September 27, 2006

smileNow that we’ve had this kick-ass Dell XPS 400 for a while, I’ve been putting it through its paces the past few nights doing something I’ve always dreamed of doing for the past two years, but never had the technological capability of doing so – that is, building my own personalized version of the Beach Boys’ aborted SMiLE album from the various released and bootlegged material I’ve accumulated over the years.

First a quick SMiLE primer: It was mid-1966, and following the release of their now-legendary Pet Sounds album earlier that year, Brian Wilson, the group’s creative leader and producer, began using multiple recording studios and a new revolutionary technique of recording music not as one single entity, but as interchangeable components that could be assembled in their final desired sequence during the mixdown stage to create what would become the group’s second #1 hit, “Good Vibrations“.

It was during the Good Vibrations sessions that Brian hooked up with lyricist Van Dyke Parks and, working in a sandbox Brian had installed in his living room (!), and with a riff Brian had previously developed that reminded Parks of the old Marty Robbins hit “El Paso”, they constructed the song “Heroes And Villains”, that would become the backbone of what they planned would be an American pastoral theme culminating in a planned album they would come to call SMiLE.

Why “SMiLE”? As both Wilson and Parks recall, the idea was to try and recapture the core idealism of the Eisenhower and JFK ’60s years that had turned increasingly dark and cynical following the president’s assassination and America’s increasing involvement in Vietnam. Wanting to produce a work that rejected the then-hip quasi-British imitators of the British invasion and embraced (both good and bad) the American experience with a positive energy, the theme that ultimately emerged became part musical homage to the American expansion from Plymouth Rock all the way across the Pacific to Hawai’i as told from the vantage point of a bicycle rider (I kid you not!), part celebration of Brian’s more earthly pursuits at that time, such as health foods, astrology, and embracing the tangible elements of air, earth, fire, and water. As the album’s name implies, humor would also be a key ingredient, containing songs replete with imagery, wordplay, puns and multiple meanings.

As it turned out, the methodology employed by Brian was both a good and bad thing: good, because he could complete various bits and pieces in the studio instrumentally, leaving them sans vocals until the rest of the Beach Boys returned from their concert tours (Brian himself had retired from touring in mid’-64), upon which vocals would be laid down and the pieces completed. Bad, because so many of the parts he recorded were so interchangeable that, when it came down to crunch time and time to put all the pieces together into a logical theme, Brian, stressed out from from his increasing amphetamine use, business matters, and, most critically, resistance to this new music by Beach Boy frontman and former collaborator Mike Love, began to lose confidence in the project. As various deadlines passed and delivery of the finished product lagged by several months, Brian simply couldn’t figure out how to put all the pieces together and began distancing himself from the project.

After the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967, Brian knew his moment in time had passed him by. Rather than be allowed to stand on, and be judged on, its own as an advanced achievement, he feared SMiLE would always stand in comparison (and perhaps less favorably) to the Beatles’ masterpiece. SMiLE’s originally planned time had come and gone.

As the years passed and the Beach Boys began to release various pieces of SMiLE material (most particularly, the legendary “Cabinessence” and “Surf’s Up“) in subsequent albums, and bootlegs of recorded material became commonplace, the SMiLE legend grew and collectors began to search far and wide for any new material they could add to their collections.

But a whole, unified, released version of SMiLE? That would take many years…

When Brian released “Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE” in 2004, rather than end the mystery of SMiLE, his material – an exceptional piece of work on its own – only served to add new pieces to the puzzle for collectors. Let’s make one thing clear: no one really knows what the original version of SMiLE might have sounded like if it had been released in 1967 – after all, certain pieces that had been planned had never been completed – but for afficianados like myself, there were now new and exciting pieces of music available for them to consider and perhaps incorporate into their own personal versions of what they thought SMiLE might sound like.

Technologically, the constraints of recording CDs to cassette – which is all I had been able to do until recently – made it difficult to pull various pieces and sections out and put them back together in a different (and, in my view) more logical fashion. Until, that is, I discovered DART (Digital Audio Restoration Technology) CD Recorder 4, which basically turns your PC into a recording studio where you can manipulate sounds and milliseconds of music and cut and paste them into others to your heart’s content.

Thanks to DART, my personal version of what the original 1966 SMiLE recording might have sounded like is as complete as its gonna get (barring, of course, any future release of original SMiLE material, which, given next year’s 40th anniversary of the original sessions, is not out of the question!), and is now assembled and available for others to enjoy. Allow me to share with you my own personal vision of what Brian Wilson’s legendary SMiLE album might have sounded like.

NEXT: Building the “perfect” SMiLE.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:07 | Comment (1)
1 Comment »
  1. […] Here’s Part I. Here’s Part 2. Here’s Part 3 Here’s Part 4 Here’s Part 5 […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » SMiLE-ing to England — November 1, 2007 @ 7:18 pm


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