(Nov 2013 update on image above – scroll past the extraneous text to the note at bottom)
On my birthday earlier this year, BrianWilson.com announced that
THE BEACH BOYS’ LEGENDARY ‘SMiLE’ ALBUM SESSIONS TO BE RELEASED THIS YEAR BY CAPITOL/EMI’ :
Between the summer of 1966 and early 1967, The Beach Boys recorded, in several sessions, a bounty of songs and drafts for an album, SMiLE, that was intended to follow the band’s 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds. The sessions were ultimately shelved, and The Beach Boys’ SMiLE has never been released. With the full participation of original Beach Boys Al Jardine, Mike Love, and Brian Wilson, Capitol/EMI has collected and compiled the definitive collection, ‘The SMiLE Sessions,’ for worldwide release this year in multiple physical and digital configurations.
Brian Wilson’s unfinished opus is the greatest record almost made. It should be left incomplete, leaving us to imagine an album that would have made Sgt Pepper sound ‘meh‘
and asks ‘haven’t we been here before?’ It would appear that we have :
in February 2004, 37 years after it was conceived, Wilson performed a complete version of Smile at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I was there, and yes, it was heaven to hear the likes of Mrs O’Leary’s Cow as – presumably – it had always existed in Brian’s head.
Next came a record titled Smile. Or rather: Brian Wilson Presents Smile. This was a newly recorded studio album with the keyboard player in Wilson’s new band, Darian Sahanaja, together with arranger Paul Mertens and composer Van Dyke Parks basing the arrangements on the original, unreleased Beach Boys tapes. And that, you imagined, was that, with critics by and large loving the record.
has always had impeccable taste in music. Some might say he’s a pop music snob. When his sister and friends were all into Wham!, he was wearing a Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirt, and when everyone else at school was still in their goth phase, he was giving props to Public Enemy
I take this to represent a mere historical snapshot (spanning only a period between the release of Upside Down in 1985 through Yo! Bum Rush the Show in ’87) of his undoubtedly-extensive popular music erudition – but no matter; this thumbnail biography establishes that, at least in relation to music, he speaks with an authority. And he’s done his research :
it’s never been difficult for anyone interested to track down bootlegs of those sessions. I’ve got the two-disc Vigotone set that, if memory serves, I bought via mailorder, although I’ve often seen it on market stalls. Now, it’s likely that an official release will be of better quality; and, possibly, will feature more material…[the two-disc Vigotone set was] not hard to track down, but the delight I felt when I did was immense. Surely some things in life should be worth the extra effort to seek out?
He is thus also undoubtedly aware that there was an aborted Smile Sessions release considered in 1988, and then again in the mid-90s; that the Ten Years of Harmony 2LP from 1981 was to have featured a side of Smile tracks but then didn’t; that The Beach Boys reneged upon a contractual agreement in 1973 to submit a releasable Smile master (and lost a $50,000 advance from Warner Brothers in the process); that a Capitol Records memo from mid-1967 suggests that, even after the recording of Smiley Smile (The Beach Boys’ 1967 emergency stop-gap Smile replacement album), a 10-track version of Smile was briefly considered for release (if only to utilise the manufactured but unused sleeves and booklets). And then of course there is Smile‘s original scheduled release, before its cancellation and abandonment on the 19th of May 1967.
So yeah, we have been here before.
Llewellyn Smith believes that ‘the album that [Brian Wilson] produced in 2004 purported to fill in the gaps, but no one really wanted that.‘ Really? No one? And who is the ‘we’ he speaks to and for? And, more pointedly, why is this piece (written purely, and possibly cynically, to provoke a response) worthy of comment so many months later?
Maybe because it looked like its author might yet have gotten his wish: that Smile was to have remained the protected province and private property of ‘pop music snobs’; as a series of tentative 2011 release dates came and went, and as messageboard speculation ran on page after page after page, an official Smile release looked as if it had disappeared back into that seemingly-permanent stasis of Not Available.
But, quite suddenly, there was this :
And so now, barring world economic collapse, a comet colliding with the Earth, or any other potential PMF – or, worse yet, the machinations of The Beach Boys™ internal politics – The Smile Sessions will be released ‘in multiple physical and digital configurations‘ on the 1st of November 2011.
This is the first of what may become an intermittent series of observations about Smile, and how Brian Wilson tried to put his dream on this planet. I’ve been preoccupied with ‘the greatest record almost made’ for over a quarter of a century, and, like any true obsessive, I feel I must tell you why. And before any other ill-informed poltroon concurs that, as we approach the 1st of November, a finished Smile is something ‘no one really wanted‘…
November 2013 note: The ‘frown’ image is my own work; it wasn’t online until Sept 2011; it’s never been used on a bootleg (to my knowledge – if it has, I want one!); it’s not the cover of a ‘mystery product‘ on ebay, instead carelessness on the part of a dealer who mistook it for the official Smile Sessions art (the most cursory glance at the listed 2LP tracklist reveals itself as the standard Smile Sessions vinyl); and its function was as an entertaining visual representation of the text that follows it.
If you’ve come here for the pic alone, well hello there! There are also some words to accompany it.