The Beach Boys had to celebrate their 30th Anniversary somehow, and, as they seem fond of anniversaries and celebrations, Capitol/EMI released this,
the ultimate compilation spanning their full career, from the home demo of ‘Surfin’ USA’ to the Number One hit ‘Kokomo’. Over 120 songs on 4 CDs, including many never-before-released selections and rare finds, plus a Bonus CD featuring live tracks and special collectors’ session material.
Even if you have all of the previously released (and unreleased) tracks on the 1990/91 Capitol CD ‘twofer’ reissues, there is lots of previously unheard stuff here. It also renders the 70s albums irrelevant (especially if you have a Mount Vernon & Fairway 7″), as their small handful of decent tracks are here. Even an avid Beach Boys bootleg collector got some surprises…
The 4 CDs are sequenced chronologically, and where the first 3 discs cover a couple of years each, the 4th encapsulates 13 years of The Beach Boys – but there are still tracks to be skipped (‘you’ll never hear Kokomo again’).
The Bonus Disc is most interesting for ‘tracking sessions’, ‘track only’ and ‘vocal only’ versions; the live stuff is inessential, and alas excludes the jaw-dropping ‘live’ recording of Heroes and Villains from 11th September 1967 (a transcription is here).
UK buyers were presented with a ‘Special Bonus’ Bonus Disc, being a 5 track compilation of shit: Bluebirds Over The Mountain, Bruce Johnston’s weepy Tears In The Morning, Lady Lynda (Bach/Arr. Al Jardine), Sumahama (a Mike Love original), and Here Comes The Night (12″ version), 1978’s barrel-scraping excursion into disco – although, while the embodiment of desperation itself (and its video plasters the pathos thicker still: Dennis at 0:33 is bad enough, but the shot that follows tops it) they could have done worse – a disco remix of the whole of Smile? Mike Love wouldn’t have cared.
Even if The Beach Boys’ reverance for their own back catalogue is somewhat partial, this set was compiled by people who knew them far better than they knew themselves. And the box is pretty (even if mine is now pretty battered), the 60 page book is better (even if mine is now pretty creaky due to the ageing binding), with an informed text from David Leaf – AND you get a transfer of the Good Vibrations box logo, which I always thought was for a car window (and I don’t drive), until I realised you could also stick it to your surfboard…
Here is the battered box and its back tracklist:
The 1990 Capitol reissue CD of Smiley Smile/Wild Honey, for all its sins (most of Smiley Smile & Wild Honey) did include some Good Vibrations variations, an acetate of an earlier Heroes and Villains (which featured the ‘in the cantina’ and ‘three score and five i’m very much alive i’ve still got the jive to survive with the heroes and villains’ sections), plus Can’t Wait Too Long (bootlegged as a Smile outtake, but actually rejected by The Beach Boys as ‘unsuitable’ for Friends in 1968). Heroes and Villains alone enhanced the cassette compilation substantially; but the Good Vibrations box changed the landscape of that ‘mixtape’ FOR EVER.
From the book’s four-and-a-half pages about Smile:
You’ve heard the hype; now, after a quarter-century of myth and legend, you can hear a few of the choicer pieces of the puzzle and judge for yourself. Remember, what you’re listening to are unfinished productions, fragments, demos and tracks. Basically, the pieces (especially the ‘Heroes and Villains vocal sections) have been assembled in what seems like a listenable sequence; with a programmable CD player, you can make your own order. As so many sessions from that era are incomplete, unpolished or lost, it is impossible to construct a finished album. Still, with these caveats, I’ll be surprised if anybody can listen to this music and not feel that something very special and unique has been given to us, albeit quite a few years later than expected. Does it live up to the legend? That’s for you to decide.
You need to jump straight to Disc 2, track 18:
18. Our Prayer – this is actually Prayer, ie. the Smile version of the track issued on 20/20, minus the 1968 overdubs.
19. Heroes And Villains (Alternate Version) – the ‘in the cantina’ version released as a Smiley Smile/Wild Honey bonus track
20. Heroes And Villains (Sections) – instrumental and vocal sections pieced together into a seven-minute montage
21. Wonderful – covered by The Beach Boys on Smiley Smile
22. Cabinessence – as featured on 20/20 (rather than any earlier version)
23. Wind Chimes – covered by The Beach Boys on Smiley Smile
24. Heroes And Villains (Intro) – what became the Fire intro (that weird circular instrumental phrase) was actually recorded and logged as a Heroes and Villains segment
25. Do You Like Worms – the most astounding unreleased track – and with a segment at 1:11 that no bootlegger had heard before
26. Vegetables – covered by The Beach Boys on Smiley Smile
27. I Love To Say Da Da – the last-recorded Smile sessions track
28. Surf’s Up – the solo (piano and voice) track recorded in December 1966, and utilised in part by The Beach Boys for their own version in 1971
29. With Me Tonight – sole survivor of the ‘Smile-supplants-Smiley Smile‘ cull of 1993; apart from Good Vibrations and the single version of Heroes and Villains, this release marked, finally, the eradication of the 1967 album that replaced the absent Smile. These versions of Wonderful, Wind Chimes and Vegetables are, of course, superior in every way to their shoddy Smiley Smile simulacra; Gettin’ Hungry is not conspicious by its absence.
And then there is Disc 5 (The Bonus Disc):
8. Good Vibrations (Sessions) – 15 more minutes of Good Vibrations sessions
9. Heroes And Villains (Track Only) – 47 seconds of the backing track for the 1967 single version
10. Cabinessence (Track Only) – a montage of parts replicating the 20/20 track’s sequence
11. Surf’s Up (Track Only) – the 1:40 ‘First Movement’ instrumental track, as utilised by The Beach Boys in 1971 for their own version, and
23. Good Vibrations (Live 1966) :
Saturday 22nd October 1966, University of Michigan:
This pair of performances marks the first time the group plays Brian’s musical masterpiece Good Vibrations in concert. Fearing that his colleagues will be incapable of reproducing the song onstage, Brian accompanies the group to Michigan to oversee a lengthy and arduous day-long rehearsal for the song.
The minute or so spoken intro:
Mike: What’s the right note?…
Bruce: Play it!
Mike: Easy, I haven’t learned it yet…(to audience) hey man, they expect me to play this woo-woo machine (audience laughs). This is ridiculous!
Carl: It really is
Mike: Give me…a note
Piano and organ cacophony as Mike tunes the woo-woo machine
Mike: We aren’t too nervous for this song, it’s the second time we’ve tried it…if the light man could dim the lights a little – in fact turn them out, I’d like to go look for a fire hydrant (much audience laughter)
They play the well-rehearsed song, and then seem genuinely surprised at the audience’s positive response (Good Vibrations had been released as a single 12 days earlier).
Most of the Smile tracks released here were originally sequenced and mastered for a projected Smile Sessions release in 1988, and then bootlegged widely; by 1993, any real fan would have most of this, in one form or another (and specifically on the Japanese Smile CD bootleg from 1991):
The prior availability of this on the collectors’ market may have been what prompted The Beach Boys to allow these tracks to be included here (and the legal logistics alone must have been hellish). Subsequent comments from them about Smile gives little credit to the value of any of these tracks. Maybe they thought that this would be the end of it…
While the notes might declare that ‘it is impossible to construct a finished album’, not everyone agreed. And once digital sound editors and CD writers made Pause-Button-Finger as redundant a tool as the seed drill, and Smile bootlegs proliferated, a compilation would never be enough.
What else to do but finish Smile?