The Beach Boys: Smile
The Beach Boys‘ Pet Sounds is widely considered one of the greatest album’s of all time. It was voted the number 2 album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and the greatest album of all time by NME and the Times. The album was followed by Smiley Smile, an album that was under produced and critically panned upon its release. The main reason it was panned was because the actual follow up to Pet Sounds was supposed to be Smile. Smile was never released because the perfectionist, Brian Wilson had a mental breakdown during the album’s recording. Smile‘s session recordings finally see the light of day 44 years after their recording.
The idea of Smile has become something of legend: a psychedelic pop record that tells the story of America. Listening to it, it is apparent that the album is the type of beautiful train wreck that only someone teetering between genius and madness could possibly make.
“The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow)” begins like a derranged elementary school musical. Over a maniacal organ line is a general commotion of slide whistle, kazoo, train noises, and what sounds like ducks quacking. The commotion lasts for nearly a minute before the meat of the song starts. The meat of the song takes fire engine sirens and backs them with menacing tom drums. The song is admittedly incomplete which is evident in its lack of vocals. Even in its current state, it is a trip to listen to.
While “The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow)” may sound like a bad acid trip, there are many instances of lucidity on the album. The obvious examples are “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains,” both of which were completed and released as singles before the album was scraped. But even incomplete songs show a world of promise. The shining example is “Wonderful.” At just over two minutes, the track is obviously not finished but the majestic harmonies are the type of pop genius that the Beach Boys were constructing at the time. If the song had another minute or two added on, it would have made for a perfect single.
If we can agree that the quote-unquote album proper is a success, then the success of The Smile Sessions depends more on the extras thrown on the album. Tracks like the eight minute “Smile Backing Vocals Montage” seems a little over the top but does show the Beach Boys’ vocal precision. The six tracks of “Heroes and Villains” may also seem like a little much to casual listeners.
The Smile Sessions are not meant for the casual listeners; it is meant for rock historians who want to dig into one of rock’s greatest buried treasures. For rock historians, The Smile Sessions provide everything and more.
MP3: The Beach Boys “Wonderful”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl
The Beach Boys: Smile