The Beach Boys “Smiley Smile”

Smiley Smile

I remember, the first day I bought this album, I couldn’t listen to it right away, I was at a party for something. But I clutched it and stared at it all night, because I knew I had something special in my hands.

And I did. Smiley Smile usually gets the cold shoulder because it wasn’t Smile, Brian’s “teenage symphony to God” that never materialized (oh, but it did a year or so ago). However, if you would like to care more about what Smiley Smile is rather than what it is not, I think you are going to find yourself a great introduction to that side of The Beach Boys you may not have yet heard but were always wondering about.

Opening with the fantastic and complex Heroes and Villains, with uncharacteristic (for the Boys at least) lyrics penned by Van Dyke Parks, Smiley Smile is a real trip. This album follows Pet Sounds in the discography, so we have the creative remnants showing in arrangements and orchestration, but this time much toned down. Smiley Smile is a scarce and subtly produced record employing sound effects, laughter + dialogue, great percussion sounds, very basic instrumentation, and all throughout those marvelous Beach Boy voices shine as the lead instruments.

Of all the Boys records, this is by far the most psychedelic. Carl Wilson reported that a clinic in Fort Worth played it for their patients, their sole method in helping them out of bad LSD trips (see here, actually all the quotes make a great read). Some parts are a little over the top, as in She’s Goin’ Bald, but usually contain a great payoff. Plus, you’ll get the monstrous #1 hit Good Vibrations, and in the bonus tracks a revealing look at all the hard work that went into its development in three separate takes of the powerhouse track. Also in the bonus: the amazing Can’t Wait Too Long – this long study has a great feel and builds towards 25 seconds of one of my favorite Beach Boys instrumental moments.

Plus, with Capitol making available the entire Boys catalog in two-fer packages, you can’t pass this one up. Smiley Smile is packaged with Wild Honey, a Beach Boys-gone-soul record that I would love to talk more about. For under $10 it’s a no-brainer. Grab this record, and if you haven’t already, let this summer be your Beach Boys summer, you’ll never forget it!

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“Fall Breaks And Back To Winter”

Remastered / Extra Tracks/plus Wild Honey!

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  • Len Liechti

    Just heard that Capitol is about to issue the nearest thing yet to the original SMiLE – a 2CD set with one disc containing the whole of the projected album in mono plus some segments duplicated in stereo and a second disc’s worth of work-in-progress cuts. There’ll also be a similar 2-LP set and a mega package with innumerable CDs, LPs and 45s (see Wikipedia page for full details). The latter is definitely over-egging the pudding unless you’re a Brian completist, but the budget CD set sounds like the real deal after all these years, even allowing for the fact that the sequencing must be treated with caution as an original running order was never finalised prior to cancellation. The loving recreation from 2004 did the music justice but with the best will in the world was never authentic, and its pin-sharp twenty-first century production values lacked the hazy beauty of those original recordings that survived to find their way on to Smiley Smile and Surf’s Up. If this reissue sticks to the original final mixes, it looks like it’ll be the one. Originally announced last February but due out October 31 in the UK, having (presumably) been cunningly held over for Christmas.

  • KoolAid

    My favourite Beach Boys album, for me it’s even better than Pet Sounds. Pure low-fidelty psychedelic madness. Anyway, now that the original Smile Sessions have finally been released, I can say SMILE was a real pop masterpiece…too bad it was released in 2011 instead of 1967…and never completed.

  • Thanks for leaving a wonderful write-up. Even the liner notes in the two-fer set dismiss ‘Smiley Smile’ as a pretty bad idea. I wish it contained your write-up instead. For yes, the VOCALS, liberated from hot rods, surf boards, girls, and school loyalty take a a psychedelic, nearly renaissance dimension, and that’s what all the critics miss. I bought the SMiLE box set, and shelved it immediately. Smiley Smile is dream, and sequenced like one, all the way through ‘You’re Welcome’, whearas SMiLE is like a desperate attempt to go back to sleep and re-neter the same dream… you can’t do it. The magic falls flat.

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