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Archive for February, 2012

Long before there were Smile bootlegs, and when Smile was still mostly an unknown quantity and an unheard mystery, there was always Smiley Smile, its brief, bizarre, and hugely-underwhelming replacement, released in September 1967.

Keith Badman’s Definitive Diary quotes Carl Wilson’s own comment about the album after the fact, describing it as

“a bunt rather than a grand slam” and [he] says that it all but destroys the group’s reputation for forward thinking pop.

This is quite an odd comment from one of the albums participants – and producers: where every Beach Boys album released prior to Smiley Smile bears the credit ‘Produced by Brian Wilson’,  Smiley Smile was the first album ‘Produced by The Beach Boys’

As mentioned elsewhere, upon release, an otherwise sympathetic UK music press called it

undoubtedly the worst album ever released by The Beach Boys

and Nick Kent says, in his NME Last Beach Movie Beach Boys retrospective from 1975, that it

must still rate as about the all-time strangest album ever to be released by a major rock band; certainly no one could begin to work out what it could possibly ‘signify’ at the time of its public initiation

Until the appearance of the first Smile bootleg in the mid-eighties, however, Smiley Smile was the largest body of related music from 1967 (aside from Our Prayer, Cabinessence and Surf’s Up, released in 1969 and 1971) – and it’s a pretty small (and pretty artless) ‘large body of work’: with a meagre 27 minutes running-time, and 7 minutes of that being the previously-released (and hugely successful) Good Vibrations, plus Heroes and Villains (its less-successful follow-up), as an album, it’s kind of over before it has begun.

And, where its predecessor Pet Sounds ends with the conscious sequencing of Caroline No‘s conclusive melancholy (and in contrast to the joyous anticipation of the opener Wouldn’t It be Nice), and then the sound of dogs barking and a train passing, Smiley Smile has a track (it’s barely a song, at a minute long) called Whistle In (hear it here), which does little, goes nowhere, and then fades out.

For all the discussion about Smile‘s track sequence, Smiley Smile‘s running order doesn’t appear to ever have been debated or considered. But where real and fictional Brian Wilsons were arguing excitably for an intrinsic consistency to the pop album format:

Brian (right, to Nik Venet of Capitol Records): I wanna do an album like this (holding Rubber Soul), where the whole thing is a GAS! All good stuff like a THEME you know? 45 singles, that’s over, this is where it’s AT man!     

(from here)

Brian : Yeah? Well I’m trying to make the greatest rock and roll album ever made…
Mike : With barking dogs and…pounding spoons and…(exasperated) love songs to God?!?

(from here)

this aesthetic was abandoned along with Smile. Smiley Smile is the template for another type of Beach Boys album: making do, and with whatever.

But it had another function as well.

Why would a musical group, acclaimed for advancing pop music, and taking listeners along on the trip (Good Vibrations could be considered one of the best pop records of the 1960s) rather than leaving them behind (it was also the group’s most successful single), suddenly – and quite consciously – ‘all but destroy [their own] reputation for forward thinking pop’?

There are three quotes from Brian Wilson, contemporary with Smile (one would have to presume, as they are neither dated nor attributed), used as illustration in the 2011 Smile Sessions book. They look really pretty as large graphics. Each appear to have been transcribed by Brian Wilson especially for the 2011 release, and each was presumably selected (but almost certainly not by Brian himself) because of their applicability to Smile.

This is one of them

which is a real odd quote to use.

Having planned to use the above when this was all started in September 2011, sourced from its original context (a Derek Taylor-penned article from late ’66, and reprinted in Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!, p. 72-75), and with the intention of corroborating that this stated aesthetic was no longer applicable by the time Smiley Smile was recorded, my original argument was somewhat scuppered by its use in The Smile Sessions. Oh well. But doesn’t it look good?

There were so many published interviews with Brian Wilson during 66/67 – why this particular quote?

Is the use of these words, in 2011 (everybody knows, of course, that Brian didn’t ‘put out’ Smile in 1967), and in this context, meant to suggest that Brian didn’t ‘respect’ Smile at the time, and hence it was his decision not to release it? The 2012 Beach Boys have a new prospective biographer (some smartarsery from me about him here) that claims that Brian Wilson himself ‘killed Smile – absolutely’.

Interesting.

Enough people have said enough about Smiley Smile, and I don’t plan on considering the album track by track. Some people rate it, and it also has its apologists – despite the band’s own reservations about their work on it.

One significant, and quite audible factor worth mentioning in passing is its aura of stoned torpor and self-amusement. This is Drugs (and drugged) Music. Little Pad, the last track on Side One, is a really pretty Hawaiian-themed piece – but is prefaced with pot-smoking fools, laughing rather than singing…and it’s this I-remember-my-first-joint-everything-is-funny thing that dated many 60s records real quick.

I will be discussing drugs in a later post – but I’m with Julian Cope, who argued (once, somewhere) that ‘skinning up isn’t taking drugs’. Mike Love claims to be vehemently anti-drugs, but, listening to Little Pad‘s intro, if he’s straight (and straight-faced)…Peter Ames Carlin recounts an incident backstage in 1987, where Mike Love

down[ed] a procession of Heinekens, which he poured carefully into a tall soda cup between visits from admirers. Asked to pose for a picture, the self-proclaimed teetotaller would make sure to hide his beer behind his back.

(Catch A Wave, p.250)

but I’m with this guy on the merits (and strength) of that particular brand of alcoholic beverage. I will not judge Mike here either. And, chronologically, it’s worth bearing in mind that Smiley Smile was recorded prior to Mike’s own personal spiritual epiphany, in the company of The Beatles

meeting the Maharishi in India:

Mike: I think that meditation, as opposed to drugs – and the result of promiscuous drugtaking is pretty evident in the lives of people that have done that – has given me a way to relax. My first thought during my first meditation was, first of all that it was so simple, that anyone could do it, and second of all it was so deeply relaxing that if everybody did it, it would be an entirely different world. My trip with the Beatles in early ’68 was one of the most fascinating time periods of my life.

(from here)

Let us talk, instead, about music.

Before bootlegs, this track would have been very familiar to any Smile scholar:

Gettin’ Hungry (Wilson/Love)

Recorded July 14th 1967 (as Capitol Master #58037), and released as the first Beach Boys-related single after Heroes and Villains – but credited to ‘Brian Wilson & Mike Love’. US release August 28th 1967, UK release September 1967; chart position: none.

Listen.

Even if Smiley Smile were a worthwhile Smile-surrogate, and even if its enforced minimalism was an artistic choice, rather than the manifestation of a severely-constrained creativity, Gettin’ Hungry doesn’t fit well here at all. As Track 9 of Smiley Smile, it is sequenced between Wind Chimes and Wonderful (rerecorded Smile songs). As session sheets log it as the last track recorded for the album, it was therefore sequenced consciously – someone decided it belonged on this album, and placed it where it is.

As a 27 minute-long album, and its new material (minus Heroes & Villains and Good Vibrations) barely a side’s worth of music, filler was obviously needed to fill out the filler that follows the singles that start each side. But Gettin’ Hungry is a real barrel-scraping. Musically, it’s little more than  a nasty organ riff; lyrically, it speaks for itself:

i wake up in the mornin’
just to work all through the day
that sun can get so hot
that you can sweat your strength away
and ooooohhhhhhhh come the night time

gettin’ hungry
hungry for my kind o’ woman
i’m gettin’ hungry
soon i gotta find me a woman
i’m gettin’ hungry
searchin’ for a pretty girl

but i still get up in the mornin’
though it’s so hard all day long
if it weren’t for the love of a woman
i don’t think i’d continue on
and oooohhhhh come the night time

gettin’ hungry
hungry for my kind o’ woman
i’m gettin’ hungry
soon i gotta find me a woman
i’m gettin’ hungry
searchin’ for a pretty girl

i’m gettin’ hungry
hungry for my kind of woman

hungry
hungry for my kind o’ woman
i’m gettin’ hungry
soon i gotta find me a woman
i’m gettin’ hungry
searchin’ for a pretty girl

(from here – with a note that, ‘if you find some error in the lyrics, would you please submit your corrections’ – I have found some error, but it isn’t with the transcription…)

It’s ‘hard all day long‘?

(from here)

When compiling faked-Smile cassette compilations (most of Smiley Smile, plus Our Prayer, Cabinessence and Surf’s Up), and especially for curious friends, I would always leave off Gettin’ Hungry. It has no merit whatsoever. In the context of an argument for Brian Wilson working to advance pop music in 1966/7, its inclusion would only further undermine what was, with the evidence then available, a shaky thesis anyway.

It’s quite difficult to find anyone online that cares enough about Gettin’ Hungry to make a case for it – this track seems to be as ignored as it deserves to be. But it’s still there, stuck between the inferior versions of Wind Chimes and Wonderful; without it, Side Two of Smiley Smile flows rather better, as Wind Chimes‘whispering winds’ fade is followed by Wonderful‘s ‘she belongs there left with her liberty’. So why was it ever included – never mind released as a dead-duck single – and worse, as a ‘collaboration’ between Brian Wilson and Mike Love?

One could have safely presumed that Gettin’ Hungry, dire and worthless as it has always been, would disappear into The Beach Boys’ catalogue of forgotten songs. But Mike Love’s (largely uncelebrated) Celebration ‘project’ rerecorded it as the opening track of their 1979 album (on Mike Nesmith’s Pacific Arts label). The song regains the apostrophised ‘g’ abbreviated on the original recording; this recording, made 12 years after it originally failed to reach the pop charts, was also released as the B-side of  the band’s Starbaby single, from the same album:

(image from here)

And what was originally credited as a Wilson/Love composition becomes Love/Wilson here – so it’s safe to assume that this song has always been Mike Love’s work.

The melody, as rerecorded by ‘Celebration’, bears little resemblance to the 1967 recording (in fact Celebration’s tune seems borrowed from something else – can’t put my finger on what exactly, but neither version sounds anything like a Brian Wilson tune). No youtube link, but take it on trust, it’s not worth hearing for anything other than comparative curiosity.

I may be out on a limb in declaring Gettin’ Hungry to be an absolute abnegation of everything Smile would have been; but had it been paired with She’s Goin’ Bald, Mike Love’s other significant compositional contribution to Smiley Smile, and released as that other Brother single, pop history would have, encapsulated on 7″ vinyl (and as a follow up to Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains), Smile‘s antithesis – as concocted by Brian and Van Dyke’s nemesis.

And while I believe that there are fans who still rate She’s Goin’ Bald, and attribute it as a genuine Brian Wilson production, I think that this is an error, a mishearing, and a (deliberately-cultivated) misreading.

She’s Goin’ Bald (Wilson/Parks/Love)

While Gettin’ Hungry is an ‘original’ ‘composition’, its more evil twin, She’s Goin’ Bald, does have some basis in the discarded Smile recordings, as a short (and simplistic) tune called He Gives Speeches, recorded August or September 1966, with lyrics by Van Dyke Parks. Widely bootlegged, it was also included as a bonus track with all versions of The Smile Sessions. It may never have been intended as part of Smile, but The Smile Sessionography has little info that could shed more light upon it. There are other recordings with as little documentation, and I’ll get to another in a bit. Bear with me.

He Gives Speeches (hear a version here – though this sounds slower than it should be) has a brief lyric, and, like most of Van Dyke’s work for Smile, without its authors commentary, it remains obscure:

he gives speeches he gives speeches
but they put him back in bed
where he wrote his satire
he gives speeches
always reaches
out a lot led him to discover

silken hair more silken hair
fell on his face
and no wind was blowing
stepped across the golden fields and
saw that she was soon trailing after

she was nice and didn’t fight
he fell into her friendly persuasion
late that night while by a streetlight
little hands shadowed on the ceiling

Who is ‘he’, who is ‘she’? We will probably never know. But the ‘silken hair’ that falls on his face is a lovely little line, suggesting intimacy, and intimating romance…it’s like a more sensual Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder).

She’s Goin’ Bald uses the same basic tune (hear it here) , but Mike Love’s happenin’ rewrite uses one line of Van Dyke’s original lyric as a springboard for a very different kind of affair:

silken hair, more silken hair
fell on her face and no wind was blowin’
(she’s goin’ bald)

silken hair, more silken hair
lay near her pillbox down at her feet
(she’d been on a trip)

i peeked in and when i saw she’d
lost her hair i thought i would keel
(she’s goin’ bald)

when she saw her shining forehead
didn’t stop she swooned to the ground
(really flipped her wig)

laughed so hard i
blew my mind
i blew my cool
i blew myself over

oh oh oh oh oh oh
sha na na, sha na na na na na na na na
what a blow
sha na na, sha na na

(as tape increases in speed for some reason. Then suddenly)

she drew her comb across her scalp
and brushed what she had left
i tried to salvage what i could
and threw it in a sack
she made a b-line to her room
and grabbed all kind o’ juice
she started pourin’ it on her head
and thought it’d grow it back
ah ha haaaaaa

you’re too late mama
ain’t nothin’ upside your head
no more no more no more no more

upside your head

too late mama
ain’t nothin’ upside your head
no more no more no more no more

upside your head

you’re too late mama
ain’t nothin’ upside your head
no more no more no more no more
(what about it, dude?)

What does this MEAN?’

Brian Wilson seems to bear the brunt of the criticism of Smiley Smile‘s half-arsed misfiring of what Smile might have been – as if there were a sudden lessening of his power to create – but, despite She’s Goin’ Bald‘s ‘modular’ composition (as a composite of four separate recorded parts), musically, it doesn’t add anything to its original Smile-era template than a pointless production quirk; the tape speed gimmick is quite mindbending, but there is almost nothing comparable on any Smile session. And where effects are used on those recordings, they seem crucial to the structure of the song. Here it’s just  ‘weird for the sake of it’. The Beach Boys Definitive Diary notes about its recording (on July 5th 1967) that

Jim Lockert continues as engineer…and later recalls that on ‘She’s Goin’ Bald’ they decided to feature “the sound of a tape being rewound in an echo chamber at full speed”

(For the 10th of July ’67 Wind Chimes re-record, ‘despite the setbacks with Smile, tapes of today’s session reveal that when the mood takes him, Brian is still actively in control’. As the original Wind Chimes was one of the earliest Smile recordings, and where the only instrumental contribution by a Beach Boy other than Brian was Carl’s fingersnaps, yeah, you would think he’d want control over that one…although ‘control’ is an interesting word.)

Despite its vaguely ‘trippy’ sound, She’s Goin’ Bald is an anti-hip, anti-drugs song. And a particularly dumb one at that:

silken hair, more silken hair
lay near her pillbox down at her feet
(she’d been on a trip)

Lyrically, there are some very un-Brian Wilson-esque aspects at work here.

It has kinda ‘hipspeak’ referents (she’d been on a trip, really flipped her wig, i blew my mind, i blew my cool, ain’t nothin’ upside your head – what about it, dude?). But who, in 1967, was writing songs about how bad (psychedelic) drugs were? There was a lot of bad psychedelic music at the time – and some of it in the pop mainstream (David Crosby wrote the execrable Mind Gardens (don’t listen to it here) for The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday album, and got himself kicked out of the band, his absence filled by a horse on the followup album’s sleeve). But, after Brian’s well-publicised experiments with acid, why on God’s Earth would The Beach Boys’ composer/arranger/producer/former leader, who wrote the symphonic introduction to California Girls after his first LSD trip, indulge something with as hokey a ‘message’ as this?

Another of the Brian Wilson quotes included in The Smile Sessions book is

which is a real odd quote to use.

It’s a response to the word DOOR, as part of this Melody Maker questionnaire from October 8 1966 (reprinted on p.45 of Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!):

This ‘door’ (as any fule kno) is one of Huxley’s Doors of Perception, and LSD was the key; this same key (again, as everybody knows) was a crucial impetus in the creation of Smile. In Tom Nolan’s article for Lost Angeles WEST Magazine, entitled The Frenzied Frontier Of Pop Music (published November 27 1967, LLVS p. 164-8 – but presumably conducted prior to May 1967)

Brian Wilson explains. “About a year ago I had what I consider a very religious experience. I took LSD, a full dose of LSD, and later, another time, I took a smaller dose. And I learned a lot of things, like patience, understanding. I can’t teach you, or tell you, what I learned from taking it. But I consider it a very religious experience”.

He’d never take it again, he says, because that would be pointless, wouldn’t it? And the people that take it all the time, the acid heads, he can’t go along with that. Like all those people – Timothy Leary and all – they talk a lot, but they don’t really create, you know?

There is a retrospective misperception of Smile-era Brian an acid-guzzling idiot (savant or otherwise)

(meanwhile)

Posh TOTP Presenter: Mike, tell us about the Beach Boy’s groovy new sound.
Mike: Well, you know our collaborator Brian Wilson, he’s always experimenting…

but Nolan and the Melody Maker present what seems in retrospect a far more measured (and articulate) Brian Wilson.

And, to quote Brian again, more and more kids were thinking love and peace and friendship…but one of his bandmates wasn’t.

So why would Van Dyke Park’s ‘fallen silken hair’ imagery be transmuted into something so absurd? Who is ‘she’ here? And who is laughing at her, cos her hair has fallen out? This is a very unfortunate state of affairs – who would find this kind of thing funny? I’m sure that Mike Love knows what schadenfreude means – and it’s an attitude that is substantially at odds with ‘love and peace and friendship’ – as well as ‘patience, understanding’…what is Pet Sounds but an exploration of emotion and compassion? Isn’t this part of what has kept it fresh for nearly 50 years?

Yeah, I’m not an idiot, and I know the scenario in She’s Goin’ Bald isn’t real – it didn’t happen; it’s throwaway. It’s meant to be throwaway (and helped the band throw away Smile, along with their artistic reputation).

But what kind of mind could think up such a thing? There’s a small cruelty at work here: who would find fun in another person’s misfortune? Mike Love himself was goin’ bald at the time, and, post 1972, I do not know of a single photograph of the man without some kind of head-dress, in order to disguise the fact that he ain’t got nothin’ upside his head. But no one is laughing at him. That would be quite unkind.

And what a crazy scenario – acid makes your hair fall out? Who would have thought?

So, apart from eerily-prefiguring the plot of a bad horror film from 1978, what is She’s Goin’ Bald (or Gettin’ Hungry) actually for? Smile remained incomplete and unreleased – but, using Brian Wilson’s own criteria (‘I don’t put out anything I don’t respect’), who felt proud of these recordings, deeming them both intrinsic to an album by a band (once) lead by a producer who wanted to make records  ‘where the whole thing is a GAS! All good stuff’? 

Both songs are so transparently worthless (and much as I am prepared to entertain arguments that counter this opinion, make your case a fucking robust one if you want to add a long comment to this post) – so why select Gettin’ Hungry as a single (this was a Brother Record, not a Capitol single), and released without The Beach Boys’ name? And stick it between two Smile songs on the album? This sequencing has a real jarring effect; is that what it was designed to do?

I have a lot of time for ‘weird’ music. But little time for ‘weird for the sake of it’. The latter is usually concocted by musicians and artists that have little or no comprehension of the value of the avant garde. And what Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks were aspiring towards with Smile (as I have tried to argue elsewhere – and my argument isn’t an original one) was to create something new.

Pop music was not considered an ‘art form’ in 1966; but after the end of 1967, everyone recording as part of the ‘rock revolution’ started considering themselves Artists; rock (and often pop as well) has retained this position ever since. Musicians and songwriters, post-67, refined their craft into Art – and, for all the merits of anything that came out of Los Angeles studios post-Monterey, it also spawned an incredible amount of self-regarding shit. Even some of what has since become ‘canonic’ (you know, all your ‘classic albums’) was often pretty solipsistic – the West Coast ‘singer/songwriter’ has a whole bunch to answer for…

And consumers of popular music have been living in the wake of this ‘artistic revolution’ ever since – as exploited by the record companies that bankrolled it all in the first place. Everything in pop and rock is now worthy of a Deluxe Legacy Edition – Ozzy Osbourne? Big Audio Dynamite? Billy Joel? REO fucking Speedwagon?!? They all created a legacy.

Some genuine innovations have been disregarded (or even forgotten) since, especially where they do not fit the Rock Revolution Rubric. Do you own a copy of Les Paul’s startling (and aptly-named) The New Sound album from 1950? Never heard of it? Find it on Spotify – staggering stuff: technical innovation exercised as entertainment. It sounds maybe weirder now than it did then – which says a great deal about the purported ‘progress’ of progressive musics…listen to its opening track Brazil here. And hearing Les Paul’s version of Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love from a shellac 78 (as originally released) is as jarring as the modern wax-cylinder recordings that open Deathprod’s Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha – music this advanced could surely never have existed on an archaic analogue format.

But She’s Goin’ Bald‘s weirdness is a deeply-conservative (and pointedly-sardonic) parody of the musical tropes of the time it was recorded. The original He Gives Speeches seems to have had have no place on Smile – so why not rerecord it, as originally conceived, for Smiley Smile? With Me Tonight, Wind Chimes, Wonderful survive intact, at least to some degree.

When Mike Love was interviewed for the Mojo 60s’ Smile special (published in June 2011, an excerpt is here), and asked

Mojo: What are your feelings about the Smiley Smile album?

Love: It was a reaction.

A reaction by whom?

One of the more startling surprises on the 2011 Smile Sessions release was a recording of Surf’s Up from ‘Fall 1967’ – no other specifics are given, or seem available; I’m told that it

it was found on the end of a tape that was mostly used for another track (Let The Wind Blow? Can’t remember but that one’s in my mind), and that Brian actually did three run-throughs of the song in a row, so clearly intended it *for* something. Other than that, nothing’s been made public about it outside what’s in the box set liner notes. (info from Andrew Hickey)

This solo version of one of Smile‘s key tracks, Brian Wilson accompanying himself on ‘detuned grand piano’, should not really exist, as Smile‘s abandonment was also presumably a personal severance – all those Beach Boys self-perpetuated retrospective histories suggest that Smile‘s music became a kind of ‘no go area’ for Brian Wilson. So why record Surf’s Up during sessions for Wild Honey, the album the band made as ‘music for Brian to cool out to’?

With the hindsight of 45 years, this recording cannot sound anything but sad, poignant…the musical primitivism of Smiley Smile (and Wild Honey) is often used as an argument that this was all Brian Wilson was capable of, after his post-Smile ‘breakdown’. Like he not only couldn’t reached those peaks any more, he also chose not to. This recording says otherwise. It’s a revelation.

In Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story, Brian Wilson (as mediated by Todd Gold) says that, once Smile was abandoned,

after smoking a joint, I played a tape of Surf’s Up. Its beauty nearly destroyed me. When it finished,  I nearly destroyed the tape.

(Wouldn’t It Be Nice p.166).

Maybe it’s this 1967 recording that is being referred to. And before anyone comments again about assigning any value to this ‘fake book‘, it’s worth considering what personal details appear there and nowhere else, the above being one example; and from Smile Is Done, a 1997 discussion between Paul Williams and David Anderle (who was working with The Beach Boys at the time):

DAVID: There’s a few little things in [Wouldn’t It Be Nice] about things that went on with him and I that are so dead on, so sharp, the memory
PAUL (Williams): He didn’t write the book, but that’s another story
DAVID: But those stories had to come from somewhere.

(reprinted in Williams’ How Deep Is The Ocean, p.194)

There doesn’t appear to be any information about why the 1967 version was recorded, and it’s never been bootlegged – but is it really likely that it was for The Beach Boys, considering how they felt about the song, and how one Beach Boy felt about its lyricist? And if Brian recorded Surf’s Up as a solo piece, maybe it was just a home-recorded momento mori, or a personal reminder of what was lost.

But who can really know?

The Smile Sessions‘ various versions of Surf’s Up (apart from this post-66 discovery) reveal the song to be the least realised of all of Smile tracks – and Cabin Essence the closest to what it was supposed to be. Even if Smile were left unreleased, had Cabin Essence‘s vocals been completed (and it took only a couple of days in 1968 to finish the version as released on 20/20), and Surf’s Up‘s sessions were concluded in the time between Inside Pop‘s broadcast in April and Smiley Smile‘s completion in August of ’67, record-buyers would have bought the album for Surf’s Up alone; its pre-publicity via Inside Pop’s broadcast would have guaranteed sales (Janis Ian’s Society’s Child was released in 1966, but only actually reached the charts in ’67 after its inclusion in the same CBS News broadcast). Smiley Smile was initially perceived as Smile, as anticipated:

and would have been bought as such – until people got it home and actually listened to it…

One can only imagine what Brian and Van Dyke envisaged for Surf’s Up. No one will ever know. But the Alan Boyd and Mark Linett 2011 composite, on Disc 1 of The Smile Sessions, suggests, in just the first minute and a half, what the song could have been. The interplay between Brian and Carl’s vocals is spine-tingling; this digital juxtaposition of Brian’s 1966 lead and Carl’s 1971 vocals, combined with the full studio arrangement, is vindication of a quarter-century of hope for a completed Smile, and only now possible with digital technology (or the skills of someone like John Oswald); the loss of the ‘second movement’s instrumental track (a couple of session tapes are logged as ‘missing’), and thus the use of the 1971 amalgam as the basis for the rest of the reconstruction (in the absence of any other reference recording), is in stark contrast to the lightness of this version’s composite intro.

Smile‘s speculators enjoy a ‘what if?’ – try this one out: imagine, just for a moment, a different Beach Boys, a version of the band that shouted down Mike Love in December 1966.

When Mike demanded Van Dyke explain the lyrics for Surf’s Up, Dennis threatened Mike in response (their conflicts are well-documented), and was supported by his little brother Carl – who in turn defended his big brother Brian; and if Wilson family outsiders Al Jardine (in a successful pop group for 5 years – but there is still dental school, should this all fall apart), and Bruce Johnston (a young pop craftsman – rather than an artist – who is kinda impressed by this weird new music that Brian is writing with Van Dyke Parks), who wanted to stay on the right side of the band, just so they can keep being the band…if it looked like the pro-Surf’s Up/Cabin Essence camp might defeat its opposition, Mike Love might have been outnumbered, 4 to 1.

The Smile Sessions notes reproduces illustrative quotes about Smile from now-departed Beach Boys:

Dennis: In my opinion, it makes Pet Sounds stink – that’s how good it is

Carl: Personally I loved it

and Carl’s full comment (from Don Was’ 1995 Brian Wilson documentary) was

I know there’s been a lot written, and maybe said about Michael not liking the Smile music…I think his main problem, as I recall, was that the lyrics were not relateable…they were SO artistic, and to him they were airy-fairy…just too abstract. Personally, I loved it.

In our universe, somehow, Mike Love won this argument – and he has since become the embodiment of The Beach Boys, a Registered Trademark.

Van Dyke Parks says, in David Leaf’s Beautiful Dreamer SMiLE film from 2004:

Brian made it clear to me that he wanted to do something without restraint or apology, or explanation to the rest of the group. And um (pauses) he honestly felt that I was a big enough guy to handle the door. There’s no question of that.

I wasn’t a big enough guy.

and

I think it’s time for proper respect given to absolute authority, and that should be given to an artist. And if there’s any artist who deserves that, in my mind, at the very point I turned tail and walked away from the project, it was Brian Wilson. But it was not within my power to bring that to him.

And that is a great regret.

and his regret is genuine: he really cares about Brian, to this day.

But it obviously wasn’t his responsibility to stand up to defend his lyrics, and to defend Brian Wilson. Firstly, he was employed by Brian Wilson. Secondly, he was 22 years old for fuck’s sake; but he’s nearly 70 now, and he is still being asked about Smile. His responses have been cautious: in October 2011, ‘you must forgive me. I have no comment on Smile. I’m so sorry’ (from here); more recently he is a little more forthcoming, as he ‘answers the general inquisition (viz “author” Mike Eder et al) on the Beach Boys’ reunion and Smile‘.

Prior to this more ‘general inquisition’, he has even been quizzed by Mike Love himself :

Parks recalls he saw Love one final time when Melcher called him to Monterey to play synthesizer on the Beach Boys’ final album, recorded without Brian, 1992′s dreadful Summer in Paradise…When he got there, Love was meditating in Melcher’s living room. “For the first time in 30 years, he was able to ask me directly, once again, ‘What do those lyrics — Over and over the crow flies, uncover the cornfield — mean?’” Parks said about that meeting in ’95. “And I was  able to tell him, once again, ‘I don’t know.’ I have no idea what those words mean. I was perhaps thinking of Van Gogh’s wheat field or an idealized agrarian environment. Maybe I meant nothing, but I was trying to follow Brian Wilson’s vision at that time.”

Even if this much-reported conflict in December 1966 were resolved more amicably, Smile might still not have been released in 1967 – but, following this divergent timeline, there might not have been a the need for a huge box set in 2011, with a sticker that declares Smile as

And we might have had a ‘legacy edition’ more along the lines of The Basement Tapes, many years ago…because a more unified Beach Boys could have capitalised on the attention that Surf’s Up (one solitary song) received after Inside Pop was broadcast in April 1967. Their songwriter/composer/arranger/leader, and his curious collaborator

(amazing pic taken from Smile Sessions book)

might even have worked out an interim Beach Boys compositional unit, supplemented by a live Beach Boys, had Brian gotten some support…even with this nominal variation on Smile-history, and even with an unchanged Wild Honey and Friends as successors, The Beach Boys artistic reputation might have been something more than the ‘record industry albatross’ the band had become by 1969.

Yeah, it’s easy to speculate – as I say, that’s what Smile became in the eyes, ears and imagination of collectors of Smile-era outtakes. As Danny Hutton (of Redwood/Three Dog Night) says (in conversation with Richard Henderson, in the latter’s 33 1/3 Song Cycle book)

I mean everything you can write about [Smile] – and every fantasy that people have had about it – has been written.

Maybe. But even if there were still only a Smiley Smile instead of a Smile – but one with Cabin Essence and Surf’s Up, replacing Gettin’ Hungry and She’s Goin’ Bald (and ending sides one and two respectively), created under this temporary (and rather urgent) compromise (pressure from Capitol for a new Beach Boys album was intense), commercially (but also critically) this Smiley Smile might still have been perceived as an appropriate followup to Pet Sounds: an album at least partly consistent with the innovations of Good Vibrations.

Any album with Good Vibrations, Heroes and Villains (in any version), Cabin Essence and Surf’s Up could have contained proofs that The Beach Boys were a creative entity, rather than an entertainment machine – even with all that stoner filler. ‘Creativity’ was very fashionable (and quite successful) in 1967. This Smiley Smile variation would have been far more ‘in tune’ with the times.

And even without a completed Surf’s Up, but instead a solo rendition like the Fall ’67 discovery as Side Two’s final track (rather than the inconsequential Whistle In), imagine how different this album would sound.

Cue the tracks up as a playlist, try it out:

(excuse sloppy photoshoppery, I just wondered what it would look like)

In the Melody Maker October ’66 quiz above, and in response to ALBUM, Brian Wilson says

our next album will be better than “Pet Sounds”. It will be as much an improvement over “Sounds” as that was over “Summer Days”

It wasn’t – but the tracklist above would have been a step closer to that aim.

But, of course, it didn’t happen like that, and Smiley Smile, Gettin’ Hungry, Wild Honey, and then everything else that followed (that most anybody who has read this far knows only too well already), and as Brian Wilson essentially retreated from creating innovative music.

Or did he? There is Cool Cool Water from ’67 (bastardised into another hotchpotch by musical labourers for 1970’s Sunflower), Can’t Wait/Been Way Too Long (unfinished and unreleased until the CD reissue of Smiley Smile/Wild Honey in 1990) – and that errant Surf’s Up…what else might there have been that has since been lost, along with Surf’s Up‘s Second Movement?

If Brian Wilson was still trying to make music that was new, however sporadically, what – or rather who – held him back? And why?

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There is a link here to a couple of interviews (here and here) with someone called Mike Eder, who is working on yet another Beach Boys book. The interviews are hosted by The Examiner, a US news site I only knew previously via its urgent ‘news’ coverage of Exopolitics – exopolitical exponents, specifically Michael Salla and Alfred Lambremont Webre, contribute long and rather fevered pieces about aliens, time travel and ‘disclosure’: here’s a piece from 2009 by Salla, entitled official disclosure of extraterrestrial life is imminent;  one comment asks

Can someone please send me a script of the broadcast of President Obama’s announcement from end of last year? I feel so embarrassed – but I somehow must have missed it.

and is followed by another

no this is real and will happen around Oct 13th 2010…

Did it happen? Have I missed it? Or is this article’s unqualifiable claims all fake?

Maybe this forthcoming Beach Boys book I Can Hear Music is likewise a hoax:

Author Mike Eder reveals his dream project on The Beach Boys…[Eder] feels the entire Beach Boys story hasn’t been told with balance, and each individual member (aside from Brian) has still not been given due respect. As an honest portrayal of the band and their music, I Can Hear Music is sure to be a sought-after publication when it sees release.

Let us assume that Mike Eder and his forthcoming book to be real:

What was the genesis of your upcoming book, I Can Hear Music?

I felt The Beach Boys story hadn’t been told with balance. I first thought of this in 1994 actually when I was 18. I knew Brian had not stayed in bed for years at a time; I knew he did great work after Smile.  This was not made clear by the many books and movies up to that time.

Are you sure about this? As an author, with a working thesis formulated nearly twenty years ago, your research yielded nothing more than the usual tired tropes of rock gossip? And you feel that, post-Smile, Brian did ‘great work’?

Do go on:

Brian Wilson had a unique gift and in The Beach Boys he had a special vehicle.  Anybody who was around them that has said different at the time or now had their own political reasons to further the “Brian and the five a-holes” view that so many seem to need to latch onto. 

Perhaps it’s more exciting to have real “Heroes and Villains”, but really these falsehoods are what tore the band apart later on. How this happened my book will explain.

So Brian killed Smile?

Absolutely.  Maybe he got bored, or maybe the lawsuit with Capitol meant he had to hold the album back long enough to have moved on. There are a million things you could suppose.

Van Dyke Parks’ wavering commitment didn’t help.  Many people side with Parks, but the fact that he didn’t stick around once he got offered a solo album is a big factor in this.

It wasn’t malicious of Parks, but I have a feeling Brian was never completely sold on everything Van Dyke did himself. Perhaps Van Dyke didn’t need to convince Mike Love as much as Brian Wilson.  

Brian was in on the mocking Lei’d In Hawaii session [an unreleased “live-in-the-studio” recording from September 1967] where Mike Love overdubbed a self-deprecating dialogue onto “Heroes and Villains,” so what does that tell you? 

Putting aside Brian Wilson’s ‘special vehicle’ (is this for navigating the space/time continuum?) – Mr. Eder, what does this self-deprecating dialogue tell you? Should I hold out for this revisionist opus, or might I query a point or two here? I may? Then I shall.

The ‘mocking Lei’d In Hawaii session‘ he refers to is transcribed here, and is discussed here, so I’m not going to reiterate all of this again. My issue is with this biographer’s rhetorical claim that the meaning of this seeming self-mockery is self-evident. This track was never officially released, and is only available on bootlegs; it was first heard in 1994, on the Vigotone Lei’d in Hawaii release, and the studio recordings were ‘discovered shortly before the 1990 reissue campaign’ (from here) – and were thus presumably unknown until then.  These studio recordings were made for a faked ‘live’ album, but were discarded as unusable. If one single recording, released without context,  is being used as part of his thesis’ main argument, how valid would this ‘rebalance’  be without it?

I will concede to rigorous research, on any topic (including Exopolitics, Disclosure, and life on mars) – I cannot but admire experts. But I’ve (presumably) read most of the Beach Boys books Mike Eder has read, watched all of the films, heard all of the recordings – and, in this ‘either/or’ paradigm he argues,  I suppose I ‘side with Parks‘…however, in real research, there are no ‘sides’, only fact. I’ve read enough Examiner articles about Exopolitics to have realised that, however convincing the arguments and statements of Salla, Webre, Basiago etc. might seem, without proof, it can only ever be taken as speculative. At best. Read here about Laura Eisenhower’s teleportation trips to Mars – amazing stuff; if true, it could revise humanity’s understanding of the universe we live in, as well as the Military-Industrial Complex that her great-grandfather’s final speech as President of the USA warned against. Mike Love claims Brian wrote the dialogue for the Lei’d Heroes and Villains; but as this story has changed over time, without proof (if it’s scripted, can someone please send me a script ?), it has the same aura of unreason as these teleportation tales.

Revisionism, on any subject, should always be accommodated, however uncomfortable it might be, if a) it’s necessary, and b) it is supported by data, rather than just supposition and anecdote.

It is not clear where Eder is gonna dig that hasn’t already been stripmined for ‘proofs’, on either side of either argument. If, as he claims,  ‘I have a feeling Brian was never completely sold on everything Van Dyke did himself’, what does he have that will support this ‘feeling’? And why does Mr. Parks himself address Eder personally, in the title of a brief piece on the Bananastan site, as he ‘answers the general inquisition (viz “author” Mike Eder et al) on the Beach Boys’ reunion and Smile‘? Van Dyke Parks was there, and he disagrees. What makes  this “author” feel he knows better?

‘Perhaps it’s more exciting to have real “Heroes and Villains”‘. Exciting? You think? I feel nothing resembling ‘excitement’ when considering all of this. Being a ‘fan’ of this music (and often an apologist for it) can get quite quite depressing, if not heartbreaking…but to see and hear Mike Love’s own personal vendetta against Van Dyke Parks being restated again and again says way more about the former than it does the latter. Why does Mike Love care so much, when Parks says in the link above

I’m ready to move on. The windshield is larger than the rear-view mirror.

Mr. Eder, what does that tell you?

With a Beach Boys reunion now underway, a book like I Can Hear Music will maybe appeal to a new Beach Boys audience. Its central argument would be an apposite accompaniment to this 50 year old band’s tour and album; let us discard our redundant library of outmoded research, biography, interviews and criticism by the likes of Domenic Priore, David Leaf, Timothy White, Peter Ames Carlin, Paul Williams, Kingsley Abbott, Brad Elliott, Nick Kent…and embrace yet another fucking Rock History Year Zero!

I am sure that Mike Eder’s work will be welcomed by this reanimated Beach Boys, and we should expect to see I Can Hear Music as an Amazon recommended purchase (with a cover quote from Mike Love) alongside the 2012 Joe Thomas-produced Celebration album (and do check out Buddy Love’s Joe Thomas‘ musical credentials; if there is fan-excitement about a new Beach Boys album, and despite Brian’s Thomas-produced Imagination album from 1998, then fans will forgive and forget. Preorder your copy of I Can Hear Music now!).

As I say, I hold no authority on any of this other than having spent a quarter-century pondering ‘what ifs’ and possibilities – but at no point could I have imagined the question ‘So Brian killed Smile?‘ being asked – nor this categorical response

Absolutely.  Maybe he got bored…there are a million things you could suppose.

There are indeed. I would like to suppose that all of this Examiner exopolitical-hooey were true; I’m willing to accept that it might be. With evidence. I’m also willing to accept that new evidence about the real role of Mike Love in the Beach Boys saga may yet be disclosed, and that ‘these falsehoods are what tore the band apart later on‘. But, as a friend says in defence of Mike Eder, after reading these interviews,

you have to admire the man’s sheer dogged refusal to believe tiny, insignificant things like… proof or fact, bless him

and also, about Eder’s professional CV

did you read the first page of his article? the one where he reveals his first published work was for “the three stooges” journal? i hope it was peer reviewed…

But as I Can Hear Music is presumably not yet complete, it could instigate as great a paradigm shift in the Beach Boys fan community as Obama’s still-forthcoming Disclosure speech could have upon The Planet Earth.

How this happened my book will explain.

With the Mayan calendar predicting 2012 as a year of great change upon the Earth, maybe everything we know (as Beach Boys fans or as normal human beings) is actually wrong.

I want to believe.

(thanks to Michael Leddy for the VDP link, and, as always, The Common Swings)

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