Release Date: Nov 1, 2011
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Psychedelic/Garage, AM Pop, Psychedelic Pop, Sunshine Pop
In the Beach Boys-centric MOJO 60’s “ultimate collector’s edition”, author and Brian Wilson/Beach Boys biographer Domenic Priore lists 10 of the band’s recordings that appeared to have laid the groundwork for SMiLE—the Pet Sounds follow-up that was originally scheduled for release in 1967. One of the songs Priore identifies is “The Little Girl I Once Knew”. A prelude to Pet Sounds, “The Little Girl I Once Knew” typifies this period of the Beach Boys and especially Brian Wilson’s evolving approach to songwriting.
“Truly,” as Brian Wilson writes in his liner notes for the newly released SMiLE Sessions, “my creative heart was broken. ” In 1967, Wilson’s ambition and the pressures associated with various factors seeming to work against him, forced Wilson to indefinitely shelve his opus, SMiLE. Thirty-seven years later, SMiLE emerged into the big post-millennial world and was deemed a triumph for Wilson, one that bit its thumb at any and all of the album’s previous detractors and finally showed whomever awaited its arrival what he had in mind.
“Say, ‘Oh no, I’m stuck in my french horn.'” “It’s me. Brian. I’m in the microphone. It’s not a buzz. I’m really in here. I’m not kidding.” “Swim, swim, fishy. Swim, swim, fishy.” “Is it okay if I just take one of these carrots? Let me put ’em in my glove compartment..
It's a rite of passage for students of pop music history: At some point, you learn that the Beach Boys weren't just a fun 1960s surf band with a run of singles that later came to be used in commercials; at their best, they were making capital-A Art. The record that convinces most is Pet Sounds, that understated 1966 masterpiece that articulates a specific kind of teenage longing and loneliness like nothing before or since. Once you've absorbed that record, you find yourself going back through songs like "Don't Worry Baby", "The Warmth of the Sun", and "I Get Around", finding a deeper brilliance where you once heard only pop craftsmanship.
Few albums are as mythic as the Beach Boys' Smile. One of the most romantic of the myths holds that, had the album come out as intended in 1967 – instead of being abandoned unfinished until it was ostensibly completed by Brian Wilson and his latterday touring band in 2004 – it would have been acclaimed as a masterpiece, eclipsed the Beatles' Sgt Pepper and changed the course of rock history. Listening to this box set – which assembles a virtually complete version of Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks' grand LSD-fuelled folly from the original tapes, alongside four CDs of outtakes – you find yourself wondering.
There is a moment in this five-CD ocean of music when you agree with its creator, the Beach Boys composer-producer Brian Wilson, that the greatest pop album 'ever made is still within reach. It comes during an October 1966 session for "Do You Like Worms." "You were strumming too hard," Wilson tells bassist Carol Kaye after identifying a tiny irritant spoiling the track’s dreamy symmetry of kettledrum march and hula-dance sway. "I knew I'd find it," he adds brightly, "if I really searched and reached out." It was a brief optimism.
Genius. It’s a word that’s been attributed to Brian Wilson, his Beach Boys and his beloved, incomplete masterpiece, SMiLE, for years. As the follow-up to the not-immediately loved, but now-cherished Pet Sounds, Wilson had a bit of leeway after the success of the single “Good Vibrations,” which would eventually become SMiLE’s closing track.
True, no one will ever know what effect a SMiLE release in spring 1967 would have had on music or pop culture, and with the music so circular and the lyrics so obtuse, it's likely that SMiLE would have become merely a curio of psychedelic excess rather than a work that transformed culture. But regardless, it shows Brian Wilson's mastery of pure studio sonics and his ability to not only create distinctive pop music, but give it great beauty as well. Those qualities have inspired musicians for decades, and it's clear they will continue to do so.
The real(ish) deal arrives, almost 45 years late but sounding as perfect as can be. Matthew Horton 2011 Finally it's time to see what triumphs, reality or myth, the destination or the journey. We've waited almost 45 years for this, the near-as-dammit definitive version of one of the great lost classics. So was it worth the heartache, the horse-trading for bootlegs, even the filler surrounding the odd SMiLE relic on flaky later albums like Smiley Smile or 20/20? No doubt about it.
Nearly four and a half decades after Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson abandoned Smile, pop's great lost album is lost no more. Although somewhat anticlimactic after Wilson's 2004 solo version, the original Beach Boys recordings of Smile are both wondrous and essential. In an era of cramming 12 musicians on one track and tape-editing with razor blades, the concept behind Smile was daunting.