The Smile Sessions

The Beach Boys

It's hard to talk about the Beach Boys' Smile, their legendary unreleased album, without citing the irony in the title. That's because Brian Wilson's "teenage symphony to God" was met with trepidation by the Beach Boys and, according to Wilson, sheer nastiness from singer Mike Love. Wilson even said in an interview that one of the reasons Smile was not released was because "Mike didn't like it..." making the album's chief architects — Wilson and Van Dyke Parks — rather unhappy. So unhappy that Parks hit the road, and the record was shelved to collect dust and amass curiosity.

In 2004, Wilson and Parks returned to Smile, completing and performing it live with help from the Wondermints to critical acclaim. Then they recorded the new version in the studio and released it - again to great critical acclaim and all without the Beach Boys. In fact, when Wilson redid "Good Vibrations," he further distanced himself from the group he co-founded by using Tony Asher's lyrics instead of Mike Love's. Between that and the Grammy the album picked up, Love was so pissed off he tried to sue Wilson for damages. The case was thrown out.

Seven years later, tensions have thawed and the possibility of a Love, Wilson and Al Jardine - the three surviving Beach Boys — reunion seems as likely as ever (at press time). Best of all, the original 1966-67 recordings of Smile have been bundled together for The Smile Sessions, a five-CD box set. The first disc is a semi-complete version of the original Smile with a few extras, while the remaining discs include multiple takes of most of the songs with even more extras. In the case of "Heroes And Villains," there are 35 sections that nearly fill a CD.

At the heart of it is the great unreleased album finally exposed publicly (which is in no way disrespectful to the countless, carefully stitched together bootlegs that have flooded the underground for four decades). The song order listed on the back cover was the intention, but the actual playlist is a little different. "Heroes And Villains" is the first highlight and an ongoing theme throughout. But really, hearing Carl Wilson's angelic voice on "Cabin Essence," "Wonderful" and "Wind Chimes" is what gives Smile that Beach Boys sound.

"Love To Say Dada" and "Good Vibrations" are two songs that Mike Love probably likes - after all he sings on both and regains a songwriting credit on the latter. Making the whole thing flow with incidental maneuvering, clever arrangements, top-notch musicians and the rich vocal harmonies, it was and will always be Brian Wilson's baby. He didn't really need the Beach Boys to make it work, but he wanted it to be a Beach Boys album.

It took years of therapy and reassertion of Wilson's musical skills to bring Smile back to life. After the 2004 reboot earned kudos worldwide, and The Smile Sessions earning even more, Smile can rightfully take its place among the classics. Even if "Mike didn't like it" then, he can't turn away from the prestige and power of Smile now.

~ Shawn Perry

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