November 1, 2011

smile Forty-five years (!) after its original planned release, the Beach Boys SMiLE Sessions CD has been released. It’s a monumental day in pop music history that – at least in this case – lives up to all the hype. There’s no need to rehash the significance of this (still) never-completed legendary albom – you can read all about it here, but this is as significant a pop music release as you’re going to find these days.

To step into the world of “SMiLE” is to take a trip back into those heady analog, pre-Moog days of 1966. The Beatles had just been eclipsed by The Beach Boys as the world’s most popular pop group largely on the meteoric success of “Good Vibrations”, the single that followed on the heels of the critically acclaimed “Pet Sounds” album. Brian Wilson was at the height of his creative abilities, and with the help of Van Dyke Parks, his chosen lyricist for the SMiLE project, they produced a crazy-quilt of sounds and lyrics worthy of the most “out there” Left Bank impressionist painter.

To me, Jimi Hendrix nailed SMiLE when he was quoted as calling “Heroes And Villains”, the hit single designed to herald “SMiLE”‘s arrival as a “psychedelic barbershop quartet”. SMiLE is that and more. The “four corners” of SMiLE – “Heroes and Villains”, “Good Vibrations”, “Cabin Essence”, and “Surf’s Up” are unlike anything else produced by anyone in pop music at that time or since. The combination of whimsical arrangements, lyrical wordplay, and vocal calisthenics is something that has never been equalled since. If you need any proof of that, just hear how SMiLE was supposed to begin – remember, this is the Beach Boys and it’s 1966, right? Wow.

The Arizona Republic has a great review, complete with some recent interviews and sounds to whet the appetite:

Available as a two-CD set or a five-CD deluxe expanded box, “The Smile Sessions” will be released Tuesday. And the completed album is as brilliant as its legend promised, from the pristine blend of vocal harmonies on the breathtaking opening track, “Our Prayer,” through an epic rendition of “Heroes and Villains” (Wilson’s favorite track) to the album-closing art-pop majesty of “Good Vibrations” (which sounds more of a piece with “Smile” than those who know it only as a single would expect). It’s a stunning accomplishment, spanning the history of American popular song, from Gershwin to doo-wop, cowboy music, barbershop quartets, a down-tempo snippet of “You Are My Sunshine” that comes off sounding like something John Lennon might have written for “Revolver,” and loopy psychedelic pop in highlights ranging from profoundly odd to beautiful.

In truth, no one – probably not even Brian Wilson himself, knows what the original SMiLE album would have sounded like upon its completion. At the time he abandoned work on it he was frazzled, stressed out, paranoid, and probably over-medicated, and there were too many interlocking pieces that he just could figure out how best to finish it. He had to end SMiLE before it ended him. Nevertheless, it was better than 90% complete, and the “SMiLE Sessions” release proves just how close he was to finishing it off. It’s a must-have for anyone interested in hearing what classical – and in this case I mean “classical” in every sense of the word – pop music of the late ’60s sounded like. The fact all this music was created before the computer and synthesizer makes it even more amazing to listen to.

Do yourself a favor and get the “SMiLE Sessions”, you won’t hear anything like it.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:38 | Comments (3)
  1. Looks like I will be owning the expanded set by the end of the week. So glad to be able to get this now. Grits may divide the GWS and myself but when it comes to the Beach Boys we are joined at the hip. Thanks for the announcement

    Comment by Jana — November 1, 2011 @ 4:37 am

  2. I’m gonna go with the 2-CD set, as I’ve heard just about everything on the big $100 set on boootlegs over the years. A well-informed listener I’ve communicated with over the years says the quality of the 2-CD set is the best he’s ever heard, even better than Brian’s 2004 solo interpretation.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — November 1, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  3. well then, I must go with the ” expert” opionion and save myself some bucks. Thank you GWS

    Comment by Jana — November 1, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

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