabinessence" when Love vehemently expressed his dislike of Parks' lyrics. He is reported to have denounced Parks’ lyrics as "indecipherable", and famously harangued Parks over the meaning of the phrase "Over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfield", which Parks declined to explain. Another and possibly more serious dispute took place during the sessions on 15 December. Although recording and mixing for Smile continued for some time into 1967, it appaears that the group's growing opposition to the new material was the biggest single factor in the eventual termination of the project.

Wilson continued to work on "Heroes & Villains" and other cuts including "Do You Like Worms" and "Vega-Tables", as well as taping numerous musical fragments that were probably intended to serve as links between the main songs. Through the first half of 1967 the album's release date was repeatedly postponed as Wilson tinkered with the recordings, experimenting with different takes and sounds, unable or unwilling to supply a completed version of the album. The final blow came some time in early March 1967 when, after gradually distancing himself from Wilson and the group, Van Dyke Parks finally quit the project.

Capitol evidently still hoped right up to the last that Smile might eventually appear, but on 6 May, only a few weeks before the release of The Beatles' groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beach Boys' press officer, Derek Taylor ruefully announced to the British press that the Smile project had been shelved and that the album would not be released.

From famous to infamous

Following the failure of Smile, Brian Wilson retreated from the public eye, increasingly hampered by drug and mental health problems, but his legend grew and the Smile period came to be seen as the pivotal episode in his decline; Wilson would become tagged as one of the classic celebrity drug casualties of the rock era.

Had Smile been released as originally conceived, it might have been a dismal failure or it might have stood alongside Sgt. Pepper and Dylan's Blonde on Blonde as a landmark album that marked a turning point in rock history--but in its absence an almost magical aura grew up around the project and its legendary status was only heightened by Brian Wilson's tragic personal disintegration. By the beginning of the 1990s, Smile had earned its place as the most infamous unreleased album in the rock era and become a focal point for bootleg album makers and collectors.

Beach Boys fan sites on the Internet devoted themselves to discussion and analysis of the album; one such site attempted to reconstruct Wilson's original vision of the Smile album, including audio files of unreleased songs. The tracks were set in an order that had been carefully researched in what was thought to be closer to Wilson's intent. Eventually, those files were taken down.

Fallout and eventual releases

Despite Smile's cancellation, the group were still under contract to deliver an album to Capitol. So, over the months that followed, the Beach Boys re-recorded much of its music in drastically scaled-down arrangements. The result was the intriguing but less-than-groundbreaking Smiley Smile. The two fully produced remnants from the Smile sessions ("Good Vibrations" and "Heroes And Villains") stood out against the gentle, folksy sound of the other recordings. Much of the album was recorded at Wilson's new home studio in his Bel Air house, and it was cut mostly with the other Beach Boys rather than his usual team of session players.

The ghost of Smile is present throughout Smiley Smile. "Heroes & Villains" opens Side 1, followed by a new version of "Vega-Tables"; "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" is a folksy re-arrangement of the legendary "Fire" instrumental, interspersed with short breaks that quote the Woody Woodpecker theme. Although apparently not part of Smile, "She's Goin' Bald" is very much of a piece with Smile's humor; the first section is a variation of the unreleased Smile piece "He Gives Speeches", and it is also notable for its fairly blatant reference to LSD. "Little Pad" is clearly related to (or is a variant of) the Smile piece "I Love To Say Da-Da".

"Good Vibrations" opens Side 2, followed by "With Me Tonight", one of several products of Brian's interest in rounds and canons; "Wind Chimes" is a breathy, languid, harmonium-driven sketch of the original with a very slow tempo and liberal use of rubato; "Gettin' Hungry" is a loose A-B arrangement; "Wonderful" is an almost whispered rendition of the original; "Whistle In" is another round, evidently one of numerous similar fragments and small pieces Brian composed at the time.

Compared to the originals, the simplicity of the backing tracks on Smiley Smile makes it likely that this was an attempt to scale down the music of Smile and place it within reach of the Beach Boys' actual abilities as live performers. The result is a group of songs that are unmistakably linked to Smile, but which were at least feasible for the group to perform in concert.

Although the Smile songs were never released in their original form, they continued to exert a powerful influence on the Beach Boys' output over the next few years, and much of their later material was recorded in the shadow of the Smile legend.

A notable recording from this period (unreleased at the time) was "Can't Wait Too Long", which was assembled from various sections recorded in late 1967, after the Smile sessions, but the entire sequence is clearly part of the general Smile milieu and is built around the two-chord alternating pattern and the rising-falling bass line from "Wind Chimes", as well as the "big band" section in the original Smile version of "Wind Chimes".

Carl Wilson, who had initially been one of the album's detractors, became increasingly keen to bring as much of it to completion as possible, and tantalizing extracts from the Smile sessions, assembled by Carl, gradually surfaced on Beach Boys albums over the next few years. Wild Honey included "Mama Says", a rerecorded chant from the original version of Vegetables. 20/20 (1968) included reworked versions of both "Our Prayer" and "Cabinessence"; Sunflower includes "Cool, Cool Water", which is an expanded and partially re-recorded version of the 'Water' section of "I Love to Say Da Da" in the Smile Elements Suite; Surf's Up contained a version of that track.

The group's own re-assessment of the Smile recordings was one factor in this process, and the continuing interest of the media, the public and the record companies was also a strong influence. But their completion and release also solved a basic logistical problem. They had relied almost entirely on Brian for their songs, but as he became increasingly withdrawn and unproductive, the other Beach Boys were faced with the choice of either filling the gap with their own songs -- and it would be several years before Carl and Dennis began to hit their stride as a songwriters -- or to fall back on the Smile material.

Smile resurrected

Brian Wilson Presents Smile
Missing image

LP by Brian Wilson
Released September 28, 2004
Recorded April 13-17, 2004, at Sunset Sound, Hollywood, California)
Genre Rock
Length 47m 1s
Record label Nonesuch
Producer Brian Wilson
AMG 4.5 stars out of 5 link (

On February 20, 2004, 37 years after it was conceived, a complete version of Smile was performed by Wilson along with his backing band, which includes former Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett and members of The Wondermints, in a live performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London. This performance was made whole by the addition of either lost or newly-composed lyrics that filled the gaps left open by the original 1966-67 Beach Boys sessions. This show was followed by subsequent performances elsewhere in Britain.

Recording of the new version of Smile began in April 2004 with his ten-piece touring band, augmented by a ten-piece string section and an acoustic bassist. The basic tracks were taped at Sunset Sound in just four days, with overdubbing and mixing continuing through April, May, and June.

On September 28, 2004, Brian Wilson released his newly recorded studio version of the Smile album, to critical praise. For the new version, Wilson, Wondermints leader Darian Sahanaja, woodwind player/string arranger Paul Mertens, and lyricist Van Dyke Parks based their arrangements on the original, unreleased Beach Boys tapes to give Smile a coherent and fresh, updated sound.

Interestingly, although Brian was reported to have only included "Good Vibrations" in the original Smile track listing at Capitol's insistence, a new version of the song--featuring Wilson's Pet Sounds collaborator Tony Asher's original lyrics, rather than the later Mike Love lyrics--was included as the closing track of the album.

The new Smile recently completed a U.S. tour, including its featured stop in New York's Carnegie Hall (this concert was broadcast on radio's NPR network). Wilson & company recently took the show to Australia for a tour there. Another U.S. tour is planned for later this year.

The Showtime cable network released a documentary film about the making of Smile known as "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile." in the fall of 2004.

A DVD of a live version of the new Smile (shot in an L.A. studio) was released in early summer of 2005, along with the Showtime/"Beautiful Dreamer" documentary.

Smile received multiple 2004 Grammy award nominations, including Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (For Mark Linett). The album won one Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow").

Track listing

The songs that might have been

(based upon a handwritten note that Wilson gave to Capitol Records in 1967)

  • "Do You Like Worms"
  • "Wind Chimes"
  • "Heroes and Villains"
  • "Surf's Up"
  • "Good Vibrations"
  • "Cabin Essence"
  • "Wonderful"
  • "I'm in Great Shape"
  • "Child Is Father of the Man"
  • "The Elements"
  • "Vega-Tables"
  • "The Old Master Painter"

Other tracks and fragments from the sessions

  • "Our Prayer" (Wordless a capella track, Brian Wilson later described it as "a little, you know, intro to the album (Smile)")
  • "Barnyard" (Track with animal noises originally thought to be part of "Heroes and Villains")
  • "Bicycle Rider" (Track used as the chorus to "Do You Like Worms?/Roll Plymouth Rock")
  • "He Gives Speeches" (Later re-recorded as "She's Goin' Bald" for the Smiley Smile album; shares its chord progression with the bridge of "Good Vibrations")
  • "Look" (Later known as "Song for Children", instrumental piece, it shares a part of its chorus with the tag of "Good Vibrations")
  • "I Wanna Be Around" (A cover)
  • "I'm in Great Shape" (Piano demo, once part of "Heroes and Villains")
  • "Friday Night" (Also known as "The Woodshop Song" and on Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (BWPS) as "Workshop", a cello riff over-dubbed with woodworking sounds (hammers, saws, etc...))
  • "Holidays" (Sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Tones" or "Tune X", which were actually different tracks recorded during the sessions, became "On a Holiday" on BWPS)
  • "You're Welcome" - (A brief chant with vocals by Brian Wilson, used as the B-Side to the Heroes and Villains Single, occasionally used as an alternate opening to the album apart from "Our Prayer")
  • "George Fell into His French Horn" (A recording never intended for release, consisting of horn players talking into their instruments; it is possible that this session was intended as a 'warm-up session' for the horn players, to familiarise them with the expressive flourishes Brian wanted on songs such as "Heroes and villains" and "Surf's Up")
  • "I Love To Say Da-Da" (The last Smile track recorded before the project collapsed, became "Cool Cool Water" on Sunflower and then became "In Blue Hawaii" on BWPS, notable for the fact that it's initials spell L.S.D.)
  • "With Me Tonight" (Chant, the verse segment has identical backing vocals to "Vega-tables")
  • "Been Way Too Long" (Song recorded not long after Smile was scrapped, it features a bassline identical to "Wind Chimes")
  • "Country Western Theme" (Instrumental that was later revealed to have been part of "Heroes and Villains", in the studio, Brian Wilson apparently wanted his musicians to play this section at a slower tempo "for vocal reasons", although it remained instrumental in Smile, it's chord progression suggests it could fit quite comfortably under one of the verses)
  • "Bridge to Indians" (Vocal piece that concludes "Heroes and Villains" in BWPS)
  • "In the Cantina" (Section from "Heroes and Villains")
  • "Heroes and Villains Part Two" (A number of chants featuring the beach boys repeatedly saying "Heroes and Villains" using different variations on melody, harmony vocals, and instrumental backing, one particular chant later became the tag to "Vega-Tables")
  • "Heroes and Villains Intro" (Also known as "Bag of Tricks" and "Bells and Whistles", instrumental piece that later became the intro to "The Elements", aka "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow")
  • "Swedish Frog" (Rejected bit thought to be from "Heroes and Villains")
  • "Home on the Range" (Tracking session that would become the verses of "Cabinessence")
  • "Who Ran the Iron Horse" (Tracking session that would become the chorus of "Cabinessence")
  • "Rock With Me Henry" (Unused insert for "Wonderful")
  • "False Barnyard" (Also known as "Barnshine", used as the backing to the coda of "You Are My Sunshine" and as the backing vocals to "He Gives Speeches")

Brian Wilson created numerous little snippets of music during the Smile sessions that never grew into complete songs. One vocal chant became "Gee" on BWPS. Two other snippets became "With Me Tonight" and "Whistle-In" on Smiley Smile.

Track Order for Smiley Smile

All tracks on Smiley Smile, except "Good Vibrations," most of "Heroes And Villains," and the last part of "Vegetables," were recorded at Brian Wilson's home studio.

  • "Heroes And Villains" (released as a single, peaked at #12)
  • "Vegetables"(the last part is from the Smile version)
  • "Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Woody Woodpecker)" (The song was a recreation of the Smile piece "The Elements")
  • "She's Goin' Bald" (recreation of the Smile out-take "He Gives Speeches")
  • "Little Pad"
  • "Good Vibrations" (this is the original single, not a re-recording)
  • "With Me Tonight" (this was an extension of a brief vocal chant from Smile that would become "Gee" on the 2004 Smile album)
  • "Wind Chimes" (very different arrangement from the Smile version)
  • "Gettin' Hungry" (last single released on the original Brother Records, did not chart)
  • "Wonderful" (different arrangement)
  • "Whistle-In" (a chant that at one time may have been part of "Heroes And Villains")

Songs from Smile on other albums

  • "Mama Says": originally part of "Vegetables," this a capella was featured as the closer to Wild Honey (1967), the follow-up to Smiley Smile
  • "Our Prayer": A take of this from the Smile sessions was featured on 20/20 (1969), extra vocals recorded in 1968 were added
  • "Cabinessence": A Smile take was featured on 20/20 (1969). Unlike "Our Prayer," nothing was added.
  • "Surf's Up": Featured as the title track to the Beach Boys' second album in the seventies. The first half of the song is a 1971 Carl Wilson lead vocal, singing over the original instrumental track. This segues into a 1966 recording of Brian singing the second half of the song, with 1971 backing vocals (taken from Child Is Father Of The Man) from the other Beach Boys at the conclusion.
  • "Cool, Cool Water": A take of this song appeared in the Beach Boys' Sunflower (Note: This song was not included in Brian Wilson's 2004 release of SMiLE, but instead incorporated into 'In Blue Hawaii')

The set order of the 2004 live performances

Suite 1: Americana

  • "Our Prayer"
  • "Gee"
  • "Heroes and Villains"
  • "Roll Plymouth Rock" (previously known as "Do You Like Worms?")
  • "Barnyard"
  • "The Old Master Painter"
  • "You Are My Sunshine"
  • "Cabin Essence"

Suite 2: Cycle of Life

  • "Wonderful"
  • "Song For Children" (previously known as "Look" or "Holidays")
  • "Child Is Father of the Man"
  • "Surf's Up"

Suite 3: The Elements

  • "I'm in Great Shape"
  • "I Wanna Be Around"
  • "Workshop" (previously known as "Friday Night")
  • "Vega-tables"
  • "On A Holiday" (previously known as "Holidays", "Tones" or "Tune X")
  • "Wind Chimes"
  • "Mrs O'Leary's Cow" (previously known as "Fire" or "The Elements")
  • "Water Chant"
  • "In Blue Hawaii" (previously known as "I Love to Say Da Da")
  • "Our Prayer (reprise)"
  • "Good Vibrations"

The set order for the 2004 re-recorded album

  • "Our Prayer/Gee"
  • "Heroes And Villains"
  • "Roll Plymouth Rock"
  • "Barnyard"
  • "The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine"
  • "Cabinessence"
  • "Wonderful"
  • "Song For Children"
  • "Child Is Father Of The Man"
  • "Surf's Up!"
  • "I'm In Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop"
  • "Vega-Tables"
  • "On A Holiday"
  • "Wind Chimes"
  • "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"
  • "In Blue Hawaii" (medley consisting of "Water Chant", "I Love To Say Da-Da", and "Our Prayer (reprise)")
  • "Good Vibrations"

Further reading

One of the principal sources of original information on Smile, and the basis for much of its legendary status, was Jules Siegel's article "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!" which appeared in the first issue of Cheetah Magazine in October 1967. Almost equally influential was Dominic Priore's 1987 book Look, Listen, Vibrate, Smile.

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