Sunday 29 April 2012

The Beach Boys "Smile Sessions" (2011) (News, Views and Music 142)

1) Beach Boys - Advertising Horde by Alan Pattinson

The Beach Boys “Smile” Box Set (2011)

Featuring Our Prayer > Gee/ Heroes And Villains/ Roll Plymouth Rock (Do You Like Worms?)/ Barnyard/ Old Master Painter (You Are My Sunshine)/ Cabin Essence/ Wonderful/ Song For Children/ Child Is Father Of The Man/ Surf’s Up/ I’m In Great Shape> I Wanna Be Around> Workshop/ Vega-Tables/ On A Holiday/ Wind Chimes/ Mrs O’Leary’s Cow/ In Blue Hawaii (Love To Say Dada)/ Good Vibrations

The ‘Smile’ box set: a lot of smiling, a lot of laughing, a lot of crying – but a fair bit of cringing as well

‘The music hall a costly bow, the music – all is lost for now to a muted trumpeter swan...’ As muted trumpeter swans go, Brian Wilson’s had one hell of a noisy decade recently and is now thankfully more in the public eye that at any time since the 1960s. A large part of bringing his life around was from finding a (finally) sympathetic group of people to work with (The Wondermints and friends) – another is from finally being able to put the ‘ghost’ of Smile to bed, not once but twice. When Brian bravely faced his demons to finally finish and re-record the Smile saga with his band and his lyricist and friend Van Dyke Parks, I don’t think any of us expected how free-flowing, pioneering and yet rounded ‘Smile’ would sound (even those of us who had hours of the original session tapes on bootleg). That finished product created so much interest than an archive ‘Smile’ release became all but inevitable, so no unlike some Smile scholars I’m not surprised to see ‘Smile’ finally out on our shelves in some form, some 45 years after a majority of the sessions were held. That said I’m astonished that this set came out relatively painlessly, after the years of delays for the similar (but inferior) Pet Sounds Sessions set, the bad blood that set caused in its packaging (with too much praise given over to Brian Wilson, who was even more in charge of things for ‘Smile’), without so much as a single missed release deadline (even the most innocuous of Beach Boy releases invariably involve two or three). I’m also astonished that, alongside the two disc set there’s a five disc box set of the darn thing, collecting up apparently every useable artefact along the way.

In truth, you need to be as in love with this album as I am to enjoy the five disc version (and even I find parts of it a slog). It’s also fair to say that filling a whole disc with ‘Heroes and Villains’ and another with ‘Good Vibrations’ (another 80 minutes worth, to go alongside the 45 minutes available on the ’30 Years of Good Vibrations’ box set and the Pet Sounds box) is a good hour each too many. It’s also frustrating that the compilers of the album have sought to make up yet another new running order from ‘Smile’ – part of the genius in Brian’s re-recording  is the way the songs flow into each other so well and this ‘new’ version seems lopsided and convoluted. There’s also still a number of pieces well known to bootleggers (such as the full 10 minute ‘Heroes and Villains’, a missing ‘round’ segment from ‘Child Is The Father Of The Man’ with Carl on lead) missing. Finally, there’s a lot of truly peculiar spoken word and supposedly hilarious spoken passages that even a devoted fan like me find disturbing rather than funny, featuring Brian ‘trapped’ in a microphone and trying to steal drummer Hal Blaine’s vega-tables. Sadly there’s no tape of Brian urging the studio to all wear fireman’s hats and getting largely stony replies. But hell, this is ‘Smile’ and all this is just quibbling – it’s still amongst the best releases ever made. 

Along the way we get to hear discarded sections that didn’t quite work, discarded sections that work only too well, errant backing vocals, curious instrumental passages that may or may not have been intended to be segued into the better known Smile tracks, haunting string overdubs, nonsensical bits of dialogue and messing about and the feeling that the album is changing shape before our ears with every single take and every single passage. Above all, we really get the feeling that these songs are morphing and taking shape before our ears, with Brian taking to recording armed only with a few scattered ideas in opposition to his carefully worked out scores for ‘Pet Sounds’ and open to new ideas with every slight fluctuation of each take. It’s wonderful to hear songs we know so well in their original forms and most of them sound pretty spectacular even in sketchy, often single line or single verse versions. Outtakes like the first ‘demo’ version of ‘Surf’s Up’ with Brian alone at the piano or a charming childish giggling version of ‘You’re Welcome’ are far more likeable and moving than the slightly more contrived finished versions and for every ‘bad’ idea that sensibly gets shelved (the unheard missing section of ‘Vega-tables’, lots more unused sections for ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Heroes and Villains’) there’s a gem that could have made the semi-finished recordings on CD One  (and well known to bootleggers and youtubers) even more sublime than they already are.

One of the most surprising features of this set is how ‘together’ Brian sounds – across the whole of the recordings too, not just the early sessions. Like ‘Pet Sounds’ its staggering to hear a then-24 year old barking orders to a group of hardened session musician veterans with the drive of youth but the hearing and the wisdom of a veteran producer, aware in an instant exactly which musician got which note wrong despite it being lost in a sea of music. Brian hadn’t been doing this for very long – it’s only been two years since his dad used to run the sessions and without half the magnetism or charisma Brian has here – but already he’s the equal of anyone working in 60s music. His humour, too, is hilarious – on the ‘Cantina’ section of ‘Heroes and Villains’ the engineer asks him to do his count-in a little louder for the others to hear. Brian then barks back ‘ONE-TWO-THREE!’ at the top of his lungs, to which the engineer – whose clearly heard it all before – simply remarks ‘louder’. Even in the sessions for ‘Mrs O’Leary’s Cow’, famously the moment where the Smile sessions fell apart, after Brian’s vision of a song about ‘fire’ was recorded the day before a building next to the Capitol studios burnt down in mysterious circumstances, Brian sounds amazingly together. Only once does he sound edgy and paranoid: ‘Could we lock the outside doors to the studoio please?’ he asks at one point during the Heroes and Villains ‘Box Of Tricks’, after a series of engineers have told him in turn ‘no, the problem’s not you, Brian’ before adding ‘they’ve got to at least be two doors away from where we are now’.  Presumably he’s worried about passers by ruining a take (like ‘Peppers’ much of Smile seems to have been recorded in corridors/bathrooms/anywhere outside the studio with good echo) but it does make for this set’s one uncomfortable metaphor about wanting to keep ‘his’ baby away from prying eyes who wouldn’t understand it – not to mention the fact that, surely, this is everyone messing around with sounds rather than a proper polished take.

Which leads me to the second unexpected thing about this set. Contrary to the usual view of the other Beach Boys’ antipathy or outright hatred of this project, they are all heavily involved with this album. Much more so than on ‘Pet Sounds’ in fact, when a world tour meant they added their vocals to finished backing tracks rather than having any great input into the music. Carl’s very much there as Brian’s second in command already, despite being barely 21, offering suggestions and counter-suggestions. Dennis is very much involved too, interestingly being the one to remind the others that the red recording light is on and they should all stop ‘messing about’, reminding the engineers that recording another way would ‘waste less tape’. New boy Bruce Johnston, used to acting as a producer on his own records, is often in the control room when Brian is on ‘the floor’, a reliable second-in-command helping Brian try to get his vision across. Most shockingly of all Mike Love is heavily involved in these sessions, adding all sorts of ideas both good and bad to the mix and being the first to break into giggle – but in a goofy ‘Our Favourite Recording Sessions’ kind of a way, not in a what-planet-are-you-on-Brian?-kind of a way as per the history books. Just listen to the deeply strange six minutes of sessions for ‘You’re Welcome’ (intended as a B-side rather than a ‘Smile’ track per se) where most of the psychedelic surreal ideas are coming from Mike, not Brian! Only Al Jardine is audibly absent, although even that’s in keeping with other sessions where Al is the ‘reliable’ member of the band quietly putting Brian’s ideas into practice without question. Ask most band members in the 80s or 90s about ‘Smile’ and they’d roll their heads, call it Brian’s madness and recall how they tried to stop it or challenge some of the more gobbledegook parts of it and that’s largely how history has recorded this album: as the out-there folly Brian wanted to make and the others hated. That’s clearly another case of revisionism going on by the ‘victors’ (ie the band members not sucked under by Brian’s breakdown) – even though Brian was clearly in charge of the writing and the arranging of ‘Smile’, it really was a Beach Boys album, not just a solo project with guest vocals as so many music historians make it out to be. And the harmonies of the six Beach Boys together sound even more superb than you think they do, even with the mistakes (and bang goes my theory about double-tracking  to sound that good, unless they all went back in the studio to overdub the mistakes as well!)

Going a disc at a time, the first disc – and therefore the shorter version available in the shops – is clearly the one to have and should be owned by everyone with an interest in music, regardless of personal tastes, as an example of how powerful music can be at its best. I’m a little annoyed that the compilers have sought to do their ‘own’ version of ‘Smile’s precarious running order, instead of the ‘official’ (if, admittedly, a creation of 21st century) Brian Wilson solo version which works so well (‘I’m In Great Shape’ as part of the first ‘Heroes and Villains’ suite? No no no!) There’s also way too many differences between the sound recordings from track to track which surely could have fixed in the modern age? (perhaps it was this discrepancy in sound that caused Brian’s breakdown when he was trying to piece the album together, although that was never a problem when cutting multiple takes of ‘Good Vibrations’ together for the single). Hearing cut-down versions of songs like ‘Barnyard’ and ‘Song For Children’ is also a shame, given how amazing these songs sound in the 2003 version. But that’s it for my griping – the Beach Boys version of Smile is even more wondrous than the finished ‘solo’ version (review 101 on this site), with some of the greatest music, multi-layered music and drop-dead gorgeous vocal arrangements in existence.

For the record, the songs are left here in as much of a finished state as they were left in – hence the ghostly backing vocals for ‘Plymouth Rock’ aka ‘Do You Like Worms?’ rather than the colonization social protest of the 2003 version and the same for ‘Look’ aka ‘Song For Children’ (which may not even have had lyrics back then), ‘On A Holiday’ (ditto), Love To Say Dada’ and ‘I Wanna Be Around’ (which rather loses something without the joke in the lyrics making sense of the workshop sound effects). You have to say, though, five more vocal recordings and one backing track and this album would have been finished – a fortnight’s work if that given the speed the Beach Boys were working in this period. On the plus side, there’s a snippet cut from the 2003 version of ‘Look’ which is now re-instated just before ‘Child Is The Father Of The Man’ and it works very well indeed, giving this great song an overture to boot. Most controversially, ‘I’m In Great Shape’ is the one track never started, so there’s a curious orchestral part laid over the top of the demo of it, even though there’s a perfectly fine half-finished celeste-and-sax version on disc 2 –a similar thing happens with ‘Barnyard’ where the vocal from the demo is added to the (largely finished) backing track. Full marks to all those involved for leaving these recordings as they were rather than ‘finishing them off’ as most record labels would have insisted on doing, although it’s a shame the powers that be didn’t just plump for the demos in those two cases.

There are also a number of ‘extras’ at the end of the disc which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. ‘You’re Welcome’ is the childlike ‘Heroes and Villains’ B-side now back nestling back amongst its period cousins. It’s sweet but compoared to everything else here a bit inconsequential, like a nursery rhyme turned into a full song.There’s the unfinished and rather curious ‘He Gives Speeches’ which is a rare piece of social satire about the kind of politician who never shuts up about their good work and musically later transformed into the even more bizarre ‘She’s Goin’ Bald’ on ‘Smiley Smile’ – the unfinished band version of ‘Smile’ stuck together at the last minute under pressure when Capitol wanted to know where their album was. To be honest, it’s not as good as the three ‘other’ missing tunes available on the box set but not the single disc edition: the early version of ‘With Me Tonight’ ‘I Don’t Know’ and especially the gorgeous ‘Tune X’ which is becoming a real highlight for me (all available on disc 4). Thankfully also available on the single disc version is a gorgeous solo Brian Wilson version of ‘Surf’s Up’ (not the one that became the basis for the 1971 re-recording of the song – that’s earlier on disc one, heard with a gorgeous vocal round attached to the end- but a better take altogether) when the song is clearly still fresh and Brian is pulsating with excitement over it. The six minutes listed as ‘backing vocals’ are also sublime, with bits and pieces from Smile tracks (mainly ‘Heroes and Villains’) heard a capella, with the band at their absolute peak as a thriving, fully functioning vocal band at this time. Alas the unused sections from ‘Heroes and Villains’ are best left to one of the other discs and would have made an already unwieldy song even more so (and why the hell is the superb 10 minute version, long known to bootleggers, still left on the cutting room floor?) And as for the ‘psychedelic sounds’, these supposed comedy moments from the sessions are the only parts of the whole set that have dated and should have been kept for the box set.

Disc 2 is chiefly concerned with the first six minutes of the album, namely the chant ‘Our Prayer’ and – gulp – 34 versions of ‘Heroes and Villains’ sections heard one after the other, which is a bit too much even for a fan of the song like me. Surely it would have been easier to leave the repetition out and just feature each section once, without the outtakes? And it would have been nice to have heard, say, a 15 minute version where the best takes of each section had been assembled into a proper song, without the musicians breaking down and getting a pep talk from Brian along the way. It is fascinating to hear the breakdowns for ‘Our Prayer’ though, with the band clearly enjoying themselves even as they struggle to come to terms with the sheer complexity of the whole thing. ‘Heroes and Villains’ fares less well, with everyone exhausted with the whole thing and wondering where the hell the section they’re singing now is meant to have fitted in with what they recorded the week before. ‘Heroes’ is a remarkable song because it turns on a knife’s edge and could go literally anywhere after each verse (it being a universal tale of humanity offering kindness and having others take that kindness away) and in the original vision for the song it did, ending up in all sorts of time periods and new sections of the song. Some of the missing pieces not heard before are good ones (the ‘in a cantina section’ never sounded better) – some of them (such as the ‘fade’ and the ‘box of tricks’) are excruciating and should have been left well alone, even now after all this time. Frankly, this second disc is the heaviest going on the set and could easily have been cut in half, although it is worth owning for the better moments of the song we’ve not heard before and for hearing parts of the song that we feel we know backwards taking shape before our ears.

Disc 3 is the disc of sessions for the main bulk of the album and is a bit easier going than the second, if not quite so goose-pimply magnificent as the first. Again, we get to hear the session tapes of the recordings taking shape, which is fascinating if you’re as addicted to this album as me but even I can’t play it too many times in a row. Assuming that the session tapes for the album are largely complete – and Capitol are usually pretty good at that sort of thing – then its odd that so much time seems to have been spent on ‘Heroes’ and ‘Vibrations’ at the loss of the other tracks. For me the cornerstones of ‘Smile’ are the damning ‘Do You Like Worms?’ and the epic ‘Child Is The Father Of The Man’, both of which are dispensed with over a couple of takes that sound more or less the same as the finished products (barring a fuzz bass for the latter anyway; the fact that the former song was never finished in the 1960s means it sounds even closer to the outtakes presented on this disc). There are gems on this CD, however, notably the finished backing track for Cabinessence, a thing of beauty even without the vocals (released on the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations Bos Set’ in 1993, but a gem nevertheless) and with some fascinating outtakes where the band are struggling with a cornucopia mix of violins, horns, flutes, harmonicas, drums, guitars, mandolins and pretty much every other instrument that existed in 1966. The much more minimalistic backing track for ‘Wonderful’ is equally, well, wonderful, taken at a slower lick than either ‘finished’ versions. A solo piano version by Brian is just as good and sounds closer to his beloved Gershwin than any of the other ‘Smile’ bits and pieces. 

Disc 4 is more of the same, filling out the last, lesser ‘suite’ of the album. Along the way we get to hear the infamous ‘carrot crunching’ session for Vega-tables (on which Paul McCartney probably wasn’t present, sadly, despite a long-lasting myth), a load of ‘Wind Chimes’ fragments taken at a faster and less bustle pace than the version on disc one, a very discordant single outtake of ‘Fire’ and multiple goes at ‘Love To Say Dada’ on a variety of keyboard instruments, plus a lovely vocal rehearsal for the ‘Cool Cool Water’ passage of the same song. More interesting is the second-half of the disc, made up of off-cuts that got discarded along the way, some of them before they even got names. ‘You’re Welcome’ is a charming outtake of the period B-side where Brian is trying to coax the band to move forward and back off from the mike to make the most of the change in dynamics, causing much hilarity as a result, although his attempts to make the band sound like they are underwater are ultimately less successful! ‘You’re With Me Tonight’ is a faster, more vocal-dominated version of the song ‘With Me Tonight’ that ended up on ‘Smiley Smile’ (or the other versions on bootleg), but unlike most of the other songs on that album was only ever sketchily written for ‘Smile’. Brian swaps lead with Carl rather than the younger Wilson singing outright and it makes for an interesting comparison – at least until what sounds like one of the band tripping over and calling the session to a halt! ‘Tune X’ is interesting, too, mainly orchestral but with a rare lead guitar part for Carl Wilson based around the Hawaiian riff that will end up mutating into ‘Little Pad’ from ‘Smiley Smile’. With plenty of scope for some out-there rhythmically elusive lyrics from Van Dyke Parks, this really could have been a contender, the same way that outtake ‘Trombone Dixie’ would have fitted snugly onto ‘Pet Sounds’. ‘I Don’t Know’ is a more rock-and-roll based backing track version of the same thing and worthy of further work, even if it does sound a little like the middle eight from ‘Good Vibrations’ (not that much of a problem, given the repeated themes scattered across this album!) ‘Three Blind Mice’ is another variation on the ‘Heroes and Villains’/’Bicycle Rider’ snippet beloved of bootleggers, although its not clear quite where on the album it would have slotted in. The CD then ends with Brian and Hal Blaine talking in funny voices in a botched attempt to promote the LP – Brian pushes the friendly drummer into a role that just doesn’t fit and the resulting jagged responses from a farmer determined to keep his vega-tables to himself is so many million miles away from the ‘across history peace-and-love’ vibe of ‘Smile’ (bar the fire suite) that it jars even more than it did the first time round on the ‘Hawthorne, CA’ compilation of Beach Boy outtakes. Even worse is ‘Teeter Totter Love’, a novelty song by Jasper Dailey that might well be the single worst thing the Beach Boys ever recorded (how many AAA songs about a lift being a metaphor for love are there?!)

Disc 5 ends the set with a full 80 minutes of Good Vibrations, all but five of them previously unheard despite there being 15 minutes’ worth on the ‘Smiley Smile/Wild Honey’ CD, a good half hour on the ‘Pet Sounds Sessions’ and a further half hour on the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations Box Set’. Hearing it all piecemeal like this, ‘Vibrations’ suddenly sounds a lot more like a ‘Smile’ track than a single that got lucky by virtue of being done first, but it has the advantage over ‘Heroes and Villains’ of being musically able to go as far out on a limb as the lyrics. Each of the missing sections sound like they could easily have ended up in the finished track somewhere along the way, although on the downside these sections are more fragmentary and interrupted far more than any of the previously released tapes were. There were talks at one stage, when the Pet Sounds set was first mooted, of a whole 4 disc set given over solely to ‘Good Vibrations’. On the strength of this one CD, its a good thing that didn’t happen because it would have been going too far, but unlike ‘Heroes and Villains’ the more outtakes I hear for this song the more I seem to like and admire it.

There’s certainly enough here to keep fans busy for a lifetime – and much more than I ever suspected still existed in the archives. For all these five CDs, though, there’s still more we know about that could have been added. As well as the 10 minute version of ‘Heroes and Villains’ there’s a faster version of ‘With Me Tonight’, a rougher ‘Wonderful’ where Carl breaks off midway through to ‘get a glass of water’, ‘George fell into his French Horn’ (another annoying bit of chat but still funnier than the two that made the box set), ‘air’ (an unfinished piano piece), a longer version of ‘Child Is The Father Of The Man’, unknown songs titled ‘Crack The Whip’ ‘I Ran’ and ‘Inspiration’ (possibly sections of ‘Heroes and Villains’, ‘Do You Like Worms?’ with Brian’s original ‘demo’ vocal, two ‘other’ goes at arranging ‘Love To Say Dada’ that were abandoned along the way, ‘Whistle In’ (a song from ‘Smiley Smile’ that reportedly started life as a ‘Smile’ song and ‘When I Get Mad I Play The Drums’ – another Jasper Bailey track probably best left unheard. To be pedantic, there’s also snippets of the session tapes removed according to the transcriptions in the bootlegger’s bible ‘The Smile File’ (some of them expletives, but not all). There’s certainly enough for another CD or so – hmm it’ll be ‘Smile’s 50th anniversary in 2016, perhaps it’s being saved for then?!

Finally, the packaging might seem over-the-top to some non-fans – and yes the inclusion of everything on vinyl as well as CD means a) the set is more fragile b) you need to work out where to store it all and c) you’ve effectively bought everything twice (three times, given that ‘Heroes and Villains’ and ‘Vega-tables’ are both included as 7” singles. But if you’ve been waiting since 1967 for this album to come out (or even since the 1990s like me, when I first heard it on bootleg) than you’ll weep at the thought of seeing a full-blown vinyl-sized replica of the ‘full colour sketchbook look inside the mind of Brian Wilson’ packaging we know so well – the shop store-front selling fixed grins and the poster of the band with weird wavy lines across Brian’s forehead (a precursor for later things?) The new booklet is pretty exhaustive too, although I’d like to have seen the package done more like Rhino’s Monkees series, detailing where each track was recorded and how they fit into the ‘grand scheme’ of things. Overall, though, you can’t fault this set, which could have been done so sloppily and shamefully (especially given how Capitol treated the Beach Boys back in the 70s and 80s) and is instead guilty only of leaving too much in.  

So, overall, the end result of ‘Smile’ the box set is a bit like the end result of ‘Smile’ the ‘finished’ Brian Wilson version: frustration that music this good and so ahead of its time never had a chance to work as an album. Brian got so close to finishing his grand vision, so much closer than I think any of us expected until that solo version came out in 2003, that you end up thinking why did none of the other people involved push for those past two or three weeks to put it altogether and make it into an album rather than a myth It really would have changed the face of the earth had it come out in January 1967 as the Capitol Records advertisement included as a ‘hidden’ bonus track on this set confidently states. It’s so far ahead of the game that no other group would have been able to catch up and we’d now be talking about this album in the same breath as ‘Sgt Peppers’ and wondering what happened to that long-lost Beatles album Lennon and McCartney shelved in the summer of love. I weep for the fact that Smile got lost along, for the grief it caused The Beach Boys in general and Brian Wilson in particular and for the kicks they still get now from uneducated people who can’t see past the striped shirts and surfboards. The Beach Boys weren’t just at the head of the musical revolution of the 1960s, they were leading it: right up until the non-show of this album. How different things might have been with just a few more recording sessions in the bag. Even here, in unfinished form, ‘Smile’ sounds like an album so far ahead of it’s time that we still haven’t caught it up and might never do – a fascinating powerful majestic piece of work that’s still so slippery it still feels out of our reach, even after six hours of session tapes.

By the end, though, this unravelling of ‘Smile’ is, surprisingly for an album that famously wasn’t an album for nearly 40 years, less than the sum of its parts. There’s simply too much going on here it’s too easy to get overloaded and all too often passages of music are left frustratingly and tantalisingly unfinished. At least, though, we get the chance to hear all of this unedited – unlike certain Beatles Anthology projects I could mention! – with real events happening in real time, even if we don’t really quite understand what’s happening. A case in point is one of the ‘Heroes and Villains’ pieces (the part called the ‘fade’ although in truth it could be anything!), dropped for good reason but still interesting to hear for how wrong ‘Smile’ could go as well as how right. What you get is harmonica, bird song sound effects, ghostly wordless vocals and what sounds like a seagull with asthma playing a French Horn. It’s not pioneering, just weird and deservedly dropped from both the sessions band and Wilson solo versions of the album – and yet, nevertheless, its a fascinating piece of the jigsaw that got discarded along the way.

Brian got so near on disc 1 of the new set to pulling off the un-thinkable that along the way we come to believe that every single off-cut and outtake is worthy of merit, when in fact there’s a lot of work here not even up to the Beach Boys’ past work, never mind the majesty of Smile. Often, too, you get a take followed by a bit of chat that could indeed be highly interesting, only everyone’s talking at once so it’s hard to make anything out at all except noise. That’s what happens with outtake sets, of course, which feature music we weren’t actually meant to hear and all the ideas that got superseded when better ones come along, as well as the occasional rough-hewn gem that later got polished to the point where the idea disappeared. The difference with ‘Smile’ is that, effectively, this album is all one long outtake and so we don’t know ‘how’ to judge it or what the differences to the finished product are (unlike, say, Pet Sounds, where the slightest deviation in the ‘Sessions’ box set was a cause for celebration and recordings like the hitherto unheard vocal tag for ‘God Only Knows’ was such a surprise it blew a hole in the space-time continuum. Or something like that) none of it saw the light of day at the time. This set includes the bits that would undoubtedly have been discarded along the way and is so stop-starty that when matched against the one-phrase, ‘fills’ style approach of the writing its all too easy to lose the plot. Which is of course, the main reason why ‘Smile’ was never finished in the first place: with so many errant sections of, say, Heroes and Villains to fit together (30 or more, spread across the whole set) its a wonder Brian ever got as close as he did. Ultimately, though, truly tremendous as this stuff is to hear – and as much as I’ve been pushing to hear more of the Smile sessions – making this album even more cutpiece and, well, human and full of mistakes is not the way to go. Full marks to Capitol, then, for making the smaller version of the album available as a two-disc set because that’s where Smile sounds at its best as a semi-unified, coherent, all-encompassing piece of music  – the other three discs are by turns fascinating, exhilarating, exciting and teeth-grindingly boring, but they don’t offer the same feelings of revelations as the finished product. And that’s curious, because I definitely liked ‘Pet Sounds’ as an album more after hearing all the pieces of jigsaw fit together in the four disc sessions set from 1996 – and as we’ve said elsewhere on this website, ‘Smile’ beats ‘Pet Sounds’ on every single level and would have been hailed as Brian’s masterpiece over that album had he finished it, without doubt. It’s just such a fragile, intricate piece of music that pulling apart something that never truly got stitched together brings out all the holes in the work.

That said, there are pieces of music on both the two and five disc sets that are among the most poignant pieces of music ever heard. Fans think they know what a solo-piano Brian Wilson version of ‘Surf’s Up’ would sound like, thanks to in-concert performances in the 21st century and the use of one of the demos of the song for the second half of the ‘finished’ version released as the title track of ‘Surf’s Up’ in 1971. But even they don’t prepare you for hearing the full version of an alternate demo from 1966, when the song is fresh out of the oven and Brain is living every note, wailing his heart out in gorgeous falsetto as only he can. Equally, the outtakes of ‘Our Prayer’ are fascinating, with the Beach Boys effectively live in your living room and without the overdubs and edits of the finished version their first attempts at one of the most complex things they ever had to record are still breath-taking, extraordinary and heartfelt. Of course not everything works on this box set, but then why would it? Not everything recorded at any session works. On ‘Smile’ the sessions as well as ‘Smile’ the album, though, there’s enough here that’s revolutionary, other-worldly and a sheer listening delight to ensure you can put up with even the ‘psychedelic sounds’ chat with a smile. Our advice, though, is don’t sell your copy of the 2003 version to make room for this set – that version is in no way superseded even with the original tapes now out on official release and – dare I say it – the fact that this later version flows so much better makes it overall a much more listenable set.

Dealing with each song in turn, the sessions for ‘Our Prayer’ sound like the most fractious and discussed of all ‘Smile’ songs, heard here from two separate, fragmentary recording dates. That sounds odd given that this innocuous overture has now words (and therefore nothing for Mike Love to get hot under the collar about), but makes sense when you realise how difficult the song is. The six Beach Boys are singing a capella, not just without instruments but ‘without a net’ as Mike Love puts it on ‘Live In London’, and the band sound far less rehearsed here than elsewhere. They may well be the two most interesting tracks here, given the amount of conversation between each pass of each phrased in the song. There’s an intriguing dispute between Carl and Brian over whether they should continue with ‘Our Prayer’ or move on to ‘Wonderful’ (‘because we haven’t got another date booked until Thursday’) and between Brian and the rest of the band about whether this should be a ‘proper’ song or simply an un-named ‘intro’ to the album. Along the way Brian gets to ask if there any more hashish joints going round, questions whether the mike is picking up Mike (prompting Love to improvise a pretty good rock song), joshes with Al over the football accident where Brian gave a wrong call and the hapless Jardine got sat on by several hulking athletes and ended up with a broken leg (something Brian had been trying to make up for ever since) and what exactly the chord progression for the song is. The harmonies themselves, however, are beautiful, even with the odd understandable mistake. If a producer was working on this album now there’s no way he’s have six such contrasting and complex parts being sung at once, but that’s the magic of the whole Beach Boys blend and for all the objections raised here ‘Our Prayer’ is a perfect opener for the album, rooting the album in a timeless universe where Gregorian chants and psychedelia sit side by side, in an era that’s timeless rather than firmly rooted in 1967.  

‘Heroes and Villains’ is heard in 34 separate versions and yet ultimately none of them are as revealing as the ones for ‘Our Prayer’. Most of them are pretty close to the versions we’ve known and loved for years (notably the ‘Gee’ opening, strangely given its own track number on disc one), but others are more interesting. Best of all is probably the piano version Brian plays as track 20 – not the demo from ‘Endless Harmony’ which crops up elsewhere up on the set (and runs a few seconds longer) but Brian working out his accompaniment in the final recording and with a few bits and pieces left out of the final version, sadly. Even heard here, in basic form, ‘Heroes and Villains’ sounds so fresh, exciting and new here you can see why so much time was spent on this track alone. There’s also a great backing track to the main theme (track 3 on the second CD) which shows what a punchy rock and roll song this would have been without the tack piano, Western setting and sometimes goofball harmonies. A glockenspiel piece named here by Brian as ‘tag’ (and long known to bootleggers) is also pretty lovely and would have made for a fine end to the song had it been given a full ending instead of fading (as per the single) or cross-fading into ‘Do You Like Worms?’ (as per the 2003 version). The ‘Verse Remake’ (track 29) is also sufficiently different to the version we all know and love to be worth more than a few listens, even if its wobbly orchestral accompaniment was probably best being replaced. ‘All Day’ is a missing piece of ‘Heroes and Villains’ not even known to bootleg (which sounds suspiciously like ‘In Blue Hawaii’ to me), which is just a basic piano demo without words but still interesting to hear.  ‘Prelude To Fade’ is also heard here slower than on the album and its mix of harmonica and orchestra driving forward like some majestic Phil Spector arrangement is beautiful to behold. The ‘Children Were Raised’ section (track 34), heard here with just Brian and Mike’s vocals and a muted organ part also sounds like the psychedelic lullaby you wish you’d heard as a child, beautiful and mystifying at the same time. Like ‘Our Prayer’ it’s also fascinating to hear the band recording their backing harmonies in beautiful bursts lasting only a few seconds at a time, which would have been a nightmare to stitch back again. Listen out to track 10 of disc 2 in particular to hear Dennis of all people arguing with the engineer about the amount of tape that’s being wasted. Finally, how terrific to hear the full four-minute version of Brian’s demo incorporating ‘Heroes and Villains’ ‘Barnyard’ and ‘I’m In Great Shape’, with the elder Wilson and Van Dyke Parks gathered round the piano and reducing the complex intricate parts of Smile to the level of a hoe-down rag. Heard incomplete on ‘Endless Harmony’ (a 1998 Beach Boys outtakes set), its terrific to hear in context, with Brian breaking off from one song to another in his excitement and Van Dyke doing a great impression of a chicken. It’s for moments like these that the ‘Smile’ box set was made and it’s easy to see just why so many who worked on the project were haunted by its unfinished state for years.

Sometimes, though, hearing these short sections out of context just sounds daft. Track 15, labelled here as ‘whistling bridge’ is actually 80 seconds of the band going ‘dum dum dum dum dum’ over a swanee whistle. There’s also a minute of the band being animals, which makes perfect sense (well, based on Smile’s internal logic anyway) as part of the ‘missing’ 10 minute epic version of this song but heard here alone sounds like the band are having a ‘Beach Boys Party’ so oddball only they can understand it. Equally track 26 is two minutes of ‘dum-dum-dums’ – admittedly the best ‘dum dum dums’ in the business, but ridiculous to separate as a track in their own right . Even for ‘Smile’ there aren’t many times I’d choose to listen to that track again.  Along the way we also get a few disasters best left out of even the epic 10 minute version: ‘Intro’ (early version) is a noisy piece of avant garde with a glockenspiel and chimes being hit noisily while someone randomly hits the bottom notes of a piano. The aforementioned ‘Bag Of Tricks’ also has no musicality and sounds like Syd Barrett’s psychedelic end to ‘Bike’ from the first album without the contrasting song to go with it. ‘Organ Waltz’ (Track 30) is even worse, the ‘ghostly’ tag from Heroes and Villains played on a hammer horror organ and deep-throated piano very very badly. It’s somehow easier to imagine the mixed reception passing dignitaries had to this album’s sessions hearing tracks like these for the first time, when Brian really does seem to be messing around to no real purpose. The two ‘psychedelic sounds’ spoken word pieces are also just awful, the most audible evidence of great talent going to waste and getting egged on to hopelessness by all concerned. Given the beauty of the rest of ‘Smile’ (even the deliberately atonal ‘Fire’) its odd to hear such a bizarre sequence of tracks in the middle of sessions for such a great song.

Most worryingly of all, though, it seems that whoever compiled this disc has given up trying to make sense of it and bundled a load of stuff here that don’t fit. The weirdest casualty is the ‘mama Says’ portion of Vega-tables, heard here with an irritating off-key whistling part. I’m puzzled too as to why ‘Barnyard’ and ‘I’m In Great Shape’ get sequenced here – sure it features a similar rhythm to ‘Heroes’ but then so does about half the album – it really is a genuine song in its own right as you’ve already heard on disc one if you’re playing this set in order. The second half of ‘Waltz Organ’ is also clearly the intro to ‘Fire’ – why couldn’t they get in a fan to work on this project who knew such things, even if the band didn’t want to be involved?  Some parts great, some parts lousy, some parts just confusing, the second CD in the set is easily the worst in the box.

‘Do You Like Worms?’ is one of my personal favourites from ‘Smile’, a rollicking song whose strength lies in the contrasts, both between the laidback feel of the verses and the sudden musical sprints of aggression and juxtaposing the savage war and butchery of the colonisation of America with the current sedate lifestyle. ‘Worms’ – known as ‘Plymouth Rock Roll’ on the 2003 version – is pretty under-represented on ‘Smile’ given what an integral song it is to the whole concept. The five songs on disc 3 between them feature  various session run-throughs of the three distinct sections: the verses, the choruses and the spiky ‘Bicycle Rider’ chant that keeps cutting into the song. Of these, only the latter sounds that different and then only thanks to a fuzz bass part that didn’t make the final section. One of the last pieces to be started for ‘Smile’, it doesn’t sound that different to either the semi-finished version on disc one or the finished 2003 version and it’s a shame that the band only got as far as the backing vocals. Brian’s as in control as ever, barking out instructions to make his song sound better, but he sounds urgent and distracted here, as if he knows that it’s a now-or-never mission to get ‘Smile’ completed and time is running out.

‘Barnyard’ was another unfinished ‘Smile’ song that does nevertheless sound quite different here than compared to the 2003 one. The backing track – hidden away as track 4 on disc 2, in the middle of ‘Heroes and Villains’ – is a sprightly retro barn dance that sounds similar to the main verses of ‘Cabinessence’. Alas the Beach Boys’ ‘ooooooh’ harmonies are missing from this version, even though we know they were recorded and do indeed feature in the ‘finished’ version on disc one. Because a lead vocal was never recorded, what we get on disc one is Brian’s vocal from the demo, heard in a different tempo and a different key and somehow forced onto the track. A good try, but ultimately its the backing version, with the band on good form making up animal sound effects that’s the superior version here.

‘The Old Master Painter’ – aka ‘You Are My Sunshine’ – is heard in three different versions in total. The disc one version is pretty similar all around to the 2003 Brian solo one, just with the deeper tones of Dennis singing rather than his brother. The orchestral arrangement is the same, though, and can be heard without any vocals at all on disc 3 track 6 of the set and is one of the highlights for me, with the eerie long held note underpinning the song sounding more like something Pentangle would do than the Beach Boys. Again, though, the next track is clearly from ‘Heroes and Villains’ despite being listed as ‘My Only Sunshine Part 2’ – it has nothing to do with the painter in his art studio at all.

‘Cabinessence’ is a thrilling song and it was this one more than any other that I was looking forward to hearing being built up before our very ears. Alas the box set features just three versions with a noticeably tired-sounding Brian less in control than usual. It’s great to hear this majestic piece of work without the backing vocals, but that said we’ve already heard an edit of these three songs on the ‘Good Vibrations’ box set in 1993 and nice as it is to hear the outtakes for it, they don’t sound all that different to me. Divided into chorus, verse and tag, ‘cabinessence’ loses something when separated out in this way, without the sudden swirling aggressive mood changes that make this song about the early pioneers of America one of the best songs Brian ever wrote. Of these three, the tag is the most interesting, both because we get to hear the song past the point where it usually fades and because we get to hear a kettle drum roll that got edited out of the final version. It’s also a huge shame that none of the vocal sessions for this most complex of songs have been included, but then maybe they don’t exist anymore – certainly the Beach Boys version we think we know and love from ‘20/20’ is largely a 1969 re-recording (reproduced on disc one of this set), although some vocals were recorded in 1966 apparently.

‘Wonderful’ is always a, well, wonderful song to hear and the five versions here are some of the highlights of the set for me. The finished version isn’t all that different to the 2003 model, with Brian on lead and the backing vocals of ‘his’ version clearly modelled on the Beach Boys’ version here. The versions we hear on disc 3, though, are quite different, played at a faster tempo and with some interesting parts that didn’t make the final cut, such as a delicious trumpet part on ‘version one’ that got cut down to a single phrase on the final cut. The ‘second version’ is a much more basic tack piano arrangement that seems to be a demo rather than a proper go at a take, but so deliciously gorgeous is the song’s melody that even here in primitive form it sounds drop dead gorgeous. Alas that recording is ‘ruined’ by the second half: a nasally guide vocal from Carl and a curious ‘won’t you bop with me Henry?’ bass vocal from Dennis well known to bootleggers that does its best to ruin the mood (and should have been sequenced separately). Incidentally, Carl’s comment about ‘needing a glass of water, man’ have bee removed. The ‘mamamamamama’ humming (listed here as ‘tag’ and introduced by Mike for once, not Brian, showing how involved with this album he was) is another old friend that’s always good to hear, although I can never work out just where in ‘Wonderful’ it would have fitted (OK so it’s the tag, but where exactly in the lovely fade to ‘Look/Song For Children’ would it have gone?) Version 3 is Brian alone at the piano clearly still learning the song (and so I question whether this isn’t, in fact, the ‘first’ version whatever the tape box says) and less appealing than the tack piano one, although Mike pops up near the end for a fine wordless harmony part that shows what a great voice he has when he needs it.

‘Look’ aka ‘Song For Children’ was another last-minute recording for ‘Smile’ and is heard here only twice. The ‘finished’ version is basically the 2003 model without the vocals (it could well be that the lyrics weren’t finalised until the 21st century anyway) and not all that different. The version on disc 3 is subtly different, though, with a double time percussion part that seems a shame to lose (one of Smile’s more rhythmical and less melodic songs, it really gives the piece a drive here). Hearing that lovely trumpet part unadorned by vocals in the ‘quiet’ section is also one of this Smile set’s more unexpectedly brilliant moments, full of pathos and quiet strength just as the album’s about to reach it’s more shadowy, darker second half.

‘Child Is The Father Of The Man’ may well be the Beach Boys’ vocal demonstration piece par excellence and is another piece I was looking forward to hearing. Unfortunately, although the ‘finished’ version on disc 1 is stunning, even more so than on the 2003 album, the outtakes are both instrumental and therefore less interesting. We do get a few surprises though: I’ve long been waiting for my ‘bootleg’ version with the missing ‘middle eight’ to come out, with this quieter, more childish section of the song making for a much better contrast between the two ‘heavier’ parts that come between it. Putting it at the start, as the compilers have done here, makes almost as much sense, keeping the two tracks separate and giving it a kind of ‘ghostly overture’. One of the greatest and most involved arrangements you will ever hear, the disc one version of this song is one of the few that blows the 2003 re-make away and is as good as music ever ever gets. The horn part on ‘version 2’ is also quite different to the finished arrangement, sounding even more isolated and melancholic and heard here without the sweeping string part that rounds out the song. Alas version one, which features the main part of the song, promises much but delivers little, being forever broken up by little mistakes and never sounding as if it reaches a groove. Still, that’s nobodies fault – they didn’t know there would be a box set of this stuff released some 45 years on – but it’s a real shame that nothing from the vocal sessions seems to exist anymore.

‘Surf’s Up’ was recently voted the public’s favourite Beach Boys song in a Mojo poll and it’s hard not to argue – beautiful, graceful, autobiographical and oh so sad, this song conjures up so many Beach Boys qualities it’s pretty much the theme song of their ‘middle years’ as a progressive band. We’ve long known a band version of the song of course – Brian’s demo of the song from a Leonard Bernstein TV special was overdubbed by the band in Brian’s ‘bedbound’ days and became the title track of their 1971 ‘comeback’ album. We’ve long known that the original must exist and thankfully it does – although annoyingly for the ‘finished’ version on disc 1 the compilers of this set have chosen to overdub that solo version with the full backing track recorded at the session (they’ve also added occasional inserts from Carl from the later version, which don’t fit very well, plus some backing vocals which do). Thankfully the song goes back to Brain alone at his piano for the slower ‘dove nested towers’ section and it’s beautiful. The full version of that performance – added to disc 3 – is, though, less than the sum of its parts and the band really did choose the right section to keep complete for their re-make. Better still, disc one features a different solo piano recording of the song which has never been heard before and might well be the best thing on the entire set. Brian’s vocal is sumptuous, bringing out all the sadness and weariness of the song whilst still maintaining the uplifting, transformative chord changes. Heard here, in its original goose-pimple making state, ‘Surf’s Up’ is at its most haunting, fragile and marvellous. Disc 3, meanwhile, features sessions for the orchestral backing track. Shorn of the vocals, these all seem less revelatory than I’d expected and not all that different, although the ‘jewellery’ percussion is much louder than before. Annoyingly, though, the ‘Talking Horns’ section is yet more messing about (being similar but not the same as the infamous ‘George Fell Into His French Horn’ so beloved of bootlegs) and despite being recorded at the ‘Surf’s Up’ session has nothing to do with the song and should really be listed as something else.

‘I’m In Great Shape’ is heard out of sequence on disc 1 and, like ‘Barnyard’, features the demo laid on top of the brief backing track – a bad idea as the two don’t fit that well. What would have been better was to leave the backing track whole without the vocals – but alas that version doesn’t seem to have made it onto the box in its own right. What we do get is an outtake for the backing track as track 5 on disc 2 (listed as ‘Heroes and Villains’), heard slower and with more piano and less orchestra. This sweet little song deserves better, being the upbeat, side two opener that ‘Smile’ badly needs after getting clogged down with so much melancholy on side one. Ironically, of all the songs here ‘I’m In Great Shape’ is in the worst shape of all the ‘Smile’ songs!

‘I Wanna Be Around’ is another song that only ever got as far as the backing track, which is a shame: everyone who was privy to these sessions pre-2003 held up the ‘workshop’ fade of the song as evidence of how weird and wacky Brian supposedly became thanks to ‘Smile’. But as those of you who have read review no 101 will know, with the lyrics it becomes a terrific joke: ‘I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart in two’ (cue sawing!) Without the lyrics this jazz cocktail lounge piece sounds even more unfinished than most Smile pieces in the disc one version. The version on disc 3 is much weirder than anything we expected to hear, being a real jazz style improve, but chances are its the sound of the studio musicians wasting time (and tape) rather than a proper take because they proceed to play pretty much the same arrangement as the finished take straight after (which is still nice to hear without all the sound effects). If nothing else, though, it shows what a wide palette of styles this album came from. Personally, I’d have loved to have been there for the recording of the woodshop sound effects: Brian famously never told his musicians anything about the bigger picture and they were most puzzled as to why they were suddenly holding drills, saws and hammers instead of their proper instruments! Instead, what we get to close disc 3 (popping up unexpectedly after a few tracks of ‘Vega-tables’ in-between) is the complete woodshop segment without the music. Very nice, except, we Beach Boys already own this bit on the end of the album version of ‘Do It Again’ from ‘20/20’. And I’m still none the wiser as to why the band decided to put it there in 1969!

Next up is ‘Vega-tables’, one of Smile’s more surreal songs heard here predictably in a number of weird and wacky ways. The ‘finished’ disc one version is much more ‘out there’ than the 2003 one and features a number of sections left unused on the 2003 version. Both songs start the same way, with some comedy percussion over the simple opening (here sung by Mike with Brian). Somewhere round the middle the ‘Mama Says’ section comes in, as per the 2003 model but different to the laidback ‘Smiley Smile’ version (note – this is one song I actually prefer from that album, with a rhythm track of bass and sound effects and just the one clear verse and chorus ,making it much easier to follow!) The ‘Mama Says’ passage is played twice, the second time with off-key whistling and instead of reverting back to the verse goes straight into the tag. The song then effectively starts again, with the section re-used on the ‘Smiley Smile’ version, ends again and then ends up going through the ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba’ section used in the middle of ‘Smiley Smile’, getting ever more histrionic by the end with Brian doing some trumpet impressions in the fade! If all these sections really were intended for this long version then, well, there’s at least one too many. Much more likeable is Brian’s demo, previously unheard, which is a bonus disc on the first disc. As well as some much zanier backing vocals (which make the narrator sound like a put-upon butt of a joke instead of self-deprecating humour), this demo is notable for an unused second version which runs ‘Trip on a cornucopia, stripped the stuff green and I hope ya like me the most of all, my favourite vegetable’. And if that doesn’t sound like a long lost Van Dyke Parks phrase, then I don’t know what does!

Disc 3 contains a simple piano basic track, with the band chomping vegetables and giggling over the top of it – again, it sounds like an outtake from a later ‘Beach Boys Party’! The most interesting part of the track is a rare band argument over where each of the six members should stand (poor Al gets moved back and forth at the whim of Brian and Mike). There then engages perhaps  the most tired and grumpy sounding take of the whole set on a lifeless version of the ‘Mama Says’ health warning middle eight. Skipping on a couple of tracks there’s an even worse jam based round the main riff, which Mike Love quickly jumps on and mimics for its similarities to ‘Row your boat gently down the stream’. The band practice their deeper animal voice impressions (last heard on ‘Heroes and Villains’;) while Brian whistles carelessly over thew top – definitely one of Smile’s lesser moments.  Much easier on the ear is the full tag of the song, which runs an awful lot longer than on the disc one version, with the band’s harmonies now tight, focussed and double tracked in blissful widescreen stereo. Had this longer version made it to the record I might have enjoyed this song a lot more... Meanwhile, Brian’s gone back to wrestling with the grand finale, getting the band to practise their ‘dib-di-dibs’. There then follows one of the funniest moments on the set when we hear the band practising their vegetable munching and someone (Dennis?) ends up half-laughing, half-choking on their carrot/celery stick and brings events to an early close. Compared to the session for the backing vocals, the Beach Boys sounds really awake here and raring to go. Following this on disc 4 is a much more interesting session for the backing track, taken at a faster lick with a much more aggressive violin part and the main riff given over not to the singers but to a glockenspiel. Brian’s still not happy with the ending and gets the band to record their sweeping harmonies one last time to wrap up recording, with Carl offering a lovely solo lead before the rest of the band join in (possibly overdubbing their parts). Even heard here out of context as a vocal fragment, it still sounds wonderful. Lastly, you really don’t need to hear it but the end of disc 4 features an unused promo for the ‘Vega-tables’ track (intended as the second single from the album and a follow-up to ‘Heroes and Villains’). Brian tries to get his drummer Hal Blaine into the part of an angry farmer while Brian tries to steal his vegetables. The end result is meant to be funny (I think) but in the studio only leads to nervous laughter and probably won’t do much better for you listener sitting at home – Blaine is just too convincing telling off this ‘smart aleck punk’ off and if we didn’t know about the pair’s close friendship (Blaine was always the biggest supporter of Brian’s weirder stuff and was the first musician to put on a ‘fire’ helmet) you could read a lot into Brian’s character breakdown after hearing this word piece.

Moving swiftly on, ‘On A Holiday’ is another piece left as a backing track when Smile was abandoned in early 1967. Given that, there’s not really much the compilers of this set could do with it and there’s only the finished backing track on disc 1 and a tracking session on disc 4. The vocals aside, the changes between this version and the 2003 one are minimal, with the two so close I could easily believe they used the ‘Smile’ version for the latter. Even the tag to ‘Wind Chimes’ is complete, with some ghostly unfinished vocals added to the mix on the fade, suggesting that the running order to ‘Smile’ was a good part of the way there before the album sessions floundered. The session tapes mainly stick to the opening of the song, sadly, so we don’t get to hear any more of them and the piece sounds like it’s a very new one – so new that the usually reliable studio musicians sound lethargic and slow and frequently have to stop and get Brian to repeat ideas or play the song though on the piano (like all the piano demos for Smile, it still sounds pretty amazing and other-worldly heard plain like this).

‘Wind Chimes’ is one of the most hypnotic songs on ‘Smile’ and is heard here in four very different versions. The ‘finished’ version on disc one features Carl on the lead vocal and his version is much more confident, self-assured and, surprisingly, American than Brian’s take on the song. The song is slightly faster than the 2003 version too, which is a shame really: this is a playful, laidback song designed to draw you in and sounds more beautiful slow. There’s a longer instrumental middle section that lacks the sheer crunch power of the solo version too and the segue into ‘Fire’ isn’t such an enjoyable ride. In short, a disappointment, though I dare say Brian would have had the band back in the studio to do more work on this song had he had the time and strength to finish this album fully. Elsewhere on disc 4, there’s a fascinating alternate arrangement for the backing track, which features much louder finger-snapping percussion drenched in echo, a slightly slower tempo that really emphasises the slow awkward waddle of the melody and a much more grounded, earthly air. The tension built up near the end , with just the tack piano meeting the violin section head on, is exhilarating, more like a Pink Floyd build-up than a Beach Boys one and a shame to be left unheard under the vocals for all that time. The band have this song down much quicker than some of the other, more complex pieces on Smile, but Brian’s really struggling to get the tempo of the song right, getting them to play slower, then quicker, then somewhere in between to achieve what’s in his head (the final version is slightly faster than even the fastest version here, interestingly, suggesting Brian had to start all over again or sped the final tape up). Next up, there’s an intriguing ‘unplugged’ version of the song, with just the bass and xylophone parts that probably wasn’t meant to remain like this in the finished version (it’s probably a basic track meant to get overdubs at a later date), but succeeds quite nicely on its own, giving the song an eerie, hammer horror type vibe. The final version of the three ‘outtakes’ deals with the end of the song, from the moment when the song drops out up until the last loud wallop of drums. There’s yet more low piano bass rumbles (for the fourth time, all of which get taken out of ‘Smile’ for later versions), but this pass at getting the ending right isn’t that far from the finished version.

‘Fire’ aka ‘Mrs O’Leary’s Cow’ is a phenomenal track for it’s day and by far the creepiest moment on Smile, bringing its narrator to the depths of despair and communicating the creeping danger of a slow-burning fire perfectly in sound. Again, though, the 2003 version is much better played than this rather lack lustre performance, perhaps because this instrumental isn’t quite as revolutionary and unique as it would have seemed in 1966/67. The band flounder, with the violin section especially losing steam very quickly and the drummer misses the point of the song completely, going for slow thundery drumming rather than rat-a-tat-tat lightning bolts. The one way in which this version improves on the re-make is the band’s wordless harmony vocals, which are part of the later arrangement but only in the end – in this box set version the vocals are there throughout, which sounds like a good idea to me. The tracking sessions for the song are pretty un-interesting too, with the band not really getting what Brian’s trying to get them to do and playing the same thing oblivious of how many times he stops them and asks for another take. The sound of this recording doesn’t help either – one of the main reasons the 2003 model works so well is the clarity, with each instrument audibly wrapping themselves round the leg of the one next door; here the whole thing is just a sloppy aural mess. Legend has it that the album was shelved after this recording because Brian felt like he’d let something awful escape from his subconscious into the real world. On the basis of the scary 2003 version I could well believe it – but this original version simply doesn’t have that power or that fear factor. A second straight disappointment.

Things look up on the cooling waters of ‘In Blue Hawaii’, though – here given it’s original confusing title of ‘Love To Say Dada’. Disc one replicates the 2003 version pretty closely, just with rougher segue between the ‘Cool Cool Water’ passage and the rest of the song. As we said in review 101, the world went nuts for ‘Cool Cool Water’ when it was released on ‘Sunflower’ and heralded as their best song in years – ironically, it was only ever an opening fragment on ‘Smile’. Thankfully the Beach Boys got to finish this segment of the song and it sounds magnificent, like ‘Fire’ caught somewhere between serenity and confusion. Alas they only got as far as the backing vocals for the rest of the piece, so instead of sounding like the philosophical musings we know from 2003 it sounds like a funny little jaunt a bit out of place here. It still sounds marvellous though, with a very Brian Wilson mix of all sorts of sounds that have never been put together before: tack piano, drums, a pianola and woodstick percussion. Disc 4 features a fair few alternate versions of both of these pieces. First up is a very bare piano version of what we’ll call ‘Blue Hawaii’ (the 2nd half of the song), along with someone making percussive sounds with their mouth. The second version is barely any more developed than that, with the piano joined by what sounds like an early synth or possibly an organ varispeeded to sound a bit funny. What you notice from these two versions is how cleverly Brian manages to balance the song so that the ‘left hand’ (ie the deeper part) always contains the comedy and the ‘right hand’ (ie the higher parts) have a real seriousness and grace about them, with tragedy and comedy existing side by side. Alas both versions are quite short, unlike the next track, the tracking date for the second half of the song which appears to run for hours. Despite Brian stopping the tape over and over again I can’t hear the arrangement change all that much across the take, though the chat is particular interesting, with Brian doing an impression of an early morning TV presenter with his over accented announcement ‘Part 2 Take 2, Love To Say Dada!’ By take 4 the band still haven’t progressed that much, although there is a nice counterpoint phrase played by the woodwind section and later the brass which didn’t make the final cut, sadly (it might have got in the way of the vocal part a bit too much, although without the vocals it’s hard to tell). A final version of this second half is much more interesting, though, with the two pianos joined by a shrill piccolo part and what sounds like a steel guitar. Apparently these takes are in order as much as they can be, which suggests that this is an aborted re-make. It’s not half as lovely as the finished arrangement but it’s intriguing to hear.

‘Cool Cool Water’ is heard in three versions (for some reason listed as two tracks), the first with a drunk sounding Beach Boys trying to get the song together while Brian plays the tune on a piano. Carl takes the lead for this version and does a good job, though the other members of the band are either half-asleep or have been working too hard. Listen out for Dennis taking charge, asking for playbacks and trying to get everyone in the right frame of mind. A second version sounds much tighter, but the band are singing with clipped syllables compared to the finished version. Finally, a third take sees the backing band getting to grips with the backing and it’s much more different than the second half of the song. The arrangement still revolves around the piano, but this time there’s a sweet guitar part over the top. By the end of the song there’s one of the biggest surprises of the set, with an alternate vocal take added over the music and lasting for some considerable time longer. The chief differences are a lovely lilting held chord underneath the main vocals, which is so effective you wonder why it was ever taken out and a few little differences on the lines so that, for instance, Brian sings ‘wa-a-a-ter, aaah!’ instead of a plain ‘wa-ter’. One of the best things in the whole set and it’s a such a shame that what I consider to be one of Smile’s greatest lyrics was never recorded properly by the band.

Now for Smile’s grand finale, ‘Good Vibrations’. Despite the fact that the song only lasts three minutes and despite the fact that there’s a good hour of sessions already available across the ’30 Years Of Good Vibrations’ box set, the Pet Sounds box set and the Smiley Smile CD re-issue there’s a good hour’s worth on CD five that has never been heard before. First up, though, it’s a bit of a shame that just the single version was used for the end of CD one, the ‘proper’ Smile, as tales were legendary that a longer edit of the song was being prepared for the album. Sadly, it looks like that edit was never made although the 2003 version adds a few interesting odds and ends such as the ‘hon-me-doo’ section not present on the single. Of the 24 tracks on CD 5 only the first take of the backing track for Good Vibrations (fascinatingly looser and much more of an R and B song), track 21 (a terrific fast-paced section cut out of the finished master) and the first finished take (before Mike’s ideas were added, with a noticeably shrill Brian Wilson and some alternate lines such as ‘she’s already workin’ on my brain’) have been heard before and it’s probably a good decision to add those again for those who’ve not heard them before. The real meat of the song, though, comes from all the sections that were abandoned along the way (this song, like ‘Heroes and Villains’, was structured so that it could have gone literally anywhere and still joined back to the main song, although unlike ‘Heroes’ a full edit of ‘Vibrations’ has never been assembled).

Track 2 features a slightly slower, more built up version of the main riff as played by horns and later a jumpy organ part playing opposite a gruff harmonica, sounding not unlike the soundtrack for a 1960s American sitcom. It’s a privilege to hear and would have made a fine suspense-making section to the finished version. Track 6 features a whole riff that never made the final cut, sounding like a slowed down version of the main familiar riff, played here by flutes flying over the top of a percussion heavy track. This too would have made for a fantastic alternate arrangement and some bootlegger with more talent than me really needs to have a go at stitching these parts back together! Track 8 is similar to the early part of the track released as an extra on ‘Smiley Smile’, but without the piccolos on top – what it does have is a surging piano part and a much louder drum track that’s breathlessly exciting, even if the musicians seem to be having a hard time getting it right. Track 18 features the Theremin loud and clear, but the rest of the basic track sounds different, much looser and much more Victorian than before, as if the alien sounds of the future are cutting through not present day but our recent past. Track 20 is the peaceful middle section with the organ part now joined not by the vocals but a lot of rowdy percussion – like much of this song, it shouldn’t work but it does. Finally, track 22 is an alternate pass at editing the basic track of the song together for the backing take and features a few little differences covered up by the vocal parts, such as different moog phrases, a jew’s harp and some slightly different woodwind parts. Listen out too for the two tracks listed as ‘inspiration’ – with Brian going back to the piano to check his ideas are right and the whole band joining in with him. Track 24 is an oddity too, mixing the legendary first take with different words with the finished version and a few other oddities such as the garbled line ‘donchaknowI’mpickin’up’ before the chorus and ‘wellI’vetasted’em’ just after, not to mention the ‘hand-me-down’ ending not used till 2003. Presumably this was a first pass at trying to fit Mike’s ‘excitation’ lines into Brian’s original version that Brian didn’t like and so decided to record again from scratch. It certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact as the finished song and sounds exactly like two different songs being made to fit, but is great to hear all these years later. These are still the closest we’ve come to hearing a demo for ‘Good Vibrations’ and its, well, full of good vibrations shall we say, with the magic clearly there even in such a basic form.

Less interesting abound though, with moments like track 3 (the percussion track on it’s own and later joined by the tack piano), track 4 (a very lopsided mellotron/Theremin attempt that sounds very wrong), tracks 9 and 10 (the Theremin and a tambourine, seemingly played at half-speed), track 15 (a rather dated harmonica theme and some shamelessly basic drumming over the top of the familiar riff) and track 19 listed as ‘Persuasion’ but really the organ track from the middle of the song heard on it’s own, that really should have stayed in the vaults.   In other words, some of the discarded ideas were left behind for good reason, but it’s a shame that so many other great ideas never made it to the finished song (especially a longer ‘album’ version!) You have to say, though, this journey through an alternate universe filled with ‘Good Vibrations’ is a much more enjoyable ride than the one through ‘Heroes and Villains’ on disc 2. Personally I like ‘Heroes’ better as song, but it’s not as natural a spring board to other ideas as ‘Vibrations’ is (I’m always surprised the Grateful Dead didn’t do it, as they did a few Beach Boys songs over the years and this is right down their alley) and there are plenty of discarded sections here that would have made the song even stronger – whereas the extra parts on ‘Heroes and Villains’ might well have weakened it.

What’s most fascinating about these tracks, though, is how in control Brian is. When the session tapes for ‘Pet Sounds’ came out in 1996 fans were amazed at how confident and at times aggressive our favourite fragile songwriter could sound when he was in his element and determined to get the sounds from his head down on tape. The most illuminating sessions, though, have always been for ‘Good Vibrations’, not necessarily the best Beach Boys song but definitely the peak of Brian’s powers as a producer. With even more tapes released he sounds even more determined, fractious, explosive and charismatic than ever before. In fact that’s true of the whole set, which shows Brian’s skills off in such a great light that it’s hard to think of him reduced to his own bed unable to handle life just a few short weeks after the last recording date here (probably ‘Vega-tables’ and not ‘Mrs O’Learty’s Cow’ as popular opinion suggests.

Had Brian finished Smile he’d have been hailed as the biggest name of the 1960s and The Beach Boys would have been hailed as the quintessential band of the 1960s over and above The Beatles. He would have had one hell of a problem following ‘Smile’, however and that might have unlocked all sorts of problems instead, we’ll never know. What we do know is that ‘Smile’ isn’t some grand folly always designed to fall apart but a pioneering, challenging album that was so far ahead of its time it would have set music back years, the logical extension of both ‘Pet Sounds’ and The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’.  Goodness only know where music might have gone next in 1967 had this come out! We also know, thanks to this set, that the completion of ‘Smile’ isn’t just wishful thinking, but an entirely valid proposition given just how much time and effort went into this album. Five missing vocal tracks really isn’t that much to ask for and it’s so frustrating that no one involved took over where Brian left off, despite several aborted tracks to release ‘Smile’ properly in 1967, 1969 and 1972 (when it was actually advertised as part of a ‘double’ set with the ‘Holland’ album). How wonderful, though, that we fans who’ve kept the faith after so many years of low quality bootlegs and wondering how it all fits together get a chance to share with the rest of the world what potentially the greatest album in the world could have sounded like. Admittedly, if I’d been in charge of the set I’d have cut two CDs worth of material down easily and had a go at segueing the tracks into each other with more flow than this (not to mention putting everything back in what is now generally accepted as the ‘right’ order!) I’d have put the ‘long’ version of ‘Heroes and Villain’s back together too, the most shocking omission from what is otherwise as comprehensive set as you could wish for. But that’s just quibbling. Smile doesn’t in truth sound any better than I knew it already did sound and the new pieces that have come to light are interesting rather than life-changing. But, well, music this powerful, emotional, intellectual and beautiful deserves every re-release it can get. As in my review for 2003, when ‘Smile’ was finished at last after a 37 year wait, no wonder I’m smiling! Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫ (9/10).    

Other Beach Boys articles from this website you might be interested in reading: 

'Surfin' USA' (1963)

'Surfer Girl' (1963)

'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963)

'Shut Down Volume Two' (1964)

‘All Summer Long’ (1964)

'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964)

'Today' (1965)

'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965)

'Party!' (1965)

'Pet Sounds' (1966)

'Surf's Up' (1971)

’15 Big Ones’ (1976)

'Love You' (1977)

'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977)

'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977)

'M.I.U Album' (1978)

'L.A.Light Album' (1979)

'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980)

'The Beach Boys' (1985)

'Still Cruisin' (1989)

'Summer In Paradise' (1992)

'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo) (2004)

'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008)

'Smile Sessions' (band outtakes)(2011)

'That's Why God Made The Radio' (2012)

The Best Unreleased Beach Boys Recordings

A Complete (ish) Guide To The Beach Boys' Surviving TV Clips

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One 1962-86

Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1988-2014

Non-Album Songs Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Songs Part Two 1970-2012

Essay: The Beach Boys and The American Dream
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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