US - California - Full Moon 126 - 01/03/07
Following up our retroscope series of last year - here's Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the history of rock. This album should've seen the light of day 40 years ago this month...
In 1966 Brian Wilson reached his creative peak. Pet Sounds wasn't an instant success, but got critical acclaim, especially in Europe. In retrospect it is Beach Boys' greatest album. Brian kept going in the Pet Sounds spirit with more sophisticated melodies, lyrics, arrangements and studio perfection.
He used the studio as an instrument in its own right, inspired by the wall of sound of his great example Phil Spector. Brian hired several studios in Los Angeles, lots of studio musicians and put short recorded pieces together like a puzzle. It wasn't a practical method back in the old days of only analogue tape recorders.
The other members of the band were only involved towards the end, mainly contributing vocals.
"Good Vibrations" was the ultimate pop symphony recorded this way. It was an instant hit when it was released in October 1966. While the rest of the Boys had great success on tour promoting Pet Sounds and "Good Vibrations", especially in England where they threatened to overthrow the position of the Beatles,
Brian stayed at home with his new lyric buddy Van Dyke Parks and in the studios creating even more stunning pop symphonies. At first they worked very fast. The new album's working title was Dumb Angel, but was changed in a more positive direction. Towards the end of 1966, a radio ad could be heard in the Americas: 'Smile is the name of the new Beach Boys album which will be released in January 1967. And with a happy album cover, the really happy sounds inside and a happy instore display piece, you can't miss. We're sure to sell a million copies - in January!'
300 000 LP covers were printed with titles of 12 songs at the back. Meanwhile Brian worked overtime during December, January, February, March... By May Beach Boys' press agent announced the Smile recordings had been abandoned.
"Heroes And Villains", one of the centrepieces of Smile, was re-recorded and crudely put together for a single release in July 1967. It was too late nine months after "Good Vibrations". It was backed by "You're Welcomed"; a mere 1:05 minutes gospel chant that supposedly was to end Smile. This minute
was the only real Smile recording to be heard officially in its own time after about a year of hard studio work.
Now Smile might be the most legendary album in the history of pop and rock never to be released completely and in a proper way. Does it deserve its legendary status? We've written about the quarrels within the band, the rise and fall and eventual rise again of Brian Wilson, much due to Smile, the
great songs and flashes of wit that constitute Smile on a few occasions earlier here at Luna Kafé. No need to repeat ourselves completely. On his way to the world live premiere of Smile in London in February 2004, Brian admitted that it was his best work ever. The
first live performances, his re-recorded and completed SMiLE album and world tour later the same year were highly successful. Still, parts of the 2004 studio version seem to lack that little something extra. The combination of studio perfection
and finesse with youthful playfulness and apparent spontaneity of the 1966/67 versions that has been released officially (mainly gathered on the 5 CD box Good Vibrations, Thirty Years Of The Beach Boys from 1993) and unofficially (check the bootleg market or the Net) seem impossible to recreate completely. Songs like "Cabinessence", "Wind Chimes", "Child Is Father Of The Man", "Surf's Up" (my favourite pop song, ever), "Do You Like Worms", even the humorous "Vega-Tables" and "Heroes And Villains" (the Smile version, of course, with the cantina section where 'Margarita's kept the spirits high') deserves status as pop classics of the premiere league. And the short mainly instrumental bits and pieces, sound effects and not least the ominous and haunting "Fire/Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" were also very important to build Smile the way it was meant to be. Check out the review of the 2004 SMiLE album for further description of the songs and bits.
You might, like me, have little interest in the bubble gum pop of the Beach Boys of the early 1960s. You might be completely indifferent to "Good Vibrations" after you've heard it for the 10 001st time. The same goes for their adult oriented output of the mid 1970s and that horrible God-bless-America nationalistic pro republican era of the band in the 1980s. No matter, in 1966 Brian Wilson touched magic with his studio creations. The Smile legend lives on!
Copyright © 2007 JP