SMiLE (Random Thoughts Part 2)

18 01 2012

A month or more ago, I took disc 1 of The SMiLE Sessions and SmileySmile, mixed the SmileySmile songs in where they seemed to fit with SMiLE, and made a SMiLE-SmileySmile CD.  Where the songs were on both albums, I used only the SMiLE versions (as they are superior, for the most part.) That’s what I’ve been listening to (instead of those other albums separately.)

Ironically, when Brian was in what some believe to be one of the worst periods in his life emotionally and physically, he was fixated on health.  “Vega-tables” was intended for SMiLE and a weaker version made SmileySmile.  It calls for the listener to brush his teeth, walk and get lots of exercise.  Then there’s the happy snippet “I’m In Great Shape.”  “Gettin’ Hungry” is about longing for a woman (and obviously sex), but I can’t help but think Brian was inspired by food.

I wonder where the food and health-themed songs fit in the symphonic tale Brian and Van Dyke Parks were trying to tell.  Maybe — and I’m stabbing in the dark a bit — the food thing goes with the idea that SMiLE’s Americana thing.  After all, Brian would have grown up with the birth of fast food chains and drive-in burger joints.  By the late 60’s, people began thinking of food from a health-conscious point of view.  That food and physical fitness were on the Beach Boys’ minds just as Mike Love was about ready to dive head-first into Transcendental Meditation seems to make sense.

That Paul McCartney is known to have chomped on vegetables during the recording of “Vega-Tables” is perfect considering his later conversion to vegetarianism and (mild) animal activism.

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SMiLE (Random Thoughts Part 1)

10 11 2011

I’ve been wanting to talk about SMiLE, or more accurately, The SMiLE Sessions, released last week.  Honestly, though, I’ve not known where to start with it.  I wanted to tackle the whole thing in a big long tome-like post, but people wouldn’t read it, and I’m too lazy to spend hours and hours at a time digesting and regurgitating it all at once.   So I’m going to handle it in small bites.  It’s hard to tell if anyone besides hardcore Beach Boys fans even care at this point.  I can’t ignore it because it’s a pretty significant release.

  • With little exception, The SMiLE Sessions (at least the double disc set) reveals little that is new.  The majority of the songs that were intended for SMiLE originally, ended up on its shoddy replacement, Smiley Smile, or later albums like 20/20, Surf’s Up, and Sunflower.  Granted, some of these songs were released in different form.  Brian’s masterpiece, Surf’s Up, was sung by Carl Wilson for release on the album of the same name.  What didn’t end up on later studio albums came out in later official Beach Boys releases like Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, the band’s anthology (for all intents and purposes.)
  • One of my first experiences with online music was when I stumbled upon a website dedicated solely to the SMiLE album (that never was.)  It was the late 90’s and MP3’s were starting to come into heavy use — it made sense for internet-based music sharing.  This site — sadly it has been gone for years — had essentially the full SMiLE album, with links to the songs in their entirety.  The site ordered the songs in pretty close to the same order as The SMiLE Sessions; eerily close! All that said, I was not surprised by much.
  • What I have found striking is that SMiLE was…. ahem would have been… ahead of its time, though maybe not in some of the ways fans have imagined over the years.  The “what could have been” scenario that people have probably fantasized over these 40 years typically goes something like this: “If Brian had been able to get the album out, it would have been the soundtrack for the (so-called) Summer of Love, and would have been what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has been all these years.  It would have been the it record of the 60’s.”  I don’t think there is enough to demonstrate it would have been universally loved in that way.  I would guess it probably would not have been understood and would have even been flaky or “far out” to stoners, acid heads, hippies and, of course, old school Beach Boys fans.   More than Sgt. Pepper’s, SMiLE  would have prefigured Abbey Road.
  • Why Abbey Road?  Right off the bat, understand that I’m not claiming it had anything like the grit of Abbey Road.  But, it has the feel, flow and almost free association style of Abbey Road’s famous medley.  Half the songs on Abbey Road were fragments or sort of half songs, strung together to make a strong, somewhat unified side.  “You Never Give Me Your Money” recurs on the big medley, ties bits and pieces of it together.  Likewise, “Heroes and Villains” is the unifying musical piece that ties SMiLE together.  The album’s fragmentation is hardly an accident.  Brian Wilson recently said in an interview that Van Dyke Parks suggest the album be built around song fragments just as “Good Vibrations” had been assembled as a mini-rock orchestra-like piece from bits and pieces patched together over months in 1966.
  • More than the earlier albums, SMiLE is driven by vocals.  The most important instruments are the voices.  That doesn’t say much when you’re talking about the Beach Boys.  Vocal harmonies were their bread and butter.  But, the vocal work is so complex and strong, that most of the album could have been a cappella.  John Lennon’s beautiful “Because” on Abbey Road hints, in one song, at what SMiLE would have felt like had it been finished.

 





Pet Sounds. Today. 1966.

16 05 2011

On this day in 1966, Pet Sounds was released.  It’s not, by any stretch, a true “rock and roll” album.  But where else would you put it?  In what we might otherwise call “popular music,” you’d have to rank this one of the best albums ever.   “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is a personal favorite.





I’m a genius too

19 02 2009

Murry Wilson’s meddling in the lives of his sons, and his recorded intrusion during the “Help Me Rhonda” sessions, are legendary.  Anyone that has followed the Beach Boys knows what a control freak Murry was.

I’ve heard this recording a number of times, but putting it with a puppet show is a stroke of brilliance.  Enjoy.





Brian Wilson Presents Smile — Brilliant!

25 01 2009

brianwilson-smileSmile might be the greatest album never released.  Or, more accurately, it may be the best album to take 38 years to be released.  Even Axl Rose doesn’t sit on projects that long.

I got my hands on MP3s of Smile maybe 12 years ago.  I also got the Beach Boys box set that had some Smile stuff in it.  Someday I’ll write about the album (as a Beach Boys release) but suffice it to say, it is amazing.  It’s quirky, odd, almost avant garde.  It’s definitely trippy and might have been a huge flop had it seen the light of day in 1967.  There again, it could’ve given Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band a run for its money.  We’ll never know.  [If you really want to know more about Smile, just google it.  There are dozens of websites about it.]

It’s really hard to get me to pay much attention to old bands retreading their old material (e.g. The Who doing a Quadraphenia tour or the annual Stones tour on the strength of 35 year old songs.)  So, when Brian Wilson Presents Smile was released a few years back, I completely ignored it.  One, I assumed Brian could no longer sing.  Two, it wasn’t a Beach Boys release.  Three, I figured that I already had Smile as it should have been released.  I was happy with my bootlegs.  But I saw this disk at the library the other day and it called to me.

The most simple way to sum up my feelings about this album is that it is brilliant!  Throw whatever positive adjectives you want at it, they all work; great, fantastic, stupendous, tremendous, awesome, amazing, etc.  If you like the Beach Boys (or just quirky music) run to the store and get it.

Many of the songs on Smile were sung by Carl Wilson, probably the best singer of the Wilson brothers.  Carl, sadly, passed away years ago, thus, Brian had to be the vocalist.  Even deaf in one ear, he nailed the songs.  Unlike some of his contemporaries, his voice is still in tact, and it seems natural to hear the songs sung by him.

His back-up band is dynamite.  They do everything vocally the Beach Boys did on the original Smile.  Musically Brian Wilson Presents Smile is nearly identical to Smile as it can be found in bootleg form. [EDIT — I CHANGED THE FOLLOWING TO REFLECT THE FACTS I’VE LEARNED AND SOMETHING OF A CHANGE OF HEART] The most glaring change was to the choruses of “Good Vibrations.”  Brian brought back the original Tony Asher-penned lyrics to the song, replacing his cousin, Mike Love’s re-writes.  I personally don’t like the changes, but I like them better than when I originally wrote this.  I also don’t like Mike Love, so anything that sticks it to him is fine by me.

If you’re still reading this post, stop and go over to amazon.com or wherever you like to buy music and pick up this one.  Tell ’em I sent ya.