Last November’s Smile Sessions release was many things to many people – but one purpose of the release was, finally, to attempt to unravel one key divergent timeline in pop music’s historical possibilities and probabilities.
2011’s Smile Sessions box set is a kind of memory store for music that
could come only out of the ferment that characterises today’s pop music scene
‘today’ being the April 1967 broadcast of David Oppenheim’s 1967 CBS News documentary Inside Pop.
The Smile Sessions is as extensive a set of variations as history, extant tape archives, and legal complications would allow. 1966 and ’67’s Smile sessions, tracks, outtakes are now preserved, in a digital amber.
Smile‘s ‘influence’ on the pop music world (due to its lack of release) was – obviously – minimal to nil. Pet Sounds may have suggested different ways of writing music, Good Vibrations may have suggested other ways of recording and constructing music…but Smiley Smile, as that much-anticipated Next Stage in The Beach Boys’ artistic development, was generally seen as a sudden, drastic de-evolution. And, if not a ‘regression’, it was the precursor to one, with Wild Honey and Friends as successive (but mostly unsuccessful) returns to ‘the formula’.
20/20‘s Smile microcosm was, obviously, another matter entirely – but who noticed at the time? It was 20/20‘s opening track Do It Again that marked where The Beach Boys would end up 40-odd years later – in the past.
So what happened in 1967? What went wrong? Where, asked Inside Pop‘s viewers, was Surf’s Up, as seen at the end of the broadcast?
Where The Beach Boys seemed comfortable persuading Brian Wilson to step out of the ‘production race’, they also knowingly relinquished whatever potential influence they might once have had. By 1969, all of that was gone. And then the band seemed surprised that they had become, to all intents and purposes, an anachronism:
Carl Wilson: Brian ran into all kinds of problems on Smile, he just couldn’t find the right direction to finish it, and then after all that hard work the album was abandoned. Brian withdrew from public life completely. We were supposed to headline the Monterey Pop Festival, but at the last minute Brian backed out. Monterey was a turning point in rock and roll, overnight the whole scene changed, and we felt as if we’d been passed by.
But with the success of Do It Again, the band embraced nostalgia, and have been capitalising upon it ever since.
Between 1969 and 1974, The Beach Boys felt beholden to consider themselves a creative entity (although reviewers, audiences and record buyers didn’t always concur with this conceit); after the success of the Endless Summer compilation, they began that endless circling around their past – and now, in 2012, this is about all The Beach Boys mean to the casual listener.
At about the same time, King Crimson’s first album In The Court of the Crimson King was released, and was an immediate success, in the US and the UK.
But, for all that album’s virtues, Crimson inadvertently unleashed the lumbering dinosaur that became ‘progressive rock’. Progressive pop, ie. exactly what Oppenheim identified in Inside Pop‘s 66/67 ‘ferment’, was no longer of much importance to ‘progressive’ record buyers.
Some people hold Fripp and Crimson directly responsible for seeding all of the excess that followed: the pomp, the conceit, the overblown music, the overlong tracks…
Which is, of course, cretinous – The Crimson King album was the work of a group of young but experienced musicians, distilling some contemporary influences (specifically The Beatles) with some indefinable something from some indefinable place, and creating something new. Any ‘influence’ mostly demonstrates the dearth of comparable inspiration in what followed In The Court of the Crimson King.
Crimson are given ‘credit’ for that most monstrous of ‘prog-rock’ conceits, the ‘song-suite’; Sid Smith’s 2001 book In The Court Of King Crimson offers a more pragmatic explanation:
A noticeable feature of the album was the use of the sub-headings contained within the song titles. This is often cited by sceptical critics as evidence of the record’s overblown pretensions. Fripp explains that more practical considerations were at play: “The reason songs and pieces acquired separately titled sections, like ‘The Return Of The Fire Witch’ and ‘The Dance Of The Puppets’, was so the group would get paid full publishing royalties on our American record sales”,
US royalties being paid per number of tracks on an album…
Live audiences must have found 21st Century Schizoid Man utterly terrifying at the time – check this snippet (from the same 1969 Hyde Park concert the Rolling Stones sacrificed a box of dead butterflies):
This first version of King Crimson fell apart quite quickly. Ian MacDonald and Michael Giles left the band soon after, in part due to a perceived ‘negativity’ in the music itself – Sid Smith says that
Fripp in particular has often talked about the esoteric factors he believed accounted for King Crimson’s success. More than that, Fripp has argued that the music created the band rather than the other way round.
Those ‘esoteric factors’, for Ian McDonald (many instruments) and Michael Giles (the drummer), seemed to suggest a somewhat ‘darker side’ to their success…the band started to dissipate almost immediately; McDonald & Giles went on to make a ‘greener, gentler music’ with their own self-titled album.
Even Crimso’s fans had become doubters – this snapshot from 1972 summarises their critical history quite succinctly:
(from New Musical Express 1973 Annual, published late ’72)
This new incarnation of King Crimson proved yet more terrifying – if not ‘definitive’: there are still few ‘first division’ rock bands that have applied the skills of improvisation (normally seen in free jazz) to a mainstream rock context – and without any of the jazz. This is not the same as ‘jamming’ (or ‘blowing’, as the NME would have it); this is an adventurous music that always runs the risk of failure – but nonetheless takes that risk. Or, to recontextualise Fripp’s own words, music that
involves the…total commitment of belief, energy, life-style and time…you’re on a tightrope…you have to jump and if you fall you lose your health, sanity and occasionally your soul. But you just might fly away.
This album was their first expedition:
In October 2012, 1973’s Lark’s Tongues In Aspic album will be reissued as a ’40th anniversary’ edition. What was once a single album will become a limited edition boxed set: 13 CDs, 1 DVD-A, 1 Blu-Ray, all in a 12” box.
Every disc looks essential:
The quintet line-up of King Crimson – Bill Bruford, David Cross, Robert Fripp, Jamie Muir and John Wetton – was, like so many band line-ups of the era, short-lived.
Melody Maker revealed the membership in July 1972. The first full group rehearsal was on September 4th 1972, the final performance was on February 10th 1973 at London’s Marquee Club. Between those dates the band played a trio of club dates and a filmed live in the studio recording in Germany in October, a universally acclaimed UK tour during November/December and recorded one of the most celebrated studio albums of the era in January and early February.
* CDs 1 – 9 feature 8 CDs of live material from audio restored bootlegs + a CD of live performance in a film studio.
* CDs 9 – 13 also feature 4 CDs of studio including a new stereo album mix, an album’s worth of alt takes/mixes, the original 30th anniversary master + audio extras & an audio documentary CD drawn from the original session multi-tracks featuring the first take of every piece on the album.
Watch Krimson play an early draft of Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Part 1 (press play and stand clear)
Discipline Global Mobile (Robert Fripp’s ‘small, mobile, independent music company that aspires to Intelligence’) says, of the above performance,
Whilst the clip of the quintet performing LTIA pt1 during the Bremen Beat Club recording has been available on the internet for several years in varying degrees of quality, there has been some fevered speculation as to whether the full concert would ever see the light of day.
Though it’s been a long time coming, the full video of David Cross, Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir will now be seen in full.
Listen to The Rich Tapestry of Life (an arbitrarily-titled improvisation) from the same show here, as you read on.
This King Crimson Anniversary edition is obviously for collectors, and for hardcore fans. But one has to imagine that it also serves as a kind of ‘marker’ for Robert Fripp himself – in the preparation of the Larks’ Tongues ‘audio documentary’ disc, Robert Fripp will have heard his 40-years younger self at work in the studio. What might he make of the sound of this younger person? After four decades, would he even recognise anything the guitarist says or does?
None of us will live forever, and, for this, we should all be grateful. One cannot deny the passage of time; better to embrace it. We will all age, we will all die, and we will all, ultimately, become wormfood. What gets left behind, what lasts, is pretty much out of our control.
For artists, of all stripes, ultimately, one’s legacy is one’s work. And, while Beach Boys™ or Robert Fripp might be able to control how this work reaches its audiences (via either DGM or BRI), in order to be able to convince fans to buy, again, what they already own, it is the audiences themselves that give their work value.
I have a vinyl issue of Larks Tongues In Aspic, and upgraded my ’80s CD for the last Anniversary CD remaster; I already have some of the live recordings included, such as Live in Guildford, from Nov 13th 1972 (a reviewer here seems struck by that show’s violence and aggression, its chaos and its nightmarish aspects); however, I know that I really need this 40th Anniversary Larks Tongues Box set.
In other news – a correspondent mailed me recently:
You’re probably well aware of this
Hollywood, California – August 8, 2012 – Celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year, The Beach Boys have performed more than 50 concerts since April and had their highest-ever debut on Billboard’s albums chart in June with their critically acclaimed new studio release, That’s Why God Made The Radio. The Beach Boys’ 50th Anniversary Tour recently concluded its North American run and is now underway in Europe, and the legendary band is pleased to announce plans for the CD and digital release of two new commemorative hits collections by Capitol/EMI on September 24th outside of North America and on October 9th in North America.
12 remastered Beach Boys studio albums will also be released by Capitol/EMI on September 24th outside of North America and on September 25th in North America.
So all those impossible-to-find Beach Boys back catalogue albums are finally being rereleased. That they’re all still available from the last reissue campaign won’t affect potential sales, will it? That the 2001 ’40th Anniversary’ remasters were revisited remasters of reissues from a 30th Anniversary isn’t a problem, is it?
Here’s the full chronological list of forthcoming reissues:
Surfin’ U.S.A.; Surfer Girl; Little Deuce Coupe; Shut Down Volume 2; All Summer Long; The Beach Boys Today!; Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!); Beach Boys Party!; Pet Sounds; Smiley Smile; [data gap]; [data gap]; [data gap]; Sunflower (stereo mix only); and Surf’s Up (stereo mix only).
There are variants available in stereo for the first time (they appear to contain mono and stereo mixes on each disc) – which, for fans who have everything, and who buy everything, and, obviously, will keep buying everything, again and again and again, will be reason enough for upgrading their collections. Music that Brian Wilson conceived in mono, mixed and mastered in mono, and released in mono, are here again – in stereo!
Surfer Girl and Shut Down, Vol. 2 is still available as a ‘twofer’ with bonus tracks; with an average album running time of 30mins per album, it’s unclear who these reissues are for. One Amazon review had something to say in 2001 however:
ENOUGH OF THE SAME REISSUES, March 13, 2001 (two stars)
Capitol Records needs to either remix this material or release original mono mixes of Surfin’ USA, Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe, Concert, All Summer Long, and Shut Down Vol. 2. There are plenty of these 2fers sitting out there in online music stores and used cd stores. If they are going to reissue these let us hear something new. Let us hear Brian’s mono mixes, or take full advantage of digital technology and remix the tapes.
Eleven years later, this Amazon guy is maybe thrilled at the prospect of remixes. Fuck Pet Sounds, fuck Smile – a remastered Boogie Woodie? That’s more like it.
Pet Sounds? How many versions does a fan need? How many stereo versions does a fan need?
Sunflower and Surf’s Up have been reissued on CD. Twice. And both have always been in stereo. Maybe mono mixes might attract more buyers…
The engineering, remastering and editing work that Mark Linett has done over the past few decades, in order to render this music compact disc-capable, has been far above and beyond the call of duty. And there would have been no 2011 Smile Sessions release without his own doggedness.
Smile‘s official salvage began in the late 80s, at round about the same time that Brian Wilson’s first solo record was released – this cassette is assumed to be the source of the first CD bootleg of Smile
as compiled by Mark Linett. And the Brian Wilson album concluded with Rio Grande, a Smile-styled song-suite, taken at the time as proof that, somewhere within Brian’s troubled being, Smile‘s impetus still glowed. The Beach Boys themselves had a rather different geographical focus that year…
And so, for Mr. Linett and engineering cohorts to be summoned to the Beach Boys tape yet archives again…? This must be, for them, the stuff of dreams: ‘they pay us to do this?!?’
How does this 50th Anniversary Celebration differ from Lark’s Tongues‘ 40th?
Ostensibly, there are, of course, similarities: you’ve got one version, so why do you need another? All of the Crimson albums have been through ‘definitive editions’ (often on ‘anniversaries)’, although I don’t think anyone could have envisaged the forthcoming multidisc version.
But this monolithic re-presentation of a single album, through a multiplicity of different perspectives (obviously) bears more resemblance to The Smile Sessions box itself, and to the Pet Sounds Sessions box that preceded it.
Had Smile been released in ’67, the session recordings, if released as a comparable Anniversary version, would have a comparable 21st century currency, and to a comparable fanbase. Sessions can reveal so much about how something familiar initially came into being. In contrast, ‘bonus tracks’, and ‘alternate takes’ can often be a relatively-worthless sop to fans – the most familiar version is often the best.
Post-1967, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys’ artistic reputation has rested more on incomplete and unreleased work than it ever did on ‘official’ singles and albums. Previous Beach Boys CD reissue campaigns have had substandard albums only worthy of repurchase for exactly this kind of unreleased material: Smiley Smile‘s original CD reissue, in the early 90s (as a ‘twofer’ with its followup Wild Honey) had the ‘cantina’ version of Heroes & Villains (ie.the first release of that song in any way close to how it was originally conceived), plus Can’t Wait Too Long. Ah, Can’t Wait Too Long…
Smile has not been represented in The Beach Boys’ 50th Anniversary Tour setlists – Brian’s own band, as subsumed into this touring Beach Boys, have the skills to play Smile in its entirety live. But don’t.
Now that Smile is out in the world, to either acknowledge or to ignore, Beach Boys™ has chosen to ignore it. And where new, younger fans are maybe being swayed and made by the concerts, and there is maybe a need for a 2012 reiteration of the body of The Beach Boys’ 1960s work, Smile, still, appears to be something other.
Radio plays and chart placings are maybe less important as exposure these days than the Amazon.com Best Sellers Rank, and That’s Why God Made The Radio, the ‘reunion’ album, is #78 in Music as I write. This must be considered A Success.
I gather that The Monkees are also back together again (obviously minus Davy Jones). And The Rolling Stones are currently recharging their pacemakers. The absurdity of the latter (or any other geriatric rock tour) was prefigured, famously, in a Simpsons episode, from back when it was funny:
(Geriatric Rock Tours are obviously big with this future’s younger people)
But there is only dignity in any of this when it is successful. Would any of these oldsters really have carried on if people had just laughed, and pointed? Had Mike Love gone onstage without his hat, acknowledged his advanced years (he’s the oldest member), would it have seem more dignified, or less?
At what point does Mike Love’s endless negation of Smile become the jabbering of a old man, out of time and out of touch?
(look closely – text under photo reads: ‘Van Dyke, what does that lyric mean?!?’)
Is it just me that feels a certain, um, uncomfortable indignity in older gentleman singing the praises of young girls?
The Beach Boys 2012 album reissue selection, like any considered marketing campaign, is selective. The 50 ‘Big Ones’ refers both to the band’s age (roughly) as much as it does to the number of ‘big’ tracks the more expansive Best Of contains.
Two of these, It’s OK and Rock and Roll Music, both derive from the 15 Big Ones album, their 1976 ‘Brian’s Back’ Beach Boys reunion album. So many reunions, so many celebrations, so much endless harmony…Rock and Roll Music is a Chuck Berry cover version, which was a US #5 record. It’s OK, as follow up, was less successful, peaking at #29. Mike Love griped about its lack of success at the time:
“It should have been a big hit” he blasts during an interview on US radio at the time. “It didn’t come out until August. But it’s an early summer record. My intention was that it should have been released in May or June. By the time people got hold of it, on the radio level, it was August or September, and the summer was over. Who’s gonna play a summer record in the fall?”
Maybe. But, had it come out ‘in May or June’ and still flopped, it wouldn’t have anything to do with the quality of the song itself. It was, obviously, someone else’s fault.
1976’s 15 Big Ones album is not a lovely thing to behold:
(Brian Wilson, centre, top: transcending fashion)
but don’t judge it by its cover alone – it’s mostly as awful to listen to. Its CD reissue in 2000 (matched with the infinitely superior Beach Boys Love You album) comes with some typically-apologetic sleevenotes (from Dennis Diken of The Smithereens, a purported fan):
but if it does not rule, 15 BIG ONES does rock!
You know, all that usual ‘yeah I know it’s shit, but…’
No buts. It’s shit.
And its champions make the same apologies for failure that have kept The Beach Boys with a fanbase since.
But that album did create the chronological marker that Beach Boys™ use still. Each year that passes, if matched with a corresponding song, means…another year has passed. Or something.
There’s obviously no song/year correlation for the band’s ‘wilderness years’ (the mid-70s onwards, most of the 80s, the 90s…). And some hits are not included, whereas some misses are – where is, for instance, their Fat Boys collaboration? You couldn’t get away from this in the summer of ’87 – #12 in the US, Number 2 in the UK.
I bought it:
(treasured 7″ from the arkhonia archive)
Why is Wipe Out not also A Big One?
The chronological album selection obviously ignores Smile, because many flavours are available. But The Smile Sessions release has filled an enormous void in any curious listener’s ‘what happened next’, and is as close an answer to that standard Smile/Sgt. Pepper rock trope ‘what if?’ as one could probably ever have: an almost finished Smile.
Because of Smile, The Beach Boys have always had a unique history, and hold a unique place in the history of pop music.
Had they not atrophied into America’s Band™, had they ceased trading decades ago, that place in pop history would be essentially unchanged. Just rather less tainted by detritus like Rock And Roll Music, or Getcha Back (1985, #26), or even their ‘progressive’ moment, the risible and pretentious 3-part ‘song-suite, California Saga (from 1972’s Holland; no chart placing). Or fucking Kokomo.
Had none of it ever happened, no one would miss these songs. Not one of them. Convince me otherwise…I admire a persuasive argument – but, in relation to all of this, the only person who seems to have made one is Mr. Mike Love. And, as the recipient of royalty payments (where there were any), his perspective is possibly, um, rather biased.
With the release last year of The Smile Sessions, anybody with a curiosity about what made the Beach Boys so unique could hear what the next stage in their development would – and could – have been, to follow up on Pet Sounds‘ pop music paradigm shift, and then the Objective Art of Good Vibrations.
In 2012, who wants or needs a remastered, reissued, ‘in stereo for the first time’ Smiley Smile album? Its only function as part of this campaign is that it was the album that contained Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains. Neither are a coherent part of that album. If these are its two A sides, the singles off the album, the rest of it is B sides. C sides even. Without those two songs, Smiley Smile was barely ever an album at all – without Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains, Smiley Smile‘s remainder totals the average length of one side of an album.
The 50 Big Ones’ chronological reissue data gaps are Wild Honey (1967), Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969), and the first two at least have more apologists, even fans, than the Smiley Smile album.
Why reissue it at all?
Whatever readership any of this has while in process, or might have once it’s done, it might all seem somewhat repetitive: ‘who the fuck is this guy, and when is he done hammering the same fucking points?!?’. Here I am dismissed as ‘just another blogger’. That’s fine with me.
Scanning through this post first, before reading or ignoring, any reader even vaguely familiar with its precursors will see some familiar images – but my conceit is that these are themes. This is reiterative – it’s certainly designed as such. Across these 50+ posts, this year-long meditation upon Smile, Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, Mike Love and Van Dyke Parks, themes and motifs recur. It parallels the band’s own history – you see the same shit, again and again and again…
And one such recurring motif has been The Beach Boys’ 1967 album Smiley Smile.
As the Beach Boys’ 1967 emergency stop-gap Smile replacement album, if you know (and love) Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile is a fucking disaster: it’s an amateurish stoner’s slow-motion car crash of an album. To its credit, it is ‘weird’ – but not in a good way.
Reviews at the time of its release mostly follow the tenor of that of Melody Maker:
undoubtedly the worst album ever released by The Beach Boys…it contains two single tracks, ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Heroes and Villains’, which are good, but the rest seem to be more a series of introductions to songs, which never start. There is a poor instrumental track ‘Fall Breaks and Back To Winter’, and the rest are so childish and pointless they don’t bear discussion, which is a tragedy in view of their past output. Prestige has been seriously damaged.
Nothing of the original Smile sessions were worthy of inclusion on Smiley Smile in 1967; the first genuine Smile outtakes given official release were Prayer and Cabin Essence, in 1969, on the 20/20 album.
Wonderful, Wind Chimes, Vegetables were covered by The Beach Boys on Smiley Smile. The original Smile versions, unreleased in 1967, and officially released for the first time in 1993, are, of course, superior in every way to their shoddy Smiley Smile simulacra. While some people (some of them Beach Boys) feel that Brian Wilson was personally and professionally harmed by drugs, Smiley Smile remains something of a ‘case-study’ in the detrimental effects of drugs upon 1960s pop music.
Brian Wilson himself had developed some competency at using drugs as a musical influence. That this album was an amateur-stoner substitute for the pin-sharp focus (anyone wanna argue otherwise?) of Brian Wilson’s own work for Smile; that Brian’s presence during Smiley Smile‘s recording was purely to facilitate musical and technical aspects, which the band themselves could barely approximate, doesn’t seem to click with Smiley Smile‘s (few) apologists:
Mike Love: We were stoned out of our heads . We were laughing our asses off when we recorded that stuff.
Carl Wilson: Yeah, a little hash.
(from David Felton’s The Healing Of Brother Brian article, 1976, reprinted in Kingsley Abbott’s Back To The Beach, p.142)
The hash resonated well with Mike then…but, whereas Brian’s own drug use produced ‘incomprehensible’ music that still fascinates into the next century, the band’s own indulgences produced one of the most half-assed, half-realised drug albums of the 1960s. Leave it there, what’s done is done; you can’t go back in time and fix it. But there is The Smile Sessions.
And if any kind of ‘finished’ Smile were delimited solely by its projected tracklist, 1993′s Good Vibrations box included two-thirds of the album, being eight of the album sleeve’s twelve ‘tracks’. Smiley Smile was immediately and for always erased from any future timeline.
Lewis Shiner’s fictional time-travel novel Glimpses summarises ‘what actually happened’ rather well:
Brian threw together a neutered version of “Heroes and Villains” so Capitol could have a single. He’ d left the house on Laurel Way in April and moved to a mansion in Bel Air with its own recording studio. He took two weeks out of the summer to whip out a replacement album called Smiley Smile where he let the other guys play their own instruments and sing whatever they wanted. He took his name off as producer. He gave up.
Smiley Smile, as a surrogate for the much-anticipated new Beach Boys album, was released nearly 5 months after The Beatles’ new record, in September 1967 – and without Surf’s Up, which Brian Wilson had performed solo on national TV the previous April. This is how Inside Pop identified Brian Wilson:
but, by the time Smiley Smile was released, he was no longer the producer/writer/arranger/leader of The Beach Boys.
Sept/Oct 1967: Smiley Smile…is not the same album as the much anticipated Smile. The latter was to be a full collaboration with Van Dyke Parks, and would hve included Surf’s Up…What happened to it? The gap between conception and realization was too great, and nothing satisfied Brian by the time he’d worked it out and gotten it on tape…Smile is the one that got away.
(excerpted from Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy! news item, reprinted in How Deep Is The Ocean)
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. Its role as a Smile surrogate ended the moment people heard the originals of Wind Chimes or Wonderful.
I wrote about Smiley Smile at some length here, and with a focus upon Mike Love’s contributions, rather than Brian Wilson’s, He’s Goin’ Bald & Gettin’ Hungry. I also speculated upon how little it would have taken for The Beach Boys to have retained their artistic reputation, even without a Smile album: remove She’s Goin’ Bald and Gettin’ Hungry from Smiley Smile’s sequence, end each side with Cabin Essence and Surf’s Up (respectively), and any album with these two Smile tracks, plus Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains (in any version) 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.
It’s hard not to perceive Smiley Smile, in 1967, as probably a deliberate (and quite successful) sabotage of Brian Wilson’s artistic reputation.
So what function does it serve in 2012?
If Smile were ever a riddle to The Beach Boys, they ‘solved’ (or resolved) it themselves, by curtailing its completion, negating its ambition and scale (with Smiley Smile), and then diluting its overall coherence, stealing and ‘finishing’ bits and pieces for later, lesser albums (20/20, Sunflower, Surf’s Up). And where there is anything left ‘unsolved’, Mike Love’s anti-Smile utterances through the ages have deflected attention away from Brian Wilson’s ambition.
And thus, the 2011 release of The Smile Sessions had the capacity to change a perception of the Beach Boys. Almost change the timeline itself.
This 2012 50 Big Ones reissue campaign, with only the mono/stereo/remixes as selling point, will tick a few boxes: there is, finally a stereo Good Vibrations. On the day The Smile Sessions was released, a very unhappy chappy (but not a buyer) posted a one-star review on Amazon.com:
I have been a Beach Boys fan since I was in high school…I heard on the radio this morning (a news station) about the box set release of “Smile”. I am shocked and dismayed that for almost $140.00 there is not a Stereo version of “Good Vibrations”. The Stereo backing track for the single was previously released with the “Pet Sounds” box set and a number of previously “Mono” Beach Boys hits have been re-released in Stereo. In another life I knew John Lennon, who considered “Good Vibrations” one of his favorite recordings of all time.
WHERE IS THE BEEF? WHERE IS “GOOD VIBRATIONS” IN STEREO. I would pay $200.00 for a box set that included that! I’m 60 now and I guess it may not happen.
It is happening. Believe it.
The promo blurb for this campaign makes a few points about the nature of The Beach Boys’ current incarnation:
In 1966, The Beach Boys were one of the first bands to found its own record label with the launch of Brother Records, Inc. (BRI), with the band’s members as its shareholders and Capitol Records as its distribution partner. BRI continues to manage The Beach Boys’ intellectual property, including the band’s catalog with Capitol/EMI and other label partners, as well as its name, logos, image and likeness.
Brother Records’ catalogue of 1960s releases? An album and two singles. BRI, as Beach Boys™, seems much more concerned with its function as a corporate entity than as a musical one. Fuck, maybe it will come after me: name, logos, image and likeness?
This bit comes way down the page:
The Beach Boys continue to hold Billboard / Nielsen SoundScan’s record as the top-selling American band for albums and singles, and they are also the American group with the most Billboard Top 40 chart hits (36). ‘Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys’ has achieved triple-Platinum sales status, and ‘The SMiLE Sessions,’ released to worldwide critical acclaim in November, was heralded as 2011’s #1 Reissue of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine.
Ah yes, Smile. But that was last year’s news.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and recipients of The Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award, The Beach Boys are an American institution that is iconic around the world.
Ah yes, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
Mike Love: …the reason why people like The Beach Boys is because we LOVE HARMONY…and we love all people too…
Mike Love: (angrily) …do it for WORLD PEACE and LOVE and HARMONY! YEAH!
Watch Mike’s gracious acceptance speech in full here. Brother Records Inc. should feel justifiably proud.
One can only guess at Robert Fripp’s own feelings about the legacy his music will leave behind, once he himself leaves this planet. But at least he alone has control over it – DGM, as Fripp’s label and entity, is responsible for the Lark’s Tongues box set. If he sounds like an idiot in anything he says on that release’s ‘audio documentary’, it’s his decision that we hear that.
Certain Beach Boys only hear madness and idiocy and drug-addled self-indulgence in the Smile Sessions recordings; the same Beach Boy hears only ‘acid illieration’ in its lyrics. The repetition and reiteration of The Beach Boys legacy, at the drop of any ‘celebratory’ hat (any excuse for an Anniversary!); there seems to be little learned from this past. Is the Mike love c.1966 the same Mike Love 40-odd years later? The Beach Boys, pre-Pet Sounds and post-Smile, have been preserved in aspic or amber. 20, 30, 40 years later, little changes. Surely, eventually, this preserved meat will go off?
Smile’s fluidity, in contrast, seems to change over time – as a ‘work’, it’s still in flux: there is still no real consensus about it. For all the accolades The Smile Sessions received in 2011, it’s a blip to BRI/Beach Boys™.
Do you think that, after the release of The Smile Sessions, Brian (and as opposed to ‘BRI’) thought a reissue of Smiley Smile to be a worthy Big One? I suppose a newer, younger audience for these 50 Big Ones can listen to what was, in 1967,
undoubtedly the worst album ever released by The Beach Boys…so childish and pointless they don’t bear discussion, which is a tragedy in view of their past output
and make their own minds up…
Brian Wilson’s own prestige had been seriously damaged. With The Smile Sessions 40 years later, Brian Wilson’s prestige was returned to him. A reissue of Smiley Smile can now only be judged in the shadow of Smile. Seems like a waste of EMI’s money to even manufacture it. What is it for? Who is it for?
This 50 Big Ones reissue just seems like more clutter, existing solely to reiterate and repeat, yet again, that
the Beach Boys are an American institution that is iconic around the world.
To fans, listeners, observers, ‘students’ of The Beach Boys and of Brian Wilson (the latter often tagged ‘Brianistas’, as some derisory slight upon those deluded fools who, for some reason, feel that, without Brian Wilson, there would never been a Beach Boys in the first place…), Smile itself is ‘iconic’. The Beach Boys, post-Smile, are much less so. This 2012 Beach Boys want it both ways: iconic anachronisms; what Mike Love termed ‘lovingly irrelevant’. Rotten meat, in aspic.
I will concede to counter-arguments – but, to many listeners’ ears, The Beach Boys, after 1966/67, have never matched the ambition that culminated in everything contained within the Smile Sessions box. This annual repetition, each anniversary’s reiteration of a claim for an ‘iconic’ status , this endless recycling of ‘achievements’ decades past, and which have had their dues years before…it becomes less and less persuasive as the years roll on.
Fans of ‘progressive pop’ are often pretty open-minded listeners, and it’s not inconceivable that buyers of The Smile Sessions might also indulge Crimson and the Lark’s Tongues box. But The 2012 Beach Boys, as supported by this reiterative archive-trawl, couldn’t be further away from any notion of a progression. The nostalgic hivemind that celebrates these archaic achievements (band and fans alike) seem regressive. The past – their past – is safe, unassailable. There is no risk.
Why reheat Smiley Smile now? Past its use by date as soon as it was released, various attempts at revivifying it were only ever as a Smile-surrogate. In 2012, with Smile now finally available, and in various delicious flavours, who could possibly want the thrice-reheated thin gruel of Smiley Smile?
Does Brother Records Inc. really think it will make Beach Boys Corp. new friends, new fans?