Monday, 17 February 2014
The Beach Boys "Smiley Smile" (1967) (Album Review)
"I've been in this town so long that back in the city I've been taking for lost and gone and unknown for a long long time" "My children were raised, you know they suddenly rise, they started slow long ago, healthy wealthy and wise" "By the sea - that's where I'd build a pad in Hawaii!" "I'm picking up god vibrations, she's giving me ex-ci-ta-tions..." "Close my eyes, I know she's closer now, softly smile, I know she must be kind, it's there when I look in her eyes, she goes with me to a blossom world" "With me tonight, I know you're with me tonight, tonight I know you're with me tonight" "Hangin' down from my window, those are my wind chimes, on a warm afternoon you get hung up on wind chimes, though it's hard I try not to look at my wind chimes, now and then a tear rolls off my cheek..." "Wake up in the mornin' just to get all through the day, that sun can get so hot that you sweat your life away, but ah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh come the night time..." "She belongs there, left with her liberty, never known to an unbeliever, she laughs and stays in the one-one-wonderful" "She knew how to gather the forest when God reached out and moved her body, one golden locket, quite young, and loving her mother and father" "Farther down the path was a mystery, through the recess, the chalk and numbers, a boy bumped into her, won-won-wonderful" "Don't you think you're God-vibrations?" "Remember the day (day), remember the night (night), all day long, whistle in..."
The Beach Boys "Smiley Smile" (1967)
Heroes and Villains/Vegetables/Fall Breaks And Back To Winter/She's Goin' Bald/Little Pad//Good Vibrations/With Me Tonight/Wind Chimes/Gettin' Hungry/Wonderful/Whistle In
If ever a record is unique that record is 'Smiley Smile'. In fact, it might well be unique for any art form anywhere. Imagine if, following a breakdown, Michelangelo's junior partners had decided to repaint the Sistine Chapel as a cartoon. Or if Victor Fleming had shot 95% of 'Gone With The Wind' and passed it on to a colleague who re-cast it as a low budget black-and-white film noire. Or if Laurence Olivier had got bored of playing Hamlet and decided he'd rather play a comedy version of King Canute instead with the cast of the Old Vic doing most of the work. Because that's what happened: as we've seen before on this site at least twice (http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_06_29_archive.html and http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/news-views-and-music-issue-142-beach.html
) the biggest myth about 'Smile' was that Brian had no clue about how to put it all together and that all that was recorded was a handle of bits. That just isn't true: as 1990s bootlegs and then the 'Smile Sessions' set revealed The Beach Boys were only a few vocal overdubs and a few edits away from achieving their masterpiece. Had a series of events that we've already covered here twice not happened (Brian's cousin Mike Love hating the new songs - a bootleg version of him sarcastically 'narrating' 'Heroes and Villains', though sadly not officially released, is a hilarious new find from the 'Smile' tapes doing the rounds on Youtube; lyricist Van Dyke Parks was made to feel unwelcome and walked; The Beach Boys were in the process of suing Capitol Records for unpaid royalties, which saw them cut down the band's studio time and made them less willing to compromise on release dates) 'Smile' would almost certainly have been out for Christmas 1966. And whilst most of my fellow reviewers disagree with me about this, 'Smile' would almost certainly have been a huge hit and brought Brian's confidence back (it's much more in keeping with the mood of late 1966 than 'Pet Sounds' and the 'Americana' suite especially is bang on the money for a period when bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders were cashing in on the idea of an American heritage post-Merseybeat; not to mention the fact that there's nothing on the album any stranger than 'Good Vibrations', still the band's best-selling single by miles).
In a just world we'd have spent our reviews for the Beach Boy's late 1960s LPs going 'but of course you know all this already - it was a million seller' and talking up that forgotten Liverpool combo The Beatles, who could have taken the world by storm too had 'Sgt Peppers' not been seen as such an inferior version of 'Smile'. You're probably bored of hearing me say this by now, but 'Smile' isn't just a stronger-than-normal Beach Boys album but for me the greatest album ever made (well, 95% made) - it was pretty influential in Brian's cobbled-together and re-recorded 2004 state, so it would surely have launched a whole new path for music to take had it come out in 1966, meticulously crafted out of 'feels' rather than 1950s song structure and transformed pop and rock into classical music's arty younger brother, not his wild and partying little sister. 'Smile' was written at a time when Brian Wilson was so inspired that every nook and cranny of those songs (the ones that were finished anyway) are chock-full of carefully constructed detail and classy harmonies the Beach Boys never ever came close to matching again (and I say that as a fan who rates the band's post-Smile recordings higher than most people do). The trouble was, that much detail takes an awful lot of effort, discipline and confidence. Brian undoubtedly had the first two and almost got there through sheer willpower, but he lost on the third point when bandmates, friends, relatives and record company executives started telling him they liked 'Pet Sounds' more. Remember, though, hardly anyone had liked 'Pet Sounds' before release either (and for me it's too cautious, too full of its own importance to work as well as everyone thinks it does; 'Smile' comes with fun and laughter as well as tears and navel-gazing).
Sadly even a nervous breakdown didn't stop Capitol angling for more product after The Beach Boys missed their deadline (the fact the band was suing them at the time probably didn't help). Having given the Beach Boys a whole year since 'Pet Sounds' came out (an album, remember, that was a poor seller in most parts of the world) Capitol insisted that the band give them something. An attempt to assemble what was made of 'Smile' with a couple of bits missing fell apart quickly when a release date of June 1967 was temporarily given with Brian unwilling and unable to work on an album he now felt was 'doomed' (if you've read either of out two other 'Smile' reviews you'll know that recording the eerie 'Fire' suite the night before a building opposite to where the band were working burnt down is often seen as the point when Brian scared himself with his own music and backed away from it: the fact that 'Fire' was recorded some other key 'Smile' songs doesn't get in the way of the fact that this still unsettled him and gave him doubts about the suitability of the music, however much he ploughed on the following weeks). However the band had to do something or be in breach of contract and without any other real material bar a trio of songs Brian had been working on since his collapse (for therapy as much as work) decided to re-record the album from scratch. Instead of the West Coast's best session musicians, who'd worked together and with Brian for years, in came the Beach Boys themselves, for the most part untrained players who hadn't played on an album since 'Shut Down Vol 2' in early 1964. Instead of a studio with all the facilities they worked in Brian's converted kitchen (the studio wasn't ready when the band needed it so they 'borrowed' equipment and recorded 'Smiley Smile' as if it was a radio session done in one take, complete with Brian's empty swimming pool substituted for an echo chamber. Instead of an orchestra they had a moog synthesiser. Instead of endless studio hours to get things right, they had a few days. Instead of an idea how songs fitted together 'Smile' songs were largely created from memory and simplified, with a few new bits attached and the odd phrase from old songs created into launch-pads for new ones. And most importantly of all, instead of a leader everyone respected and trusted the Beach Boys were now working by themselves for the first time (Brian was around - he could hardly avoid the sessions as they were taking place in his kitchen! - but his interest was sporadic and Brian himself asked for Capitol to take his name off the 'producer's credit' and give to the whole band instead. Beach Boy writers Andrew Doe and John Tobler have the best take on the 'production' credit, saying 'this album wasn't produced, merely recorded').
No wonder, then, that 'Smiley Smile' is a confused and not always successful album. For Brian it must have been heartbreaking hearing the mini-symphonies he'd put so much care and time and love into transformed into simplistic silly pop songs. None of the re-recordings come anywhere close to capturing the spirit and courage of 'Smile' and to some extent this album is unnecessary now that the 'real' tapes for 'Smile' exist along with Brian's solo guide as to how it all (might have been) put together. The album is the equivalent of trying to make a new picture out of pieces that have been assembled from another jigsaw entirely, without any clue what was the picture on the box. No wonder, then, that the Beach Boys began to get such a bad reputation after this album and why 'Smiley Smile' was such a poor seller (although the band's no-show at the Monterey Pop Festival, which arguably they should have played anyway, and the rock world's new darling Jimi Hendrix's hopelessly smug and out-of-touch comments about the band being surfing Doris Days' didn't help their standing in 1967 much either). For years 'Smile' suffered from this same slight too, as if fans assumed that this music was from the sessions they'd been reading about for years - and if so was this collection of unfinished songs really what all the fuss had been about? True passionate monkeynuts fans knew better of course, thanks to the little nuggets of perfection that dripped out down the years ('Our Prayer' and 'Cabinessence' on '20/20' and the title track of 'Surf's Up'), but for many 'Smile' began to be seen as an album that never ever had a chance of working and which was impossible to link together. In short 'Smiley Smile' has a lot to answer for, all but putting Beach Boys fans off music that would have changed their lives a year earlier - but then without their leader and chief writer and with an album to make, what else could they do?
Legend has it that absolutely nothing was taken from the 'Smile' sessions, but as ever legend is wrong. 'Good Vibrations' and 'Heroes and Villains' are obvious exceptions, released as singles both before and after the period 'Smile' started to fall apart (I've always been curious as to why 'Heroes' - one of the most complex and hard-to-get songs from 'Smile' was released as a single; the comparatively low chart position didn't help morale much either). Actually many of the vocals for 'Heroes and Villains' were overdubbed later, but by a band with more ideas of where the vocals were meant to go and the decision to edit the song down from Smile's 10-minute original, while a shame, is well handled and understandable (Brian seemed to have intended a curious 'two-part' version of 'Heroes' for Smile's second single, split between the A and B sides). There's also the fadeout from 'Vegatables', which was borrowed wholesale from the middle of the original recording - even before I became something of a 'Smile' bore and learnt facts like this I had it pegged down as the album's strongest and most-together recording on the album.
Everything else is 'new'. 'Wind Chimes' 'Wonderful' and the vast majority of 'Vegetables' were re-recorded from scratch and the results are, erm, interesting. To take them in order the slinky 'Wind Chimes', the peaceful 'Air' section of a suite intended to depict all four elements crashes in like a stoned lullaby, losing the sophistication and grace of the original and sounding like far less of a 'proper' song without cooling the 'Fire' section that should have preceded it. 'Wonderful', a gorgeous Renaissance poem about growing up, full of longing and sighs, gets turned into something out of a Hammer Horror film complete with a new 'giggling' middle section that tries to turn the song into something simpler and earthier. 'Vegatables' is more successful, turned from an earnest over-produced comedy song into a hilarious 'unplugged' novelty record complete with sound effects and the best block harmonies on the album. There's also 'She's Goin' Bald', a Brian and Van Dyke song which started out life as the surprisingly political 'He Gives Speeches' during the 'Smile' sessions but was never finished. In Mike Love's hands it becomes a vaguely offensive song about alopecia that may or may not be laughing at his own bald spot or 'unravelling' the hard work of his cousin in favour of something the band's audience might understand better. While no classic in its unfinished original form, the new lyrics for this song are amongst the album's worst ideas. Had the 1966-era Brian Wilson heard it, 'She's Goin' Bald' would have broken his heart.
That leaves five new songs, mainly written by Brian and Mike post-Smile (still the only writers amongst the Beach Boys at this point, one Carl Wilson instrumental aside). All these songs possess the same kind of fragmentation and unusual structures of 'Smile' (Brian only re-learns how to write 'songs' rather than symphonies for the next album, the R and B-ish 'Wild Honey') but are actually closest in style to what The Beatles will release on 'Magical Mystery Tour' six months later: a slightly tougher and aggressive but still clearly psychedelic sound that's already pointing the way forward to the more dangerous and political musical world of 1968. 'Fall Breaks And Back To Winter' is generally seen as a horror, a noisy instrumental that recycles the melody of 'Fire' without the pizazz and replaces that song's eerie drone with a riff lifted directed from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. While clearly less structured and less well recorded than 'Smile' it's actually a neat addition to the album and proof that Brian's talents hadn't fully deserted him (not yet anyway - the mid 70s are Brian's darkest and least prolific period). As the only commentary on what happened to Brian (however obtusely), the title about realising hard times are arriving (and sounding like the antithesis of the summer fun the Beach Boys are known for) makes it a special song. 'Little Pad' is a Brian solo song that would have made a fine simple single-layer song but has been 'Smile'ised and treated as a sort of two minute song suite, with several parts that don't really go together. 'With Me Tonight' is the best of the new songs, a hypnotic chant that was originally recorded as louder and sunnier than the reflective feel it gets here which suits it nicely. 'Gettin' Hungry' is an early sign of the back-to-roots song on 'Wild Honey' and while it swings too wildly between sad and happy has a strong hook and features the best group recording on the album. Finally 'Whistle In' - possibly once part of 'Heroes and Villains' or 'Plymouth Rock' although I don't hear it myself - is a fragment, an example of one of Brian's 'feels' before he and Van Dyke turned it into a proper song; sweet as it is in truth there isn't enough of a 'song' here to make it worthy of the minute playing time.
A mixed bag then. Fans who'd heard tales from studio visitors about how wonderful 'Smile' sounded had a right to be unhappy with the state 'Smiley Smile' ended up in. Stoned giggling, weird lyrics, rule-breaking for it's own sake, lo-fi productions and simple lyrics about wind chimes and alopecia: if this was the bright new future people kept talking about then they could keep it, thankyou. We know now, of course, how gorgeous most of 'Smile' is, how pioneering and complex it is. We also know that 'Smile' has it's own internal logical structure to it that the rest of the Beach Boys clearly didn't understand: that th album is built up of 'sections' not 'songs' and the sudden lurches left or right of centre only make the album more interesting by delaying our road to the straight and narrow. Not one of Brian's and Van Dyke's songs for 'Smile' are over-written: despite trying to keep things simple every single track on 'Smiley Smile', whether re-written or written from scratch, is. Nothing on 'Smile' sounds like anything written before (and sadly because most of the world didn't get to hear it, 'Smile' sounds like nothing since) and that's a good thing: hearing the album is like hearing new doors opening on how music can be treated and where it can go. 'Smiley Smile' sounds like a lot of doors shutting, sounding like the sort of eccentric excessive overblown psychedelia everyone in 1977 used to laugh at for having been released in 1967. 'Smile' is timeless and could have been released at any time; 'Smiley Smile', for the most part, is as 1967 as kaftans, tie-dies and flowers in your hair. The irony in this is that, Brian aside, none of the band could be considered 'psychedelic' - and yet in re-writing Brian's music they felt they had to make it psychedelic. Had the Beach Boys re-written 'Surf's Up' to sound like 'California Girls' it might have made more sense (and sold more copies).
On the one hand, this album could easily have been an awful lot better. I understand why the Beach Boys didn't choose to simply stick out 'Smile' as it was - Brian couldn't have stood it and no one else had the insight to make the album (although a crawling 'come back, we love you really' phone-call to Van Dyke Parks might have done the trick had the bad swallowed their pride sufficiently). But Brian was such a workaholic there were oodles of unfinished song gathering dust the band could have used in addition to what made it onto the album. One of the most famous of all Beach Boys outtakes is 'Can't Wait Too Long', a moody lolloping chant that's been heard in separate edits by now (as a bonus track on the 'Smiley Smile/Wild Honey' CD, on the 'Hawthorne, CA' rarities set and the 'Made In California' box set). Most fans assume it was part of 'Smile' because it sounds like it should be, with full-on-glossy harmonies, an inventive song structure unlike anything else and a sophistication the rest of 'Smiley Smile' can't match. In fact, it was Brian's chief project post-Smile and, while unfinished, only needed, say, a guitar and vocal overdub from Carl and an engineer who knows how to edit to make it work (less emotionally attached to this song than 'Smile', Brian would have been more willing to give up this song than, say, 'Wonderful', a song that meant a lot to him). Songs like 'Barnyard' 'I'm In Great Shape' and the 'Bicycle Rider' chant of 'Heroes and Villains' (cut from this album version) were finished and stand-alone: much more so than 'Wind Chimes' anyway. The 'Smile Sessions' set reveals that both Carl and Dennis had works in progress that sounded interesting ('Tune X' and 'I Don't Know' respectively), which could have been worked on without having to upset Brian. Even 'You're Welcome', a 'Whistle-In' like fragment that was released as the B-side of 'Heroes and Villains' would have beefed the album out a little bit more. Failing that, why not release a ten minute edit of some of the unused sections from 'Good Vibrations' (a song that was even then the most popular thing the band had ever done); so far almost an hour of these have been released on various discs. Add in some of that lot with the best of this record and suddenly 'Smiley Smile' looks much more like a 'slam dunk' than a bunt' to quote a famous Carl Wilson phrase about this album. In short, the Beach Boys made things far too hard on themselves while making 'Smiley Smile' and there's a lot of other songs they could have given us without inflicting 'She's Goin' Bald' on a world waiting for 'Surf's Up' and 'Cabinessence'.
That said, in my case at least, 'Smiley Smile' did its job. This was the first Beach Boys LP I heard (as part of a double-set with 'Wild Honey') and far from putting me off it only piqued my interest to hear 'Smile' all the more (on it's own 'Smiley Smile' is pretty grim listening, but the potential for a great album is here in spades even if you knew nothing about 'Smile'). Capitol and probably the band knew no one would buy it or listen to it anyway, but they had to go through with 'Smiley Smile' both for appearances' sake and to keep their name alive (had the band been due to end their recording contract about here instead of 1969 when they'd found their feet again we might never have heard from them again). FRankly anything the Beach Boys released in 1966 would have done well, following the warmth shown the band after 'Pet Sounds'; by contrast anything they released in 1967 (even a finished 'Smile' like we had in 2004) would have gone down badly: the record market is fickle, the band's franchise had been tainted and the moment had passed. Given the circumstances behind the making of it I'm amazed 'Smiley Smile' isn't a lot lot worse. Given what the band normally do when left to their own devices without Brian (take your pick from *shudder* '15 Big Ones' 'MIU' 'Still Cruisin' 'Summer In Paradise' or the recent 'That's Why God Made The Radio', horrors all) and 'Smiley Smile' is a lot of fun and never less than interesting, capturing the glorious unpredictability of 'Smile' if not quite it's poignancy. Yes there are parts here that really really don't work ('It's too late mama, there's nothing upside your head!') and by the standards of Beach Boys albums that have gone before 'Smiley Smile' is rushed, confused, silly and insubstantial. But if you can engage with the off-the-wall humour and offer this troubled album a lot of understanding about its creation then 'Smiley Smile' actually puts even more of a smile on your face than the original 'Smile'. No, 'Smiley Smile' certainly isn't a slam dunk, but to keep the basketball analogy alive, some 47 years on the Beach Boys still win the game on penalties.
Please note by the way that many of these songs have already been covered during our review of Brian Wilson's solo version of 'Smile' (which you can visit at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_06_29_archive.html). However this being 'Smile' (or a version thereof) there's always plenty more to say about all the songs so without further ado...
'Heroes and Villains' opens the album with one of the easier journeys of the 'Smile' songs. This is effectively the 'single' version of the song, edited down from Brian's original intended 10 minute version (as collected on 'Smile Sessions') and from his original intentions of the single version (which would have been a seven minute edit split between both side of the record). As we said earlier, it's an odd choice for a single, probably chosen because it's about the closest of any of the 'Smile' songs to a 'pop' type tempo and with lots of glossy harmonies to match. As a song, however, it's strangely structured even for Smile: each line is more like an essay and causes even as strong a singer as Brian problems getting to the end of each line in one breath. At first it's a simple tale of the old West, a simpler age when - in our retrospective, movie-filled heads at least - there was a greater distinction between 'good' and 'evil'. Van Dyke's words are particularly clever here, full of puns galore and onomatopoeic phrases that help emphasise the fact that this is a song taken from films and other really visual media (most of the lyrics are well known to most Beach Boys but even the ones that aren't are worthy of attention: check out 'She's still dancing in the night unafraid of what a dude'll do in a town full of heroes and villains'. In this version of 'Heroes' the song then skips the 'In Cantina' section altogether (in which the town sheriff busts a load of dancers at a bordello and then - in the longest version of the song around - everyone starts making 'pig' noises. Seriously) and ends up on the plaintive section that throws forward to 'Wonderful' with it's theme of growing up ('My children were raised - you know they suddenly rise'). A clever edit, which is among the best decisions not taken by Brian the first time around (and repeated by him on his 20045 version) then cuts another section during the line 'healthy wealthy and...wise' (the missing section includes a tack piano part and a few na-na-na repeats of the song's main riff, which eventually - some three minutes later - end up in the same place). The song's near-closing piece is then sung a capella in gorgeous Beach Boys harmony and includes Mike Love singing a line that he hated and had big repercussions for Brian's confidence in the work ('Sunny Down Snuff I'm alright') which in this context clearly means simply 'the end of the day'. So ends a song on which a lot of the hooks for the layers for 'Smile' would have been created: to some of us, it's a masterpiece: a patchwork quilt of ideas so niftily sewn together by a constant stream of ideas that it's easy to get lost in and flow through right till the end (even the ten minute version, where at the point where things have gone as far as they can go even the pig noises make sense). To its detractors 'Heroes and Villains' is a silly song that loses it's main melody (and anything approaching a pop song) within the first thirty seconds and never quite arrives back at base (again, Mike Love's commentary on this song - apparently overdubbed with Brian's help amazingly, for 'future generations' to hear - is cruel but funny, this song 'zooming all the way to #10000 on this year's top 10000...we want to thank you all for coming and for throwing such nice objects at us!' Actually this 'failure' reached #7 in the UK and #12 in the US, which might not be up to the standards set by 'Good Vibrations' (#1 for six weeks) but isn't bad for such an un-supported, un-promoted, un-commercial song . One of those songs that put you off on first listens but which you'll come to adore if you hear it enough times and realise that it's not meant to sound like anything else ever created, releasing 'Heroes and Villains' as a single may be one of the worst decisions taken over 'Smile'. It's not meant to be a three-minute pop song, it doesn't work anything like as well heard in truncated form compared to the ten minute edit (even if whoever edited the song deserves a medal for keeping most of the song's spirit and verve intact for these three minutes) and yet in any form it's a brave, clever, gorgeously performed piece of music that's still under-rated to this day despite being Smile's second most famous song. A combination of 'heroes' (Brian and Van Dyke) and heroes (Capitol) means that 'Heroes and Villains' doesn't quite seem like it belongs her on the album though, Note, too, how over-produced this track sounds when the next run of 'Smiley Smile' songs come in, whereas on both the 2004 version (where it lurches into the settlers song 'Plymouth Rock') and the 'Smile Sessions' (where you can listen to a whole disc of sessions for the song) it sounds just right, the 'harbour' from which many of these songs go out to' sea' from.
Vegetables (or 'Vega-Tables' to give the song it's 'Smile' name) is the first of the album's re-recordings and easily the best. Inspired by Brian's short-lived love of healthy eating circa 1966 (when he 'escaped' from the pressures of making 'Smile' by working part-time at a health-food shop he bought), on 'Smile' this is the song that doesn't quite fit: the album's out and out comedy, it's not quite hilarious enough to stand up to repeated listening. Simpler than the rest of 'Smile', if quirkier than most of it, 'Vegatables' is a perfect fit for 'Smiley Smile' and has a nice easy hook so the band can remember how it goes. The other Beach Boys re-arrange this song to make it simpler still, substituting sound effects of pouring juice and munching carrots for a deliberately comical drum pattern (there are hardly any drums on the whole of 'Smiley Smile', with Dennis Wilson going through one of his periodic absences). The original famously features Paul McCartney munching a carrot of course - or at least that's how the story goes (good friends in 1966, Macca happened to be visiting the studio the day the Boys were working on this song and joined along in the munching' - he can't remember it today and claims in friend Barry Miles' biography that he didn't do it, although he did once much vegetables with Beach Boys fans the Super Furry Animals for their song 'Receptacle For The Respectable' in 2001). This version just features the band doing their best to mime chomping, although the final swirling ten seconds or so (after the false ending to the fade) is the one burst of genuine 'Smile' era recordings outside the two singles. What's curious is that this part of the song shouldn't be here: the song should end in full as you hear here (and dive into the xylophone of 'Look' or 'On A Holiday' or whatever we're calling this unfinished tune nowadays) and this section actually comes from the second verse. Impressively the middle section - which simply features the band singing 'de doo de dah' while chomping vegetables - is a post-Smile re-write that works really well, as does the backwards 'Table-Vega' they all sing somewhere round the middle of the song, very much in keeping with the wacky humour of the original. Needless to say the band's harmonies are exquisite throughout and without much of a backing track to distract us they actually sounds better here than during the earlier, more expensive, polished sessions despite not having Brian on hand to sing lead. All in all 'Vega-Tables' might be one of 'Smile's weaker tracks but some clever and fitting arrangements here mean it's one of 'Smiley Smile's best.
'Falls Breaks and Back To Winter' is one of the album's five 'new' songs but like the others it started life earlier. A less hectic version of 'Fire's eerie relentless wordless cry (which sounds remarkably like flames on the 'Smile' sessions), this is like seeing an adult film turned into a cartoon. Suddenly the sheer weirdness is meant to be funny rather than unsettling, with some mock-nature sounds (Mike Love doing a great impression of a cross between an owl and a frog and the sounds of a woodpecker thanks to tapping on wood and the 'Woody Woodpecker' theme cheekily recycled on a celeste). Without any lyrics it's hard to know what's going on here, but the 'Fall Breaks' title is a dead giveaway: if 'Fire' sounded inevitable and part of nature, sandwiched between 'air' and 'water' as part of the 'Elements Suite' on 'Smile', then this song is a reminder that bad things in life always follow good. Credited to Brian alone (although it might just be a Beach Boys re-arrangement of Brian's 'Fire'), it sounds like the elder Wilson is talking about himself here or possibly the band's career, as both were heading knowingly into darker days (the title is about as far away from the likes of 'California Girls' and 'Fun Fun Fun' as you're likely to get). The results don't quite work: without the sawing strings and rattling intense drums of 'Fire' there's no real drama here and the decision to re-cast this song as a 'comedy' doesn't really come off. That said, the melody is too pretty and inventive a one not to use and the song still makes strong use of the Beach Boys harmonies (indeed, this song sounds suspiciously like the 'Fire' vocals placed onto a new backing track here; notably Brian is louder than he is on the other 'new' songs - or was this from a rare moment of post-Smile togetherness for him?) Clearly a poor substitute for 'Fire' and yet still quite enjoyable and memorable in its own way, with The Beach Boys doing a good job of substituting for a full orchestra on limited instruments.
'She's Goin' Bald' is new song number two and not one of 'Smiley Smile's better ideas. As discussed, Brian's melody comes from an unfinished 'Smile' era song 'He Gives Speeches' (as heard on 'Smile Sessions') which, while hardly the greatest thing recorded for that album, is at least more interesting than what we get here. Mike Love - with Brian's help apparently - rewrites a rather dry song about a politician writing what people want to hear rather than what's on his mind and in his heart with a 'novelty' song about sudden baldness. Yeah, because that's really funny, especially for a song released in the 'summer of love' (although you could kindly look on this as Mike laughing about his own growing bald spot, in which case the relish with which he sings some of these lines is pretty funny). An amazingly-together sounding Brian sings this with Mike's interjections, narrating the story of a girl with thinning hair while the narrator, um, laughs at her. And it's then (only then?) that the song gets truly weird. The tape speeds up while Mike sings 'what a blow' (yep, the double entendre probably meant) and the other Beach Boys turn into giggling munchkins (this bit is generally reckoned to be a spoof of the Silhouettes' bizarrely popular 1958 hit 'Get A Job', better known now thanks to a Sha Na Na 'ironic' revival of the song that's even worse, although it's not all that similar). A poor edit then starts a new section when lost of multi-dubbed Mike Loves draw from the 'Western' style of 'Heroes and Villains' to narrate a tale of the poor un-named character going mad, sticking her fallen hair back on her head and 'grabbing all kinds of juice' to stick it back on with. The ending, where Mike solemnly narrates 'it's too late baby, there's nothing upside your head' while the rest of the band recite 'no more no more no more' like a chorus of doom, is either the album's single worst moment or the best (depending whose side you're on). A kind of parable into how you can't reverse aging or things that have happened (very zen, very 60s) seems to have been warped into a comedy song somewhere down the line. Whole this song clearly isn't meant to be vicious and is only a bit of 'fun' to fill up an album with anything the band can think of, the fact that the Beach Boys could have sung about anything and decided to laugh at a girl with baldness still makes me slightly uncomfortable. The melody is a strong one, however - if only the band had gone back to 'He Gives Speeches' I might have quite liked this song.
'Little Pad' is the one song that makes more sense after hearing 'Smile', not less. Like a 'sampler' of an album that doesn't actually appear on it but 'represents' it (Neil Young and Crazy Horse famously released 'Don't Spook The Horse' in 1990 so that reviewers wouldn't have to listen to the 'whole' of 'Ragged Glory' to understand it - and frankly this throwaway is better than 8/10ths of that record), this song has the 'settlers' theme of 'Plymouth Rock', the 'rustic cabin' feeling of 'Cabinessence' and the setting of 'Blue Hawaii'. Parts of the song are indeed beautiful: Carl's busking-with-ukelele is one of 'Smiley Smile's prettiest moments, laidback, mellow and deliberately not trying in the complete opposite way to most of 'Smile' and his earnest rejoinder ('By the sea that's where I'll build a pad in Hawaii') sounds ominous and regretful (like 'Blue Hawaii' in fact) without quite telling us why. However, without Brian on top form this two minute song suite sounds like a lot of leftovers stuck together with every cliché in the book (that Hawaiian phrase on a Hawaiian guitar - you'll know the one III mean if you play the song) and stoned giggling during the opening (if the band can't take this seriously why should we? Surely this isn't what they thought when Brian walked about 'Smile' putting a 'smile' on people's faces: it's an album where the only laughter is from the audience, not the singers). The band spoofing their own vocals on the opening verses is also dreadful, sounding much more forced even than the 'atmosphere' created for the 'Beach Boys Party' album. No, the best thing about this song is the lyrics - or should that be lyric? Because for all this album's many sections most of this song is taken up with angelic humming and giggling, leaving solely the earnest line above, which sounds alternately hopeful, regretful and downright miserable from verse to verse, as if The Beach Boys are reluctantly turning their backs on the sea (or possibly Brian's reservoir of inspiration, as this is a common metaphor with later Beach Boys songs) that has given them their career to date. Even a 'little pad' seems out of Brian's reach now, with only his giggling brothers, friends and cousin for company.
'Good Vibrations' comes next and in many ways I wish it didn't. Surely every Beach Boys fan who bought this album must have already bought the single? Hearing the one 'Smile' song that truly did get 100% finished and features one of the greatest single productions in musical history sandwiched between two stoned giggling throwaways simply shows the difference between 'Smile' and 'Smiley Smile' more than ever. Inspired by a meeting Brian had with his mum (where he asked why their next door neighbour's dog only barked at certain people and she replied they picked up on people's 'vibrations'), this is arguably the best Brian-and-Mike collaboration of them all, the former providing the edgier, more poetic lyrics and the 'woozy' quality of the melody and the latter the catchy singalong chorus. A mystical boy-meets-girl song, 'Good Vibrations' manages to be both accessible and gloriously weird, complete with inventive use of a theremin (until now only ever heard on horror movie soundtracks) and a backing track made up of so many edits it's a wonder the tape didn't break (some 300 hours were spent on the backing tracks for this song alone, split between two different studios with very different sounds that had to be 'altered' during mixing). What with ten minutes of session tapes released on the 'Smiley Smile' CD (including the glorious low-key first take, which is a joy in itself even without all the studio trickery, inferior lyrics and the ex-ci-tations bit ), another ten minutes on the '30 Years of Good Vibrations' set and over an hour on the 'Smile Sessions' box set we 21st century Beach Boys scholars are only now realising what a tremendous amount of work went into this song. Famously voted 'Mojo's greatest single ever made' around the millennium (Brian's predicatable response: 'don't be daft - 'Be My Baby' should have won!'), 'Good Vibrations' manages that rare feat of being pioneering and genuinely different from anything that's gone before it and accessible and relatable enough for people to genuinely to take to their hearts. Before I start lapsing into too many eulogies right now, though, bear in mind a) this song has no right to appear on the 'Smiley Smile' album (where it sounds woefully out of place, like a low budget black and white film suddenly turning Technicolor and blowing all its effect budget inside three-and-a-half minutes for no apparent reason!) and as the ending (or so we think?...) to 'Smile' sounds merely ordinary amongst all the gems on that record...
'With Me Tonight' is back to the understated feel of 'Smiley Smile', although it's only a comedown sound-wise. Yes this song is merely another chant, with the title phrase sung over and over and the Beach Boys sing for the most part a capella, with only an organ chant near the end. But oh what a chant: the melody line is pure Brian Wilson magic, the way the band stretch it to sound like it has so many different shades and meanings is clever stuff, the lyric 'With me tonight, I know you're with me tonight') is by turns happy and sad and the sudden switch to a minor key near the song's end while the organ builds up chord by chord - building up the tension superbly - is a masterstroke of composition. The 'Smile' original, unfinished by most accounts, is actually worse than on 'Smiley Smile': Brian is too loud, too brash, too confident for this sweet little song (what a difference that year makes...) and the noisy backing behind just gets in the way. No this song is hardly in the league of the Beach Boys big guns: it's no 'California Girls' never mind Smile master-classes like 'Surf's Up' or even 'Child Is The Father Of The Man' (a similar song built on one simple phrase). But the Beach Boys really do make the most out of the little they've got to go on here and had the rest of 'Smiley Smile' been more like this song and less like 'She's Goin' Bald' it would be better loved by fans then and now. That's Brian's 'assistant' Arnie Geller saying 'good' in the middle of the first verse by the way - if the Beach Boys were recording and engineer Chuck Brivell was busy they probably needed someone to man the board and left it on as a 'joke'/'tribute' (delete where applicable).
The new arrangement of 'Wind Chimes' is rather odd. Many of the 'Smiley Smile' recordings have taken what's half-remembered from 'Smile' and made them both low budget and more like 'proper' songs, which is understandable given the circumstances. 'Wind Chimes' is one of the songs you thought would have been changed the least: as part of 'Smile' it's the happy, snappy, silly song that alternates cuteness and edginess (the 'bah-bah-bah' riff is by far the best bit of the song, so it's a great shame it's missing from this version of 'Wind Chimes'). On 'Smiley Smile', however, the sunshine has gone, replaced by a creepy horror film vibe full of eerie laughs, mock angelic falsetto and an organ part that sounds like it belongs to an evil jack-in-the-box. If you play this song back to back with the 'Smile' version of the song the only bit that sounds the same is the fade, which on 'Smile' ismuch longer and much happier. With Brian making a rare appearance at the start of the song and leading the falsettos, is this his new arrangement, a re-visitation of the song now that his head is in a darker place? You see, as part of 'Smile' 'Wind Chimes' is a calming balm that comes between the whimsical 'On A Holiday' and the pulsating, angry 'Fire', a hymn to the wind and nature (and the sudden gusts of inspiration?) that's playful and serene. The 'Smiley Smile' version is a storm, a tempest that most of the song is spent waiting for before suddenly arriving in a sea of slashing concertina chords and vocal 'popping' noises 1:28 in. Is this Brian's comment on how inspiration has let him down? How the 'winds of change' have left him in a darker place? Or was 'Wind Chimes' - already a simple song - easier to re-create in this way? Listen out for Dennis popping up on the vocals by the way (that's him doing the really deep and sarcastic sounding 'ting-a-ling' near the song's end), on his only appearance on the album from what I can hear (suggesting this song was done either at the beginning or end of the album sessions). In all, this is a lesson in how not to arrange what should have been a gorgeous song and one of the album's lesser moments.
'Gettin' Hungry' is the fourth of the five completely 'new' songs and musically sounds as if it should belong on 'Wild Honey'. A simple R and B 'groove' song about, well, lust really with a very un-Beach Boys like lyric about the narrator 'sweating' throughout the day at work before going on the prowl and 'searchin' for a pretty girl' at night. The stop-start structure of the song is simple but clever and features easily Mike's best work on the album on the verses although Brian still steals the show on the chorus. Interestingly this is the first real appearance of a long-running Brian Wilson theme of 'night' in his songs, always depicting them as a time of delight when he's free to 'be himself' without the pressure and deadlines of the day ('Night-Time' from his first solo 'Brian Wilson' in 1988 is the most obvious example, although there are many more). Here, of course, night-time is simply when the women are available and, err, 'free' but the theme still comes across for the first time here. With the other Beach Boys' involvement reduced and a louder than normal backing track (which sounds much fuller than simply bass and keyboards and some curious rattled percussion, which may well be drink cans rattled in Brian's echoey swimming pool), earthier lyrics and the huge contrast between sections, the band must have really enjoyed working on this song as it's the template for most of their work for the rest of the 1960s. 'Gettin' Hungry' isn't the best song on these sort of lines (that's either 'Wild Honey' itself, 'Thing Or Two' or 'Darlin', everyone's favourite song off the next record) but it's still infectiously joyful and Brian's confident delivery is a joy to behold. The catchiest and most 'mainstream' song on the record, Capitol naturally chose to release this song as a single; bizarrely it wasn't credited to The Beach Boys but 'Brian & Mike' with the rather odd Everly Brothers cover 'Devoted To You' from the 'Party' album a full year earlier as the B-side. No, I don't understand that one either. 'Gettin Hungry' couldn't be less like the ethereal, poetic 'Smile' if it tried, but perhaps - for this one song at least - that's a good thing, The Beach Boys having gone about as far in that direction as they can go and going back to their R and B 'roots' a full year before their peers and competitors did.
The re-working of 'Wonderful' is a curio too, for what is and isn't there. The version heard on 'Smile' is downright gorgeous: van Dyke's punning lyrics on growing up manage to be both clever and emotional, following the course of a young girl's journey from being happy and carefree with her parents to embarking on an often complex but ultimately satisfying journey into an adult and becoming a mother herself. Brian's gorgeous, sighing melody may be one of the most special he ever wrote, with the 'one-one-wonderful' chorus alternating between rosy perfection and worried sarcasm. Frankly, music doesn't get any better than this. The 'Smiley Smile' version is both less commercial (which surely wasn't the idea behind this album) and in it's own way more complicated: the flowing sections get interrupted every now and then for sudden sideways journeys that come out of nowhere and it's the 'Smiley Smile' not 'Smile' version that features the un-necessary excesses of a children's choir. Of course, the song is too clever and too moving to be totally killed by this r-recording and most of the magic still remains, even if Carl insists on slurring his words and adding mocking whispers that really don't fit the song and the Beach Boys harmonies are severely under-used. The jury's still out as to whether the one totally new sequence - the 'Barbara Ann' type humming in the middle while all the band speak over the top in a 'Beach Boys Party!' kind of a way - is a good idea or not, but it is at least ear-catching. Most of the 'chatter' is unintelligible but if you listen carefully you can just make out Brian mocking himself with the line 'Don't you think you're God?....Vibrations!' punning on his most famous work, while other members of the band jokily add words like 'Vibrate!' 'Go For A Ride' and 'Cool It!' The result is a recording of a song that couldn't be more tied down to 1967 if it came with a 'peace' button badge and in bright vibrant colours - which would be all well and good if the original 'Wonderful' hadn't been so timeless and so unique in truth it sounds like it could have been recorded at any time. An odd way to record a masterpiece, but the original is so strong it just about survives the assault and, indeed, might well be the best thing on the album even if no one involved quite knows what they're doing. Do me a favour, though - listen to the 'Smile' version and save this 'Smiley Smile' version to listen to only for comparison's sake!
The album then closes with 'Whistle In', which starts with a promising opening line and everything back in place: complex Beach Boys chanting, a catchy tune and a feeling of joy unusual for this record. Only by the second time round it's hit you: this isn't a promising first line, it's the whole of the song and even The Beach Boys can't make twelve straight repeats of the same line, without anything extra, interesting. This is surely a good example of what Brian Wilson called his 'feels': little sections of feeling that didn't suggest a full song but, collected together with sympathetic bits and pieces, could be turned into one. By mid 1967 though, Brian was too far gone and had worked too hard to turn this promising fragment into a masterpiece and a fragment it remained. There are several similar examples of 'half-songs' like this in the band's catalogue ('You're Welcome' and 'Meant For You', too, that both end before they get going) but 'Whistle In' may be the purest form. It's also the most frustratingly because it could easily have been a song and the launching pad for all sorts of directions for the 'second line' (not even a second verse!) The en mass whistling is pretty good too, by the way, with everyone but Mike (providing the bass line) whistling along. Some say that this song is taken from 'Plymouth Rock' - that's true so far as it goes, but that passage of the song was an instrumental line that was part of a much bigger song and didn't have any words put to it (or so we think...) An odd, insubstantial but still pretty conclusion to 'Smiley Smile', 'Whistle In' does a good job at summing up the album itself.
'Smiley Smile', then, is no 'Smile'. It isn't even a 'Wild Honey' or a 'Friends' - the names of the next two records recorded simply and quickly by a band badly missing their 'leader', just like this one. But 'Smiley Smile' does have a certain charm all of it's own which even 'Smile' wouldn't have possessed, a kind of do-it-yourself gruffness that makes the slightly more airy fairy ideas from 'Smile' sound even more appealing. Of course it's not as good: no low budget re-recording of a masterpiece without even the full involvement of the only man who knew what was going on with the project could ever be. 'Smiley Smile' doesn't even do the next best thing and re-record 'Smile' as closely as possible to the original but on a smaller budget and in truth some of the re-arrangements here are dodgy at best, sacrilege at worst. None of the five new songs can in any way match the brilliance of those leftover 'Smile' tracks either and are evidence of how much lower everyone's sights were being set after mid 1966 (when, following 'Good Vibrations', the Beach Boys were outselling and out-impressing even The Beatles) compared to 1967 (when the Beach Boys couldn't get arrested - or at least, only by the fashion police). Understandably when this album came out - after almost a year of being told how wonderful 'Smile' sounded, most fans considered this album as 'rubbish' and were either angry or sad or both. Time has healed this album to some extent, though. A period piece in a way no other Beach Boys album had been since the early 'surfing' days, 'Smiley Smile' makes a lot more sense now that we know the back story behind 'Smile' and in the modern era of 'demos' and 'rarities' sets this album makes a lot more sense. If The Beach Boys couldn't give us 'Smile' then, well, the likes of 'She's Goin' Bald' and 'Whistle In' are no substitute in truth. But for a snapshot of a time when it seemed The Beach Boys were over, their lead writer singer and producer had all but retired to bed and the band were struggling to come to terms with a low budget money-making hurried re-recording of an album made for no other reason than artistic integrity and love, then 'Smiley Smile' is unbeatable. It could (and should) have been better, but might well have been worse too. Don't do what everyone did in 1967 and treat it as a 'proper' Beach Boys album. 'Smiley Smile' is an oddball that in some ways is even more deserving of your time given the circumstances behind it and in other ways less, most likely forgotten by the band the minute they finished recording it in some instances. But even if it's a dwarf compared to the giant it should have been, a grotesque cartoon of what should have been a glorious canvas print and a Robin Reliant cobbled together with parts from Rolls Royces and Bentleys, 'Smiley Smile' has a grace, a charisma and a sound all of it's own. Overall rating - 5/10.
Other Beach Boys reviews from this site you might be interested in:
'Surfin' Safari' (1962) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/news-views-and-music-issue-28-beach.html
'Surfin' USA' (1963)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-beach-boys-surfin-usa-1963.html
‘All Summer Long’ (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-beach-boys-all-summer-long-1964.html
'Beach Boys Christmas' (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/news-views-and-music-issue-17-beach.html
'Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!!!!!!) (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/news-views-and-music-issue-65-beach.html
'Wild Honey' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-115-beach.html
'Friends' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-21-beach-boys-friends-1968.html
'20/20' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/news-views-and-music-issue-84-beach.html
'Sunflower' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-36-beach-boys-sunflower-1970.html
‘Carl and the Passions – So Tough’ (1971) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-beach-boys-carl-and-passions-so.html
'Holland' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-55-beach-boys-holland-1973.html
'Pacific Ocean Blue' (Dennis Wilson solo) (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-97-dennis.html
'Merry Xmas From The Beach Boys!' (Unreleased) (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/news-views-and-music-issue-126-merry.html
'L.A.Light Album' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-75-beach-boys-la-light-album.html
'Keeping The Summer Alive' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-beach-boys-keeping-summer-alive-1980.html
'Smile' (Brian Wilson solo)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_06_29_archive.html
'That Lucky Old Sun' (Brian Wilson solo) (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/news-views-and-music-issue-55-brian.html
'Smile Sessions (band outtakes)(2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/news-views-and-music-issue-142-beach.html