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Heroes and Villains

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"Heroes and Villains"
File:Beach Boys - Heroes and Villains.jpg
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Smiley Smile
B-side "You're Welcome"
Released July 24, 1967 (1967-07-24)
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded October 20, 1966 (1966-10-20) – June 14, 1967 (1967-06-14)
United Western Recorders, Brian Wilson's home studio, Los Angeles
Genre Psychedelic rock,[1] psychedelic pop, progressive rock[2][3]
Length 3:36
Label Capitol
Producer(s) The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys singles chronology

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"Heroes and Villains" is a song by the American rock band the Beach Boys written and produced by the group's leader Brian Wilson in collaboration with songwriter Van Dyke Parks. Envisioned as a three-minute music comedy, it was originally intended by Wilson to be the ambitious centerpiece of the group's forthcoming album Smile.[4] The album was instead shelved, and the song was issued in restrained form as a single in July 1967 with "You're Welcome" as the B-side. It charted at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two months later, it appeared as the opening track to the group's Smiley Smile album.

The song was the first written for the Smile project. Though the lyrics are distinctly Western with some allusions to the American Indian genocides, former wife Marilyn Wilson claimed that Brian meant the "heroes" and "villains" to represent the ones in his life.

It was the followup single to the group's "Good Vibrations"; both tracks were produced using the same unorthodox method of recording a surplus of musical sections in piecemeal using multiple Hollywood studios. Only during its final production stages would the song then be reduced and assembled into a coherent structure. This proved difficult for Wilson, who grew increasingly frustrated over the virtually limitless number of possible song edits. Bandmate Al Jardine later expressed dissatisfaction with the final composite, calling it "a pale facsimile" of Wilson's original vision, believing that he had "underproduced" the song at the last minute.

Reflective of the song's complicated production history, many significantly different alternate versions of "Heroes and Villains" have seen release on subsequent compilations, along with numerous pieces which initially derived as unused sections interpolated within the song. These include "Gee", "Do You Like Worms?", "I'm in Great Shape", "Barnyard", and "My Only Sunshine".


Brian intended "Heroes and Villains" to eclipse the Beach Boys' previous number one hit "Good Vibrations",[4] taking inspiration from Phil Spector's productions of "River Deep - Mountain High" and "The Bells of St. Mary's" — specifically the former's bass line.[5] Composed in early May 1966 mostly in a large sandbox holding a piano built in Brian's living room,[4] "Heroes and Villains" was the first collaboration between Wilson and Van Dyke Parks in tandem with the later-to-be-excised "Barnyard" and "I'm in Great Shape".[6] When Wilson first played the melody to him, Parks devised the opening line on the spot,[4] modeling its lyrics in the style of Marty Robbins' "El Paso".[7] Wilson credits Parks with the title, while Parks credits Wilson, explaining: "I think he made that up. I think it was a great title, and he suggested it. To me, 'Heroes And Villains' sounds like a ballad out of the Southwest. That’s what it was intended to be—as good as any of those—and, really, to be a ballad. This Spanish and Indian fascination is a big chapter in Californian history, and that’s what it’s supposed to be—historically reflective, to reflect this place. I think it did it."[7]

Then-wife Marilyn Wilson said: "There are so many screwed-up people in the music industry. The good guys and the bad guys…That’s one thing Brian had in mind when they did 'Heroes and Villains.'"[8] The song was thought to have been written about the Vietnam War, but Parks clarified: "'Heroes And Villains' had nothing to do with Vietnam, but with the Indian thing we were trying to exculpate our guilt, to atone for what we had done to the aborigines of our own place. There’s a lot of things about belief in Smile, and its very question of belief is what was plaguing Brian at that time. What should we keep from the structure that we had, the hard-wiring that we had with religion? He had religion beat into him, and I did in my own way, too. So there’s a lot of thinking about belief, and you can hear it in the section with 'Child Is Father of the Man'."[9] Although "Heroes and Villains" was originally written as a standalone song, it eventually led to the creation of more Western-themed music associated with the Smile album, including references to eggs and grits, barnyards, cabins, and railroads.[7]


Despite its early genesis, the recording of the song was a difficult and protracted process. Wilson halted work on the other Smile tracks at the end of 1966 and concentrated on producing a version of "Heroes and Villains" for single release. However, despite holding at least 20 recording sessions for the song over a period of several months and assembling several different edits of the track, he was unable to complete the work to his satisfaction until after the May 1967 announcement that Smile had been shelved. It underwent many changes during its production, and countless discrete pieces were obviated from the final edit. Vocal arrangements were recorded, discarded, and remade throughout its sessions.

The first attempt at tracking "Heroes and Villains" was on May 11, 1966 (2:45 in length), and was deemed unsatisfactory and subsequently taped over; it apparently included "My Only Sunshine" as a section of the song according to one of the session musicians.[10]

An excerpt of various outtakes used for an alternate edit of "Heroes and Villains".

Problems playing this file? See media help.

In January 1967, the Beach Boys recorded a cappella sections labelled "Do a Lot", "Mission Pak", "Bridge to Indians", "Pickup to 3rd verse", "Children Were Raised", and "Whistling Bridge".[nb 1] Instrumentals entitled "Bag of Tricks", "Part 1 Tag", and "All Day" were also recorded, and so was a keyboard/vocal section called "Bicycle Rider".[nb 2] "Cantina", recorded between January and February 1967, was an unused section of "Heroes and Villains" that lasts about 30 seconds. It was projected to serve as a bridge between the second verse and the "Children Were Raised" section. The instrumentation features prominent use of a tack piano arranged in the style of old Western saloons.[nb 3] February and March saw the recording of stylistically diverse sections entitled "Fade", "Organ Waltz/Intro", "Prelude to Fade", "Part 2", "Part 3", "Part 4", and the song's "piano theme".[nb 4] The backing track for the song's verses was also remade in February, but was quickly discarded.

We recorded a pale facsimile of "Heroes and Villains", replete with discordant transitions…Brian reinvented the song for this record…He purposefully under-produced the song…It was lost because Brian wanted it to be lost. He was no longer interested in pursuing number one.

Al Jardine, 1990c[11]

Capitol Records had scheduled January 13, 1967 as the release date for the single. Yet, although he was renowned for his efficiency in the studio, Brian Wilson clearly struggled to complete "Heroes and Villains", and despite devoting more than 20 sessions to it between October 1966 and March 1967, he was unable to complete it to his satisfaction. Al Jardine believed that Brian sabotaged the song once it was destined for Smiley Smile.[11]

After Smile was scrapped, the remainder of the track was worked on throughout June. The month's sessions involved one new section, "Barbershop", and a scaled down remake of "Children Were Raised". June's sessions were largely sourced for the song's final edit, which included revised vocals and Baldwin organ overdubs. The final edit also sources the verse backing track recorded on October 20, 1966 and the chorus backing track recorded on February 27, 1967.

Release and reception

A piece recorded by the group on December 15, 1966 entitled "You're Welcome" was chosen as the B-side to the July "Heroes and Villains" single. It is a chant sung by the Beach Boys over a thumpy background track featuring a glockenspiel and a floor tom, with a runtime lasting only 1:08. In 1967, Mike Love said of the piece: "[It's] incredible. The title is 'You’re Welcome'. No other lyrics. I don’t know how Brian did it, but there’s no accompaniment. 'Heroes and Villains' is going to be released as the first single on our new label, Brother Records…We are finishing it [the album] now."[12] Terry Melcher was present for the public debut of "Heroes and Villains," as he recollects:

Brian was holding onto this single, like: "All right, world – I've got it," and waiting for the right time. He felt it was important to wait for the right time. It was a good record. This woman, I guess she was an astrologer–of sorts–she came by Brian's house. She said to him, "Brian – the time is right." He was waiting for the word from this woman to release the record, I guess. So he said, "All right." He called the whole group. It was like: 'OK. Look. Here it is.'A small disk, you know. Seven inches. It was very solemn, very important. Weighty. A heavy situation. It was all, "Brace yourself – for the big one." All the group had those limos. And there was a caravan of Rolls-Royces taking the record to KHJ. He was going to give the station an exclusive, just give it to them without telling Capitol. We got to the gate of KHJ. The guard wouldn't let us in. A little talking, a little hubbub, a little bullshit. The guard was finally intimidated enough by four or five Rolls-Royce limousines to open his gate. We got in the building, got to the disc jockey who was presiding over the turntable. It was pretty late, probably around midnight. Brian said, "Hi, I'm Brian Wilson, here's the new Beach Boys single. I'd like to give you and KHJ an exclusive on it." And this asshole turned around and he said: "Can't play anything that's not on the playlist." And Brian almost fainted. It was all over. He'd been holding the record, waiting for the right time. He'd had astrologers figuring out the correct moment. It really killed him. Finally they played it, after a few calls to the program director or someone, who screamed, "Put it on, you idiot." But the damage to Brian had already been done.[13]

Wilson is said to have had enormously high hopes for "Heroes and Villains" as the follow-up single to the Beach Boys' previous "Good Vibrations". When the single failed to significantly replicate the success of "Good Vibrations", it destroyed his self-imposed competitive rivalry to The Beatles. According to Jack Rieley, Wilson would often recount in "agonizing detail" about how "Heroes and Villains" was supposed to lift the Beach Boys' public image from "surfing/car songs" to being perceived on "creative par with the Beatles". Wilson interpreted the failure of "Heroes and Villains" as an ultimate rejection by the public to his musical growth and artistry.[14] Mike Love would go on to call "Heroes" as "the last dynamic Brian moment".[15]

Upon its release and reflective of the general reaction, the single was purportedly dismissed as a "psychedelic barbershop quartet" by seminal rock figure Jimi Hendrix.[16] British rock journalist Nik Cohn wrote in 1970: "It was good that [Wilson] should progress, that he should attempt outside his depth. But he took himself too solemnly, he was mildly megalomaniac about it all. Almost, he was ashamed of pop. He got snob. Running so fast and precious, his hat got away from his head." He then explained that the nature of pop music forces a stalemate on artists who wish to be experimental, because "pop is always teen music", and "the people who finally buy their records, are maybe sixteen years old, and by no means hooked on experiment".[17]


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"Heroes and Villains"
File:Heroes and Villains Smile Sessions.jpg
The cover for the bonus "Heroes and Villains" 7" vinyl packaged with The Smile Sessions box set utilizes original 1967 artwork.
Song by The Beach Boys from the album The Smile Sessions
Released October 31, 2011 (2011-10-31)
Length 4:53
Label Capitol
Producer Brian Wilson
The Smile Sessions track listing

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Music video
"Heroes and Villains" on YouTube

The intended "Heroes And Villains" single was originally assigned as Capitol 5826 and issued with a white picture sleeve showing six pictures of the group members. However, Brian Wilson was still experimenting and creating further concepts for the song, thus the Capitol single was never pressed. By the time of the final single mix, the Beach Boys created their own Brother label and issued "Heroes and Villains" as its first single (Brother 1001) with the cartoon picture sleeve. The picture sleeve for the unreleased Capitol single is a rare, highly sought item among Beach Boys collectors.[citation needed]

An innumerable amount of alternate edits of the song exist; several so far have seen release. One Smile-era version was released as a bonus track on the Beach Boys Smiley Smile/Wild Honey two-fer in 1990. A 2001 stereo mix appears on Hawthorne, CA. On the Endless Harmony Soundtrack, there is a demo of the song which incorporates "I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard". In 2011, The Smile Sessions were released containing many alternate mixes of the song, plus extensive session highlights.

The song was part of "The Cocaine Sessions", an informal name for recordings made between Brian and Dennis Wilson circa November 1982.[18]

As a solo artist, Wilson recorded a new version of "Heroes and Villains" for his 2004 album Brian Wilson Presents Smile.

Two-part edit

There have been persistent rumors of a far longer two-part edit, reputedly running for six, seven or even ten minutes, and that this edit was intended for single release, split across the two sides of a single entitled "Heroes and Villains: Part One" and "Heroes and Villains: Part Two".[12][11][19] Author Domenic Priore has said that when he questioned engineer Chuck Britz on the matter, he revealed that Wilson intended the 1990 variation to have served as the single's A-side, while the B-side was to have been three "Heroes and Villains" vocal chants strung together. During the 1960s, double-sided singles with different takes of the same song were common, and had been executed by Bob Dylan with "Like a Rolling Stone" and even Parks with "Donovan's Colours".[20] These rumors have been said by some to have been a falsehood purported by Priore.[10] However, it is possible that this rumored long edit, if it exists, may in fact have been an acetate disc meant to showcase different fragments of the song for Wilson's friends and family.[according to whom?] A newly constructed two-part edit was packaged as a bonus 7" vinyl for the limited box set edition of The Smile Sessions.[citation needed]

Live performances

In late 1967 during sessions for the unreleased live album Lei'd In Hawaii, the Beach Boys recorded a stripped down live-in-the-studio version of "Heroes and Villains". Later, Mike Love and Brian Wilson would overdub this version with a self-deprecating monologue satirizing the song, with Love calling "Heroes and Villains" a "nuclear disaster" and that "being basically masochists, [The Beach Boys] kind of enjoyed having this record bomb." Love also assures the listener that "it's all in fun," despite it harshly criticizing Wilson's musical ability and commercial shortcomings; the recording ends with Love thanking the listener for coming to the Beach Boys' stage performance and throwing objects at the group.[21][22] Although the track was meant to be taken lightheartedly, it can be interpreted as a reflection of Wilson's extremely low self-confidence as a musician at the time.[according to whom?]

The Beach Boys have released four different live versions of the song: on The Beach Boys in Concert; on Good Timin': Live at Knebworth, England 1980, as part of a medley with "Cotton Fields"; on the Endless Harmony Soundtrack, and also on the Beach Boys Concert/Live in London twofer, as a bonus track. It is also on Al Jardine's Live in Las Vegas album. While Brian was absent from the touring section of the group, Jardine sang lead on this song. "Heroes and Villains" was included in the Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour in 2012 with Brian on lead, and was cited as one of the concert highlights.[23][24]


The Beach Boys
Additional musicians
Outtake musicians

Related recordings


Song by The Beach Boys from the album The Smile Sessions
Recorded February 27, 1967 (1967-02-27)
Genre Doo-wop, barbershop music
Length 0:57
Writer William Davis/Morris Levy

A brief adaptation of the 1953 doo wop song "Gee" by the Crows was recorded by the Beach Boys to serve as an introduction to an unused "Heroes and Villains" vocal motif involving the band singing the lyrics "dit — dit — dit — heroes and villains" in unison. With its master tape labelled "Heroes and Villains: Part 2", the Beach Boys recorded follow-up variations of the piece entitled "Part 3" and "Part 4" with no specific designation on how it would fit in sequence within the song's final edit.[nb 5] However, the outro consisted of the equivalent horn outro heard in The Smile Sessions main version of "Heroes and Villains", signifying a suitable lead-on to "Heroes and Villains" on the main album.

"I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard"

"I'm in Great Shape"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album The Smile Sessions
Recorded October 17–27; November 4, 1966
Length 0:28
Writer Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks
Song by The Beach Boys from the album The Smile Sessions
Recorded October 20 – November 4, 1966
Length 0:48
Writer Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks

"I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard" were both considered for inclusion in "Heroes and Villains".[nb 6] Within surviving acetates unearthed in 2013, it's evident that Brian Wilson experimented with incorporating recorded sections of "I'm in Great Shape" as part of the projected "Heroes and Villains" single.[26][27] A number of arrangements for "I'm in Great Shape" were attempted, each featuring significantly different instrumentation. Despite the track being less than a minute long, it was considered as a standalone core Smile track as late as December 1966.[28] Lyrics were penned for both songs, but never recorded by the group on recordings which have survived. However, "Barnyard" does feature animal noises roared by Wilson's Smile coterie. Participant Danny Hutton recalls: "Actually, the girl I was going with, June Fairchild, she was making all these noises. That was before the Beatles did 'Good Morning Good Morning'."[29] In reference to both songs, Parks said:

"Eggs and grits and lickety-split, I’m in the great shape — of the agriculture." Obviously Brian had come up with some more notes there, so the lyrics once again are following the notes. He decided not to include those notes or that section in "Heroes And Villains", but put them in another place later. But it’s interesting how there was, all of a sudden, this turning to eggs and grits. It’s because it had something to do with the thought of a barnyard, and that related to that place we were trying to come up with in "Heroes And Villains". All those lyrics were visual efforts.[7]

Brian stated at one point that there were intentions for what was known as "The Barnyard Suite", explaining: "[It] was going to be four songs—in four short pieces—combined together, but we never finished that one. We got into something else."[30][nb 7] In his 2004 live performances of Smile, "I'm in Great Shape" begins the third movement of the album, but on The Smile Sessions, it is presented earlier in the first movement as the link between "Do You Like Worms?" and "Barnyard". Brian Wilson Presents Smile music director Darian Sahanaja has explained:

Starting the third movement with "I'm in Great Shape" was probably a performance decision. I always felt that this song building into a feedback frenzy and breaking into "I Wanna Be Around" and "Workshop" was the disoriented, reality defying portion of the performance. Shaking things up and slightly derailing before getting back on track—as if a metaphor for life. It seemed to fit for those reasons. However, the tape session research shows that it was definitely part of the "Heroes and Villains" variations, and so the decision [with The Smile Sessions] was to keep it within that context.[31]

"My Only Sunshine"

"My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine)"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album The Smile Sessions
Recorded November 14, 1966
Length 1:55

A medley of the traditional pop standards "The Old Master Painter" and "You Are My Sunshine" was recorded and considered for inclusion in "Heroes and Villains" under the label "My Only Sunshine".[32][nb 8] On "My Only Sunshine", Dennis[29] and Brian Wilson bookend the lead vocals.[nb 9] The ending of "My Only Sunshine" is stylistically similar to a scrapped closing section for "Heroes and Villains", which ended up being restored in The Smile Sessions.[nb 10]

During the recording which was engineered by Larry Levine and produced by Brian, the latter remarked that the session players should play as though they're far away, as the lyric suggests.[32] Tying into the persistent spiritual themes in Smile, "The Old Master Painter" suggests God in the lyrics "painted the violets and the daffodils", "put the purple in the twilight haze" and "dreamed up the murals in the blue summer sky".[29] "You Are My Sunshine" ends with a string section descending to a low discordance where Brian used the adjectives "snappy" and "draggy" to instruct session players.[33]

When asked about "My Only Sunshine" in 2004, Parks could not remember having been involved with it.[29]

Other songs

"Do You Like Worms?" contains prominent sections of the "Heroes and Villains" theme. In addition, the tracks "Vega-Tables" and "Love to Say Dada" began life as an interpolated section for "Heroes and Villains".

Cover versions


  1. ^ "Do a Lot" evolved into "Mama Says". It can be heard on track 7, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  2. ^ "All Day" evolved into "Love to Say Dada". "Bicycle Rider" evolved into "Do You Like Worms?" which was then partially recycled for the "Heroes and Villains" chorus.
  3. ^ It appears on every extended alternate edit of the song, including the rerecording made by Wilson in 2004 and the composites present on The Smile Sessions.
  4. ^ "Organ Waltz/Intro" was retooled for the introduction of "The Elements: Fire" on The Smile Sessions and Brian Wilson Presents Smile. "Part 2" is the group's brief cover of "Gee" later sequenced to follow "Our Prayer".
  5. ^ For Brian Wilson Presents Smile, "Gee" was recorded in medley with "Our Prayer". For The Smile Sessions, "Gee" is a standalone track in between "Our Prayer" and "Heroes and Villains".
  6. ^ An early piano demo that merges "Heroes and Villains," "I'm in Great Shape," and "Barnyard" together can be heard on track 36, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set. This version was recorded on November 4, 1966 for Los Angeles DJ Humble Harve Miller.[25]
  7. ^ For Brian Wilson Presents Smile, the idea of a "Barnyard" suite was evidently dropped. Technically, a short "Barnyard" suite does end up being presented within The Smile Sessions; "I'm in Great Shape", "Barnyard", and "My Only Sunshine" feature a structure linked by four spliced tape reels totaling a runtime of 3:09.
  8. ^ An early version of "My Only Sunshine" is entitled "Heroes and Villains: Fade" and can be heard on track 28, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  9. ^ Vocals by Brian Wilson are only audible on the last few seconds of disc 1, track 7 entitled "My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine)".
  10. ^ This alternate closing section can be heard as "Heroes and Villains: Prelude to Fade" on track 19, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  1. ^ DeRogatis 1996, p. 18.
  2. ^ Himes, Geoffrey. "Brian Wilson Remembers How To Smile". Paste Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Stars & Stripes, Vol 1". Album Liner Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d Badman 2004, p. 153.
  5. ^ Priore 2005, p. 45.
  6. ^ Priore 2005, pp. 45, 66.
  7. ^ a b c d Priore 2005, p. 66.
  8. ^ Preiss 1979.
  9. ^ Priore 2005, p. 71.
  10. ^ a b Shenk, Lou. "Smile Primer". Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Leaf, David. "Smiley Smile/Wild Honey liner notes". Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Priore 1995, p. 198.
  13. ^ Nolan, Tom (October 28, 1971). "The Beach Boys: A California Saga". Rolling Stone. 
  14. ^ Jack Rieley's comments & Surf's Up
  15. ^ The Guardian, 1998
  16. ^ Petridis, Alexis (27 October 2011). "The Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Cohn 1970, p. 104.
  18. ^ Doe, Andrew Grayham. "GIGS82". Endless Summer Quarterly. Retrieved December 12, 2014. 
  19. ^ Howard, Ed (July 28, 2003). "Smile: The Definitive Lost Album". Stylus. 
  20. ^ Priore 2005, p. 103.
  21. ^ Carlin 2006, pp. 124–25.
  22. ^ Mike Love "Heroes and Villains" monologue on YouTube
  23. ^, 2012
  24. ^ Levinson, Paul (May 2012). "The Beach Boys in White Plains". Infinite Regress. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  25. ^ Badman 2004, p. 156.
  26. ^ "Beach Boys – 8 Original "Smile" Acetates from the collection of Van Dyke Parks". Record Mecca. 2013. 
  27. ^, andy on March 03, 2013, 12:56:03 AM
  28. ^ Badman 2004.
  29. ^ a b c d Priore 2005, p. 68.
  30. ^ Preiss 1979, p. 59.
  31. ^ Roedel, J. (October 12, 2011). "The AD Interview :: Darian Sahanaja (Behind The Smile Sessions)". Aquarium Drunkard. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  32. ^ a b Badman 2004, p. 161.
  33. ^ Britt, Thomas. "The Beach Boys: The SMiLE Sessions". PopMatters. 


External links