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Author Topic: My SMiLE essay on rocksbackpages.com [mentions smileysmile.net]  (Read 1874 times)
hongkongcrowe
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« on: October 27, 2011, 06:48:13 AM »

hi everyone,

i was fortunate to have my SMiLE essay put up on rocksbackpages.com.  the editors changed my title a bit, originally after the title, The SMiLE You Send Out Returns to You, i added a line, "Because it's unfinished SMiLE is the greatest album of all time"

i hope you enjoy it; there's some other great SMiLE and Beach Boys articles on the site too.  

here's the link:

http://www.rocksbackpages.com/index.html


The SMiLE You Send Out Returns to You: The Story of Brian Wilson's Great Lost Masterpiece

Tim Meade, Rock's Backpages, October 2011

WE ALL KNOW THE STORY of the Beach Boys' SMiLE. After Pet Sounds, Brian set out to make a "teenage symphony to God" that would be the assemblage of "feels", individual pieces of music that he would put together to create a "pocket symphony".

The first result of this song structure was 'Good Vibrations', which Brian worked on for over six months and reportedly cost $50,000. The song was a huge success, going to #1 in the U.S. and the UK, and is now listed alongside 'Satisfaction' and 'What's Going On' as one of the greatest singles of all time.

After 'Good Vibrations', Brian started work on SMiLE, recording the instrumental backing tracks with the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles while the Beach Boys were on tour in London, being feted for the just-released Pet Sounds album and displaying their cool quotient in hanging out with the Beatles. Pet Sounds had been more critically acclaimed in the UK than in the U.S., and following the success of 'Good Vibrations', the Beach Boys were selected by the readers of the New Musical Express as the World's Outstanding Vocal Group for 1966, beating the Beatles.

Meanwhile back in LA, Brian, with the help of the songwriter Van Dyke Parks set out writing lyrics for an album that would top Pet Sounds in terms of song structure and range of musical styles. SMiLE was to be a musical journey across America, with historical references from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii incorporating the Beach Boys' well-known barbershop harmonies with elements of humour, baroque melody, and vocal experimentations; Brian called the music "psychedelicate". When the Beach Boys returned to LA to add their vocals to the instrumental backing tracks, there was excitement that Brian was taking pop music to an unprecedented level of sophistication and structure, that he would indeed top Pet Sounds and create a rock classic, combining the Beach Boys' harmonies with music that was psychedelic, hypnotic, avant-garde and unlike anything else out at the time.

Brian worked on SMiLE through the fall of 1966 and into early 1967. Derek Taylor, the former Beatles publicist who had now moved to LA and started working for the Beach Boys, led the press in drumming up publicity for SMiLE along the way anointing Brian to be a "musical genius". The anticipation for SMiLE was driven further by comments such as that from brother Dennis Wilson that SMiLE "in my opinion, ...will make Pet Sounds stink" Capitol records put out the famous trade announcement to record shops across the country, 'we're sure to sell a million units... in January' [January, 1967 was the original release date announced by Capitol] and album sleeves with iconic artwork from artist Frank Holmes were printed up all in anticipation of a musical kaleidoscope to top Pet Sounds. Yet the January deadline passed without SMiLE's release as Brian's initial excitement starting being tested by fear, the result of too many drugs, too much pressure and apprehension from people around him as to the commercial viability of the music.

Eventually Brian's increasing anxiety and self-doubt, as well as the sheer complexity of the combining the "feels" into a coherent two-sided LP, were too much and in May 1967 Derek Taylor announced that SMiLE was dead.

The following month, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Brian realised that he had been trumped; the Beatles had beaten him. The Beach Boys pulled out of the lineup for the Monterey Pop Festival – they were to headline on Saturday night – and Brian retreated from being the leader of the Beach Boys as the band began their plummet in popularity amidst the rise of the counter culture of the late '60s. From those beginnings, SMiLE became the "holy grail" of unreleased music, what Rolling Stone has called "the most famous unfinished album in rock n' roll history".

Brian and the band did complete and release some songs from SMiLE on their subsequent albums in the late '60s and early '70s, some with new arrangements and some with subtle touch ups from the original sessions. However, without SMiLE's release, the Brian and Beach Boys fell from the vanguard of pop music and eventually became what Beach Boy member Bruce Johnson called "surfing Doris Days" as they muddled into the '70s. The last complete SMiLE song to be posthumously released was the magnum opus 'Surf's Up', the song that Brian Wilson had written in the sandbox [during the SMiLE sessions, Brian installed a sandbox below his piano to inspire his songwriting]. Brian sang the song unaccompanied except for his piano playing on Leonard Bernstein's "Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution" television program on CBS Television in November 1966.

Brian was at the zenith of his creativity and confidence when he appeared on Bernstein's show. But by 1971 he had become fully consumed by mental illness, and so his brother Carl – who carried the integrity of the band through their most exciting period musically in the early '70s – completed Surf's Up, adding a magical coda 'The Child is the Father to the Man' which was another song leftover from SMiLE.

In the years since then, Brian Wilson has lived through and in spite of the worst limits and breadth of addictions from illegal narcotics to legal mood enhancers, as well as through epic bouts of depression and obesity. Yet somehow, while one of his brothers drowned and another succumbed to cancer, today Brian is not only alive but enjoying a robust career, having overcome his anxieties as a live performer – he'd quit touring in 1964 after having a nervous breakdown – and touring with a band that loves his music. In 2001, backed by the Wondermints, Brian started adding 'Heroes & Villains', the single that was to follow up 'Good Vibrations', and other SMiLE songs to his set lists. Thereafter he announced that he was going to complete SMiLE and play it during a series of live concerts.

In the fall of 2003, Brian invited his old writing partner Van Dyke Parks back to help complete lyrics to some of the songs and then worked with Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints to put together a version of SMiLE to be performed live. (In a wonderful spin of irony, one of the reasons that Brian abandoned SMiLE back in 1967 was the impression from some people within the band that the music could not be performed live.)

Brian finally conquered his demons in February 2004, when he performed "Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE" at London's Royal Festival Hall. In the audience were some surviving members from the original SMiLE era, namely Van Dyke Parks, George Martin, as well as Paul McCartney who had reportedly crunched on a carrot during the original 1967 sessions for another SMiLE song, 'Vegetables'.

Following a series of well-received live concerts Brian and the band recorded his version of SMiLE, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE [BWPS] which he released in September, 2004. The fact that he completed it at all was wondrous; the fact that it sounded as if it was recorded in 1967 and the vocals by the Wondermints approached the soaring harmonies of the original Beach Boys was a miracle. The album was universally critically acclaimed and it sold relatively well. Brian received a number of Grammy nominations and won one: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for 'Mrs. O'Leary's Cow', also known as 'Fire', the song that in SMiLE lore had spooked an increasingly fragile and paranoid Brian into believing he was responsible for a series of fires in the Los Angeles area in the spring of 1967.

Still, the release of BWPS only increased the demand by Beach Boys' fans for the release of the original sessions recorded in 1966-67 as some hardliners pontificated that BWPS was "Brian 's interpretation of SMiLE circa 2004" while others felt that no matter how good the Wondermints vocals were, they were still not the unique harmonies of the Beach Boys.

For years, SMiLE fans have gathered to express their hopes and dreams for SMiLE's release in various communities on the Internet. In fact, the upcoming release of The SMiLE Sessions could not have happened without the internet, where the legend of SMiLE has been not only been kept alive but elevated to mythical status among fans, some of whom have waited all 45 years for its release. There have been a plethora of Brian Wilson, Beach Boys, and exclusive SMiLE websites, from the Brian Wilson Appreciation site, to the SMiLE Shop (complete with graphics from the original Frank Holmes album artwork) to today's SMiLEySMiLE.net, yet they all share two things in common, a fiercely loyal and critical fan base who relish in debating, dissecting and discussing SMiLE down to the minutest of details and a heartfelt longing that the stunning and innovative music of SMiLE will officially be released.

The anticipation of the SMiLE community for the upcoming release of the SMiLE Sessions is unequivocal. I share their enthusiasm and I am most grateful that we fans will all be able to celebrate and share this release with Brian to show him that SMiLE was never "inappropriate", music as he once called it, but instead is the greatest album of all time.

According to Capitol/EMI's press release, The SMiLE Sessions has been done with the "full participation of the Beach Boys." Still, the official release of the SMiLE Sessions is creating lots of controversy on the websites; SMiLEySMiLE.net was recently hacked and shut down for nearly a week by someone calling himself "Bangaladeshi hacker". Another site, the Steve Hoffman's, is already on its 11th section of 50 pages since its announcement created the category "Brian Wilson's original SMiLE to be released on CD and Vinyl LP". These websites update daily with new topics and discussions, "How about that new version of 'Vegetables'?... Is the 'Heroes & Villains' single the infamous long version that Brian originally wanted to release in 1967?... What will be the next tune that will be posted on the SMiLE Facebook page?"

To me, though, the most fascinating discussion topic about the beautiful mystery of SMiLE, and the reason for its greatness, is the never-ending debate of what was to be the song order on the album. Which song was intended to open the album? What was to close the album? What songs were to constitute "The Elements"? Was 'Good Vibrations' definitely going to be on the album? This topic comes up time and time again, and I am astounded by how many fans, 45 years since Brian first started working on SMiLE, are so resolute in their interpretation of what he was thinking back in the halcyon days of late 1966 early 1967.

This controversy is now focused on Disc 1 of the Sessions, which is supposed to be a coherent presentation of SMiLE as it might have been had it been released as an album in 1967, put together by music producer and sound engineer Mark Linett (who has worked on a number of Beach Boys' catalog re-releases) and Beach Boys archivist Alan Boyd. While many fans cannot wait to have an as-complete-as-could-be-possible Beach Boys' SMiLE album, there are still those critical fans who claim that it will still be only a "fan mix" and not Brian's mix or the official Beach Boys mix – even though the Beach Boys participated and approved the collection.

And because it's a "fan's mix", it's still not official, it's still not SMiLE. However, the fact that SMiLE remains unfinished is the reason that SMiLE is the greatest album of all time, because it allows every one of us to make our own version of SMiLE, to define SMiLE based on our perspective and interpretation of its epic story. And now with the release of The SMiLE Sessions, the potential combination of songs and versions of SMiLE is even more limitless.

Anyone who knows the story of SMiLE has made his/her own personal mix. We have all tried to channel our inner Brian, sitting down with our CDs and a tape deck (or digital files and computer) and created our own version of SMiLE. Fan mixes been our sustenance while we have waited all these years for SMiLE's official release. Working like detectives through the annals of Domenic Priore's book LOOK! LISTEN! VIBRATE! SMILE! – the Genesis chapter of the SMiLE Story, without which there would be no upcoming SMiLE Sessions at all – we started by mixing some of the officially released songs with songs from the bootlegs that started appearing on vinyl LPs in the late 1980s and then boomed with the arrival of CDs and now digital downloads.

SMiLE fans have been obsessive in collecting and critiquing each new collection of bootlegged SMiLE material, such as the Vigotone SMiLE CD, the Secret SMiLE mix, the Sea of Tunes SMiLE, the derided SMiLE Millennium Edition, Purple Chick SMiLE and two of my favorites, Mok's SMiLE and Odeon SMiLE among many, many, many more.

After the release of BWPS, even more elaborate fan mixes appeared combining bits of the original sessions with the Beach Boys together with parts from BWPS. Some mixes have included studio chatter from the 'Our Prayer' sessions, such as when Brian asks "Are you feeling the acid yet?" while others mix in the comedy sessions Brian recorded with the Wrecking Crew, namely his argument with Hal Blaine about vegetables, featured in the multilayered aural carnival, the Alternate Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE.

Some mixes are choppy in audio quality, while others – namely the recent seamless and impeccable JMZ SMiLE, the best SMiLE mix in my opinion – are painstakingly perfect, put together by sound engineers who, like Brian in 1967, pursue perfection and try to top other previous versions of SMiLE that are available. Although Brian could not put the feels together into a coherent modular album back in 1967, since then his fans from all over the world have been inspired by his music to assemble, collect and trade their own versions of SMiLE cementing its status as "the greatest unreleased rock n' roll album of all time".

Now that Brian and the Beach Boys have agreed to release The SMiLE Sessions, even more people will be able to make their own version of the album. With five CDs [the aforementioned Disc 1 plus 4 CDs of sessions], two LPs, and two 7" singles, the masses have been given the means of production. The possibilities of even more different versions of the psychedelic splendor that is SMiLE are truly infinite. We fans can finally have all of this remarkable, mystifying, experimental but always inherently beautiful music finally in pristine audio quality and continue to make new versions and interpretations. Brian's genius as a composer is that SMiLE can fit together in so many different combinations. It's a puzzle with many solutions, each as worthy as the next. Brian recently told the Wall Street Journal that SMiLE was "ahead of its time"; indeed, by not completing SMiLE, Brian unknowingly created an interactive masterpiece, the only "classic album" that continues to thrive and evolve with each fan's interpretation.

Trying to create the perfect SMiLE mix is central to SMiLE's saga and that is why SMiLE is the greatest album of all time; SMiLE will never be finished, it will never be complete, it can never be perfect yet its potential for perfection is eternal.

While Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Exile on Main Street, Blood On the Tracks and Station to Station – to name a few – all have a complete and defined musical story with a beginning, middle and end, SMiLE's story is forever unfinished, and the musical combinations of its elements are immeasurable. The classic albums named above belong to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and Bowie, but SMiLE belongs to all of us, for us to interpret and to assemble Brian Wilson's feels in infinite breathtaking combinations.

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Tim’s Top 5 SMiLE mixes

1)   JMZ’s SMiLE
2)   Alternate Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
3)   Bossaroo’s SMiLE
4)   Mok’s SMiLE
5)   Odeon SMiLE

Tim Meade grew up in New Jersey and now lives in Hong Kong. This is his first submission to Rock's Backpages.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2011, 02:13:07 AM by hongkongcrowe » Logged
bossaroo
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« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2011, 10:10:05 AM »

well gee shucks!

really good article Tim. I'm amazed that you included my mix in your top 5. maybe I should put it up somewhere...?

 Razz
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hongkongcrowe
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« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2011, 10:33:59 AM »

the mix in of little pad and diamond head is sublime.......
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2011, 05:12:42 PM »

Trying to create the perfect SMiLE mix is central to SMiLE's saga and that is why SMiLE is the greatest album of all time; SMiLE will never be finished, it will never be complete, it can never be perfect yet its potential for perfection is eternal.

Hi ! Your article is great (and not because you gave my mix big complments). And particularily the end of it. That's exactly what makes the magic of SMiLE.

And to push it up even more, I'd say: Capitol should've release the complete, unedited 35+ hours of recordings and sold them as pay-per-download lossless files. You listen to a low quality stream and when you're interested by something, you can buy and download it.

Even better: they could've make an official "SMiLE Mixes Community" with a forum and the possibility for fan-mixers to post their mix on the website so others can listen what they done from the 35+ hours.

Also: why not developping a kind of little flash app -a bit like on the Project SMiLE CD-R- where you have faders and you can actually mix one song the way you want:

You can't stand the fly-ins, awright, turn them down.
You like acapellas ? awright turn the music down.
You like the yodels in Wonderful or Dennis "Truck Drivin' Man" vocals ? Awright, push up the volume.
You like stereo or mono ? Ok, just tweak the pan knobs and we're done  Wink

Then, you can ask for the website to compute your mix and you pay your $0.99 to download your masterpiece. Wouldn't it be cool ?  Afro

Oh, sorry by the way Mr Hongkongcrowe, I wandered here. Maybe I should create a separate topic for that ?

Thanks again.
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2011, 07:10:14 PM »

that's some brilliant thinking right there. and to quote Brian, "way ahead of its time"

maybe in 45 more years?  Wink


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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2011, 07:34:24 PM »

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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2011, 08:28:40 PM »

Great essay - really captures the hardcore fan mixer's view.

I'm still absorbing JMZ's mix - truly a thing of beauty. It has left me occasionally slack-jawed.

Bossaroo - I haven't heard yours.  Perhaps you could Make me aware of a place i could find it...

MoK's was the first fan mix I ever heard, and I still have aa emotional attachement to it.

Thanks for the shout out to my humble submission to the genre.  Not sure if having the real deal (or the closest thing to it) released will make me hang up my hat or spearhead a return to 12-hour sessions in front of the (virtual) mixing board.

All the SMiLE-related excitement around here has been so cool...
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hongkongcrowe
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2011, 08:38:22 PM »

thanks everyone for the compliments.....i had originally thought that capitol should have set up a fan mix contest, where fans could submit their mixes and eventually brian would choose his top 10 and then make them available for download....real interactive and a celebration of SMiLE......love your idea JMZ, even better!!  love that SMiLE mixes community....

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« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2011, 10:45:36 AM »

check your messages pancake.


if anyone else is interested in my mix, drop me a line.
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« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2011, 01:39:50 PM »

Much obliged - you can never have too many...
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« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2011, 05:41:31 PM »

This is a nice, intelligent write up - thanks for posting, glad it got on rocksbackpages too  Grin
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