October 11, 2006

bw smile On Side 1 of their planned SMiLE LP release back in early 1967, the Beach Boys’ leader and producer Brian Wilson, with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, devised an “American pastoral” that would recreating in words and sound the American expansion westward from sea to shining sea and beyond, from Plymouth Rock all the way to the Hawaiian Islands.

For Side 2, Wilson and Parks had a whole ‘nuther idea entirely – one that, if not quite as definitive and tangible, would nevertheless strive to be just as poignant, substantial, and whimsical. As Domenic Priore writes in his book “SMiLE – The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece”, a trip Brian took to Big Sur the previous summer had much to do with what Brian hoped Side 2 of SMiLE would attempt to convey. As Priore writes:

The Big Sur coastline is a ragged mountain of rocks, blanketed by the smell of fir trees and redwood bark. The ocean pounds against the rocks, and hillside brooks travel through dirt and out to the sea. “The air’s so clean, it’ll just take your mind away”, as the Beach Boys would later sing on Holland and Five Summer Stories. In Big Sur, the air is flush with ocean spray. In the centre of a camping trip to such a remote area, the night is filled with the scent of smoke from a fire, bringing warmth to a cool evening.

Brian Wilson’s summer trip to Big Sur in the summer of 1966 put him in touch with many of the most beautiful elements of the planet. To capture a full appreciation of these feelings in music, he composed a modular series of music pieces for SMiLE that he would call “The Elements”.

But it wasn’t just the elemental beauty of nature Brian was after, for, as Priore writes, he was also heavily interested in the (then) relatively-new concept of eating healthy:

By the time of SMiLE, Brian had come to express his appreciation [for eating well] in a good-eating song. “I want people to turn on to vegetables”, he told Teen Set magazine. “Good, natural food. Organic food. Health is an important ingredient to spiritual enlightenment. But I do not want to be pompous about this, so we will engage in a satirical approach to the matter.”

(Never mind the fact that Brian had difficulty with the idea of him being the one doing all the healthy eating – he would regularly have his wife Marilyn cook him huge steak dinners – it was the idea that counted.)

We’ve already discussed the music on Side 1 of my reconstituted SMiLE album, let’s now take a look at how Side 2 might have been configured had the original SMiLE been released. As I mentioned before, in the LP format dominant at this time, record companies and their serious artists would usually strive to frame their album sides with the “hits” or strongest cuts as the first and last tracks on either side of the album. (On Side 1 this strategy would have been reflected by Capitol Records’ insistence that the first planned SMiLE 45 RPM single “Heroes and Villains” should kick off Side 1, and the second-strongest “American pastoral” cut “Cabin-Essence” finish it off.)

We know Capitol planned to exploit the massive success of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” single by having it not just included on SMiLE, but its inclusion trumpeted on one of the proposed album covers as well. Since it thematically didn’t belong on Side 1, it would then have been the obvious choice to lead off Side 2. This meant that the next-strongest cut still remaining, “Surf’s Up”, would have been the obvious choice to close the side, and thereby the album, out in style. With that in mind, here is my reconstructed Side 2 of SMiLE:

1. Good Vibrations
2. I’m In Great Shape
3. Vega-Tables
— a) Vegetables (Promo)
— b) Vegetables
4. The Elements:
— 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”)
5. Surf’s Up

1. Good Vibrations: Forty years after it’s release, “Good Vibrations” remains the trippiest, most psychedelic song you’ll ever hear played on all-oldies radio. By now, everyone’s heard it so many times that the unique features of the song – the differing sonic qualities resulting from its three distinct sections recorded at different studios, the spooky electro-theremin, and the cellos playing rock n’ roll triplets for the first time ever (an idea conceived by Parks) – are dulled by its sheer familiarity. But, whether forced onto SMiLE by the Capitol executives, or intentionally put there by Brian, it remains the perfect jumping off point for Side 2. For my SMiLE, I’m using the original 45 RPM single version as found on the “Good Vibrations” box [Disc 2, track 17]. Not much else to say, except an incredible Carl Wilson vocal on a song that exemplifies ’60s psychedelia.

2. I’m In Great Shape: Much like “Barnyard” mentioned on my Side 1 post, no one really knows what “I’m In Great Shape” might have sounded like, or where it would have been placed on SMiLE on its planned release; even the numerous bootlegs out there don’t lend much of an answer to the mystery. All we have is a rough fragment from Brian (in a “Heroes and Villains” demo heard on the “Endless Harmony” soundtrack CD), and that it was one of the tracks mentioned in a hand-written note from Brian to the Capitol executives so they could proceed with the album’s graphics. While Brian’s demo suggests “I’m In Great Shape” to be a part of “Heroes and Villains”, the fact he wrote it out as a separate title suggests this song was still looking for a final destination when he abandoned SMiLE.

For my version of SMiLE, I’m taking “I’m In Great Shape” directly from Brian’s 2004 release. The intro music is slightly psychedelic-sentimental, as if you’re listening to an old-time orchestra in the park playing under the mellowing effect of hallucinogens. While on Brian’s version the track (incorrectly, as I’ll point out later) segues into the track “I Wanna Be Around/Workshop”, for me, the “health-conscious” lyrics…

Freshened air around my head
Mornings tumble out of bed
Eggs and grits and lickety-split
Look at me jump!
I’m in the great shape of agriculture…

…provide a far more natural segue into what I’ll call my “Vega-Tables suite”. To accomplish this, I used my DART CD Recording Studio software to cut the “I Wanna Be Around/Workshop” section from “I’m In Great Shape” (easy to do, as it’s an obvious edit) and set it aside for later use on this side.

3. Vega-Tables: How this track might have sounded on the original SMiLE is also anyone’s guess, as Brian was still fiddling around with it as well towards the end of the SMiLE project. For my version, I’ve turned this into a two-section “suite”, combining a comedy outtake recorded during the original sessions with the “Good Vibrations” box version of the song. Taken together, they not only fit together and sound great, but they reflect the whimsical approach to healthy eating mentioned in Brian’s quote above.

3a. Vega-Tables (Promo) This track, from the “Hawthorne, CA” CD [Disc 2, track 6], is a snippet of a far longer (and, from what I’ve read, increasingly bizarre) comedy skit featuring Brian and legendary session drummer Hal Blaine arguing over – you guessed it – vegetables. While there’s no proof it was planned for inclusion on SMiLE, such would not be out of the realm of possibility either, given: a) its humor fits what Brian was setting out to accomplish, and b) earlier Beach Boys albums produced by Brian had featured similar kinds of off-beat material: “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” from 1964’s “All Summer Long” and “Bull Session With Big Daddy” from 1965’s “Today” being just two examples. (An interesting note: the barking dogs Blaine threatens to call on Brian in this skit are lifted directly from the close of “Caroline, No” on the Beach Boys’ previous album “Pet Sounds”.)

As Wilson’s and Blaine’s “argument” fades into a babbling “I’ve got a big bag of vegetables, sure enough” chant), it segues easily into the previously-unreleased version of “Vegetables” from the “Good Vibrations” box [Disc 2, track 26]. While admittedly rougher than the versions found on both SMiLE’s 1967 replacement album (“Smiley Smile”) and Brian’s 2004 release, the Beach Boys’ vocals are more distinct and whimsical here (Alan Jardine‘s vocal being especially prominent), and its fadeout (featuring the same chant used in the “Heroes and Villains” intro on Side 1) lends more credibility to it being a true SMiLE-related production.

Ed. note: This post was originally going to encompass a complete discussion about my recreated SMiLE’s Side 2, but towards the end of my version of “The Elements” I realized it was going to end up as too long a post. So, I’ve decided to make this a logical stopping point and use a fourth installment to discuss what I did to recreate a more “authentic” version of “The Elements” and the close of my SMiLE to make it an easier post for me to assemble (and perhaps for you to read). That’ll come in the next day or so.

Coming next: “The Elements” and “Surf’s Up”

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:57 | Comments (3)
  1. I had that Good Vibrations 45. Had that yellow Capitol label on it just like the early Beatles records. Still have a handful of 45s around the house somewhere mixed in with my old albums. Might have to dig them out to show the younger generations who have never seen one.

    Comment by Rob — October 11, 2006 @ 7:03 am

  2. !!!!???
    How can I download this smile mix!
    It seems the BEST ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Somebody help me!

    (A SMiLE/Beach Boys hardcore fan)

    Comment by Antonio — October 28, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

  3. ?

    But this “antoniojesusreyes@yahoo.es” must be dumb…

    Comment by Rosetta tamb — January 14, 2008 @ 6:11 am

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