Sunday, March 20, 2011

Look! Listen! Vibrate! COMPiLE! Last Call For SMiLE Nerds!

Well, the unthinkable is being thought, the unspeakable is being spoken, and the unimaginable is being imagined -- The Beach Boys' legendary SMiLE album is finally being released, 44 years after being shelved by damaged mastermind Brian Wilson in 1967. The news was first leaked by a loose-lipped Al Jardine, who, in an amazing coincidence unprecedented in the annals of public relations, was trying to drum up interest in his solo album. After the inevitable Internet firestorm (heh, "Fire"...), Al tried to throw some cold water on it, but it surprised almost no one when the news became official on March 11th:

Read the announcement made on Billboard's website and the accompanying interview with Beach Boys engineer and compiler extraordinaire Mark Linett.

Three days later, the news became even more official, with a press release posted to Brian Wilson's website. If you're a SMiLE fan, or a Beach Boys fan, or a fan of 1960s pop in general, go to those links and read up on "The Smile Sessions," which has the potential to be a genuine "holy grail" release for a sizeable cadre of fanatics. But this post isn't about that.

The front cover of my SMiLE CD

I'm here to talk about how this affects ME -- namely, the possibility that the "finished" version of SMiLE that I labored over for a year or more might become obsolete. I'm not alone in this fear-slash-joy -- making your own SMiLE is a rite of passage for SMiLE fans, and hundreds (if not thousands) of them have done the same, stitching together the pieces (either officially released or from bootlegs) into something they consider a "complete" SMiLE. Friendly debates raged on message boards -- whether "Surf's Up" should have been the final track, whether there was ever really going to be an "Elements" suite of songs, whether each album side would be a continuous collage of music or traditionally banded individual tracks, whether "Good Vibrations" belonged on it at all, etc. Scans of hand-written notes and tape boxes and record company memorandums were kept at the ready as evidence.

It's all in good fun, but for better or worse the fun will end -- or, rather, CHANGE -- when "The Smile Sessions" is released (hopefully) sometime this year. Part of the beauty of SMiLE is that it WAS unfinished -- so we could mold it in our own images, as it were. Homemade SMiLEs were like snowflakes -- no two were alike, and I think we liked it that way. It made SMiLE into something organic and alive, ever-evolving. Disc One of "The Smile Sessions" will attempt to end the debate, and present the most complete version of the 1966/67 SMiLE possible with the tapes they have been able to recover from the project. (Several reels are known to be lost, but who knows what has turned up in the last few years.) Mark Linett hints that they will probably try to use Brian Wilson's own "homemade" SMiLE -- Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (BWPS) -- as a template, which will not be a popular decision for a lot of hardcore SMiLE scholars. Historical evidence suggests that in 1966/67 SMiLE would have been a traditional 10-12 song album, not a three-movement double-LP. There will be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth if Linett decides to mimic the BWPS model TOO closely, with digitally-manipulated segues and (god-forbid) modern-day vocals adding the new lyrics.

The way I see it, though, Brian and the Beach Boys aren't going to stamp out the "DIY SMiLE" community -- they're just jumping into the sandbox to play along. Brian's 2004 version was crafted specifically to be performed on stage, and tracks were edited and arranged with that in mind. "The Smile Sessions" will hopefully try to re-create what MIGHT have been a Beach Boys album released in 1967, but even if they get a little too jiggy with it, discs 2-4 of the deluxe set will give us extensive session outtakes (in stereo) and un-futzed-with versions of what appears on disc one. The more the merrier, I say, and I'm sure I'm not speaking for only myself when I predict that most of us who buy the deluxe boxed set of "The Smile Sessions" will be diving into those bonus discs and re-compiling -- or even re-thinking altogether -- our own personal SMiLE comps.

With that in mind, I would like to present my own version of SMiLE, which I worked on for a little over a year, from Winter 1999 until I finished it (or gave up, take your pick) in January 2001. I imagined it as a CD reissue of the original album, meaning that it would be an LP-length "album" with bonus tracks. I wasn't strictly beholden to historical evidence, though, and used link tracks, demos and other things that some purists frown upon. My main objective was to put my absolute favorite bits of SMiLE onto ONE CD, rather than spread out on more than 20 official releases and bootlegs. And so, the tracklist:

01. Our Prayer (1:06)
02. Heroes and Villains (4:44)
03. Wind Chimes (2:57)
04. Do You Like Worms (4:20)
05. The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine (1:07)
06. Link: How I Love My Girl (1:33)
07. Wonderful (2:01)
08. Link: Heroes and Villains (1:14)
09. Cabinessence* (3:32)

10. Look* (2:50)
11. He Gives Speeches (0:58)
12. I’m In Great Shape (demo) (0:25)
13. Vegetables (2:40)
14. The Elements** (7:34)
15. Surf’s Up (4:10)
16. You’re Welcome (1:36)

17. Good Vibrations (alternate mix) (3:39)
18. Heroes and Villains** (alternate) (4:20)
19. Barnyard (demo) (0:56)
20. Wind Chimes* (early version) (2:52)
21. Wonderful* (early version) (1:45)
22. Vegetables (early version) (2:37)
23. Child Is Father to the Man (0:47)
24. Fire* (take 2) (1:50)
25. The Old Master Painter* (sessions) (2:24)
26. Surf’s Up* (instrumental track) (1:37)
27. Surf’s Up* (Brian’s demo) (3:38)

*Stereo   **Mono/stereo

Unfortunately, I can't post PDFs to my blog, or I would upload the booklet that I made for the CD, complete with nerd-tastically detailed liner notes that explain the sweat that went into this. Consider yourselves spared -- but here are a few notes: All of the edits used were my own, except for the so-called "Anne Wallace mix" of "Surf's Up" which expertly combined Brian's 1966 demo of the song with the unfinished 1966 instrumental backing track -- a trick that Mark Linett himself has already completed for "The Smile Sessions." Some of my edits followed other fan edits, but I tried to refine and improve the editing as well as the pieces used in the edits. "Do You Like Worms" for example used 9 different segments for a four-minute song. My stab at "The Elements" was comprised of "I Want To Be Around/Friday Night/Woodshop" (for "Earth"), an instrumental portion of "Wind Chimes" (for "Air"), "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (for "Fire," the only known-for-a-fact portion of Brian's original "Elements" plan), and "Water Chant"/"I Love To Say Da Da" for "Water." As a wink to Sgt. Pepper's "endless chord" at the end of "A Day In The Life," I ended my SMiLE with an endless fade-in of "You're Welcome." "Good Vibrations" is relegated to the bonus tracks section -- just a personal choice; I know that it probably would have been on the LP in 1966 or 1967.

The tray insert for my SMiLE CD

So that's what I've been enjoying as "SMiLE" for a decade now. I'm looking forward to having my decisions and opinions challenged by "The Smile Sessions," and I'm looking forward to the sonic upgrades for several tracks I omitted simply because I didn't like the sound quality of the bootleg versions ("Barnyard," "Child Is Father To The Man," "Holidays," etc.) I've been on a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson/Smile bender this month because of the news -- like, an epic, Charlie Sheen-level bender -- and it's going to be hard to think about anything else until we at least get a release date. I hope everything progresses smoothly, and I hope Brian is happy with the results. My next post will be about Brian and his own 2004 version of SMiLE, and why I don't think it should be forgotten in the wake of "The Smile Sessions." Stay tuned!


  1. I think you got your track list wrong, you really need to see the album for correct playing order..

  2. LOL - but if you click on the back cover/tray insert, I actually DID put a little note on there to "See inside for complete track list"! :-)