September 30, 2006

smileIn my last post, I provided a brief history of the Beach Boys’ legendary SMiLE album that group leader and producer Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks had planned for a Beach Boys release back in 1967, but, for a variety of reasons, never did – that is, until Brian’s own version was released in 2004. Now we’re ready to look at what the original version of SMiLE might – might – have sounded like had it been released in its original form sometime around March or May 1967, courtesy of my own (ahem) extensive research, and my trusty old DART (Digital Audio Restoration Technology) CD Recorder 4 software.

First, however, we need to transport ourselves back to a late ’66/early ’67 mindset and the common recording practices of that time and the limitations of the 33 1/3 RPM (“LP”) format. Brian’s 2004 release of Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE, was presented as sort of a three-act play, exploiting the flexibility of the CD format. But this was hardly the format SMiLE would have been presented in had it been released in LP format almost 40 years ago.

For the serious artists of the mid-to-late ’60s, the constraints of the LP format and the way record companies preferred to package material made for a delicate dance that balanced the artist’s need to produce “art” with the record company’s need to sell product. For SMiLE, this would have meant that the album’s perceived four strongest cuts – “Heroes and Villains“, “Cabin-Essence” (subsequently released as “Cabinessence“), the #1 hit “Good Vibrations“, and “Surf’s Up” would bookend each side of the album. “Heroes and Villains”, being the planned 45 RPM single, would have been the logical choice to lead off the album (although it really wouldn’t – see below), and the overwhelming success of “Good Vibrations” made it a logical choice to kick off Side 2. “Cabin-Essence”, being part of the “American pastoral” side of SMiLE, would have closed Side 1 out, with “Surf’s Up” the solid track that would close the album out.

With this framework in mind, then, and without further adieu, here is the track listing for my re-constituted SMiLE. Interestingly, as many SMiLE-related bootlegs as there are out there, none of tracks I selected for my compilation are from bootlegs; all are taken from previously-released material, including:

* Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
* Beach Boys: Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (box set)
* Beach Boys: Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy
* Beach Boys: Smiley Smile/Wild Honey “two-fer”

Side 1:
1. Prayer
2. Heroes and Villains
3. Do You Like Worms?
4. Barnyard
5. The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine
6. Wonderful
7. Child Is The Father To The Man
8. Heroes and Villains (Reprise)
9. Cabin-Essence

Side 2:
1. Good Vibrations
2. I’m In Great Shape
3. Vega-Tables (Promo)
4. Vega-Tables
5. The Elements Suite:
* a) On A Holiday (Earth)
* b) Wind Chimes (Air)
* c) Mrs. O’ Leary’s Cow (Fire)
* d) I Wanna Be Around / Workshop
* e) In Blue Hawaii (Water)
6. Surf’s Up

In this post, I’ll discuss the tracks associated with Side 1, with Side 2 planned for the next installment.

Side 1 Tracks:

1. Prayer : We know from bootlegged tapes of the SMiLE sessions that the a capella “Prayer” (released on the Beach Boys’ 1969 album 20/20 as “Our Prayer”), although not mentioned on the original album’s list of songs, was designed to serve as its intro. Brian had once said that one day he would write music that people would pray to; this piece sounds like the kind of thing he had in mind when he said that. I’m taking the version off the Good Vibrations box set (CD #2, track 18), for, while Brian’s band on the 2004 SMiLE disc do quite the nice job, their voices simply don’t have the separation and depth of those of the original Beach Boys, which, in this circa-’66 recording with 1969 overdubs, are, frankly, shimmering.

2. Heroes and Villains: As devised by Brian and Van Dyke, Heroes and Villains was not just intended as the first 45 RPM single to be released from SMiLE, it was also the underlying theme around which Side 1 was to be constructed around. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the song – couldn’t have said it better myself:

Composed in early 1966, “Heroes and Villains” was the first collaboration between Wilson and [Van Dyke] Parks, and it is reported that when Wilson first played the melody to him, Parks devised the opening line on the spot. Various musical themes in the song recur in numerous other songs and musical fragments which Wilson recorded for SMiLE.

The lyrics for “Heroes and Villains” exemplify the allusive and playful nature of Parks writing for SMiLE, evidently combining the experiences, feelings and preoccupations of both Wilson and Parks. Along with “Surf’s Up” and “Cabinessence” it is lyrically among the most complex and ambiguous of all The Beach Boys recordings. The “heroes and villains” concept has often been suggested as referring to the conflicts between Wilson and the other members of The Beach Boys, but there are clear references to Parks’ experiences as well.

While my version for SMiLE relies primarily on Brian’s 2004 version (except for his relatively-gruff vocal, the arrangement faithfully replicates the 1966-67 version), there is one minor change. We know from bootlegs that a brief 25-second a capella intro was also intended for this song, which happens to appear within the Good Vibrations box track “Heroes and Villains (Sections) [CD #2, track 20]. Adding it onto the start of the 2004 song not only restores what Brian had originally intended, it shows how adept (and willing) the Beach Boys were at trying to realize Brian’s whimsical vision for SMiLE. Once you’ve heard it here, you’ll never go back.

3. Do You Like Worms?: On Brian’s 2004 version, they call it “Roll Plymouth Rock”, but that’s only because Van Dyke Parks thought in retrospect the original title too obscure and pretentious. Perhaps he’s right, but the original title (at least in my version) stands. On my SMiLE, as in Brian’s 2004 version, this track immediately follows “Heroes and Villains”, with a transition between the two songs that is breathtaking. I’m also using the Brian’s 2004 version because it contains lyrics planned for the original version, but not recorded by the time SMiLE was abandoned – lyrics that were crucial to the story Parks and Wilson were trying to tell about American expansion and the triumphs and costs of the whole “manifest destiny” concept in its march westward from the shores of the Atlantic to the Hawaiian Islands:

Waving from the ocean liners,
beaded cheering Indians behind them.

Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Ribbon of concrete – just see what you done –
done to the church of the American Indian!

Once upon the Sandwich Isles,
the social structure steamed upon Hawaii.
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over

Bicycle rider, just see what you’ve done-
done to the church of the American Indian!

Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula
Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula

Rock, rock, roll Plymouth rock roll over.
Rock, rock, roll Plymouth Rock roll over.

As Parks is quoted in Domenic Priore’s SMiLE – The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece, “It’s about bringing this Euro-sensibility into the taming of the American continent, from Plymouth Rock to Waikiki.” This march westward is told from the perspective of a “bicycle rider” (the playing card and the European), a recurring image in the song. Parks again: “It had to do with gambling and cards and so forth. And the church of the American Indian, of course, is the very property we claim now. …It’s just a different attitude, but an important one.”

4. Barnyard: No one is actually certain how “Barnyard” would have sounded on the original SMiLE, because, frankly, Brian hadn’t yet decided whether it was to be a section of “Heroes and Villains” or its own distinct entity. At any rate, because this track transitions seamlessly on Brian’s 2004 version, it sounds and fits perfectly here. This is a happy track, no sophistication, just a few playful lyrics sung around the band making animal noises (cows, pigs, chickens and the like!), invoking an image of family life on the American frontier:

Out in the barnyard, the cook is choppping lumber
Out in the barnyard, the chickens do their number

Ooooh… Ooooh…

Jump in the pigpen, next time I’ll take my shoes off
Hit the dirt, do a two-and-a-half, next time I’ll leave my hat on

Ooooh… Ooooh…

5. The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine: Then, quickly, a brief cello intro that morphs into a mournful “You Are My Sunshine” sung in past tense:

You were my sunshine, my only sunshine
You made me happy when skies were gray
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

In the original 1966 recording, this is a soulful, heart-felt Dennis Wilson vocal, but otherwise, Brian’s 2004 version is identical.

(Note: This piece ends the initial “Heroes and Villains” suite, the “dying strings” sound anticipating the same technique featured at the close of “Glass Onion” on the Beatles’ “White Album” in 1968. Given that the Beatles, without Brian’s knowledge, heard much of the original SMiLE material while on a visit to L.A. in late 1966 – a previously-unreported visit now revealed by Peter Ames Carlin in his book Catch A Wave – The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that John Lennon’s idea for the “Glass Onion” ending was inspired by his hearing this recording.)

6. Wonderful: For my version of “Wonderful”, I’m admittedly going out on a limb here. We know this sweet, harpsichord-backed track beautifully replicated in all its 1966 glory on Brian’s 2004 version is not exactly in the form he originally conceived, because written evidence abounds that he intended some kind of whimsical interlude between the 2nd and 3rd verses to break the tension that exists in this “coming-of age” tale between a girl and a boy. What that “interlude” might actually have been in a 1967 release is anyone’s guess, but for my version I’ve included a section of wordless vocals backed by harmonica, bass and plucked violin within the Good Vibrations box track “Heroes and Villains (Sections) [CD #2, track 20]. I don’t think it’s exactly what Brian might have originally done, but I’m certain the spirit of it is close.

7. Child Is The Father To The Man: For the 2004 version, Van Dyke and Brian created a single track called “Song for Children” by combining a 1966 instrumental track called “Look” with another incomplete piece from the same period called “Child is the Father to the Man”. While some new lyrics were created for Brian’s 2004 version, they are minimal and fit perfectly onto a backing track which, to my ears, sounds identical to the 1966 recordings.

8. Heroes and Villains (Reprise): My finest hour (if I do say so myself) on this reconstituted version of SMiLE, and one I’m certain would meet with Brian’s approval, since it sounds so natural here. This piece takes yet another snippet within the Good Vibrations box track “Heroes and Villains (Sections) [CD #2, track 20], then appends onto that the final section of “Heroes and Villains (Alternative Take)” from the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey disk [track 23], a section that features an entirely different-sounding vocal arrangement and an additional, whimsical verse:

My children were raised you know they suddenly rise
They started slow long ago, head to toe, healthy, wealthy and wise

…At three-score-five, I’m very much alive
I’ve still got the jive to survive with the heroes and villains

Not only does this serve to reprise “Heroes and Villains” in a fun and unusual way, its arrangement and placement here makes it seem, after repeated listenings, as if it were always meant to be there.

9. Cabin-Essence: Lifted directly from the Good Vibrations box [CD #2, track 22], this track was originally released on the Beach Boys’ 1969 album 20/20 as “Cabinessence”, and it closes out Side 1 with a rush of aural magnificence. Brian’s brothers Carl and Dennis loved the SMiLE music, and they found a way to include at least snippets of SMiLE onto a number of Beach Boys albums following its abandonment. The inclusion of this track and “Prayer” (as “Our Prayer”) on 20/20 gave the world its first glimpse into the masterpiece that was lost when SMiLE was abandoned.

This track – one of my all-time favorites – defies description. Breathtaking in its use of cellos and violins backing vocals that rise and fall like winds sweeping across the prairie, Cabin-Essence is an aural depiction of the trans-continental railroad being built by Chinese laborers across a peaceful valley, arriving noisily, then taking their progress west towards the Pacific:

Light the lamp and fire mellow,
Cabin essence timely hello
Welcomes the time for a change.
Lost and found, you still remain there,
You’ll find a meadow filled with grain there
I’ll give you a home on the range.

Who ran the iron horse?

I want to watch you windblown facing,
Waves of wheat for your embracing
Folks sing a song of the grange.
Nestle in a kiss below there,
The constellations ebb and flow there
And witness our home on the range.

Who ran the iron horse?

Have you see the grand coolee workin’ on the railroad?
Over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfield.
Over and over, the thresher and hover the wheat field

The obscure lyrics contained in its third and final section: “Over and over the crow flies, uncover the cornfield” are reputed to be at the core of the dispute between Beach Boys frontman Mike Love and Van Dyke that started SMiLE on it’s way to abandonment by Brian.

Coming soon: SMiLE Side 2.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:16 | Comments (2)
2 Comments »
  1. I enjoyed reading your ‘Smile’ compilation.
    Must be luxury to be able to find time to do all this!

    Comment by Ian — September 30, 2006 @ 6:10 pm


  2. Thanks for the comment, Ian. If you’re talking about the actual construction of the sound files, the DART software is pretty easy (although occasionally infuriating) to use; if you’re talking about the writing, well, that’s a whole ‘nuther topic altogether – especially when you type using the search-and-destroy method as i do!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — October 4, 2006 @ 4:59 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment


goodboys.jpg


Search The Site



Recent Items

Categories

Archives
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006


Blogroll

Syndication

4 Goodboys Only

Site Info