Monday, 24 February 2014


The Beach Boys Smile album was recorded by Brian Wilson in 1966/67 and scheduled to be the follow up to Pet Sounds. It was shelved and the release cancelled due to Brian's deteriorating mental health and escalating drug problems that cumulated in several nervous breakdowns and a lengthy hiatus from recording music.

A handful of the tracks were re-recorded by the remaining Beach Boys and released as mini album Smiley Smile but these versions were vastly different to the arrangements Wilson had recorded and the only tracks that surfaced anywhere close to their Smile incarnations were the singles Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains and a few tracks that turned up on subsequent Beach Boy albums, notably the majestical Surfs Up.

It took 35 years for Wilson to finally rid himself of his demons and return to an album that he had once thought was cursed. In 2004 after extensive rehab he recorded and released a new version of the record called Brian Wilson Presents Smile. This was then used as a template for how all the pieces went together and an album compiled from the original recordings was finally released in 2011 along with a plethora of outtakes and alternate elements. It's a fascinating listen, especially the compilation of backing vocals that show just what a rich bed of sounds and textures the group were capable of producing before any instruments were added.

A major catalyst for the abandonment of the project was the lukewarm reception given to the single version of Heroes and Villains that was released as a taster for the album but failed to match the success of Good Vibrations, released the previous year. Heroes and Villains is the centerpiece of Smile, recurring motifs and hooks from the song cropping up throughout the album. Although based on a simple three chord structure the song has one of the most complicated arrangements of any modern pop song. It's crazy to think that Brian Wilson was only 25 when he wrote it and partially deaf in one ear.

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