Smiley Smile is the twelfth studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on September 18, 1967. Though the album reached number 9 on UK record charts, Smiley Smile only resonated moderately with US audiences, reaching number 41 – the lowest chart placement the band had yet had for a record. Critics generally received the album with confusion. Discounting the inclusion of standalone single "Good Vibrations" and the solo-credited "Gettin' Hungry", only one single was issued from Smiley Smile: "Heroes and Villains".
Devised as a substitute to their then-forthcoming Smile – an LP which would have contained elaborately orchestrated compositions labored over for several months – Smiley Smile is best known for its contrasting lo-fi production with an avant-garde and proto-minimal rock approach to arranging, being recorded in a span of six weeks at Brian Wilson's makeshift home studio. Smile was originally intended for a December 1966 release, but by May 1967, the band had yet to release any new material. After settling payment disputes with Capitol Records, Smiley Smile was distributed in collaboration with Brother Records, a new record label and holding company founded by the group; Smile was left unfinished, with Wilson shortly thereafter announcing the album's cancellation.
Carl Wilson famously compared Smiley Smile and Smile to "a bunt instead of a grand slam". It has since grown in stature over the years to become a cult and critical favorite in the Beach Boys' oeuvre. In 1974, it was voted the 64th greatest album of all time by NME writers. It is one of 100 albums listed in the book The Ambient Century as a landmark in the development of ambient music.
In late 1966, the Beach Boys released "Good Vibrations", an elaborately produced single which had major international success. Smile was conceived as an extension of the song's recording approach, and, together with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson composed several songs intended for Smile. Several months later, the project was shelved due to technical problems, internal resistance, and legal disputes. After the announcement that Smile was cancelled in May 1967, the Beach Boys were still under pressure and contractual obligation to record and present an album to Capitol Records. On June 2, 1967, Wilson declared to his band mates that the material recorded during the Smile era was now distinctly off-limits.
In 1968, Wilson intimated on the subject of "Surf's Up" and other Smile material: "[It] was supposed to come out on the Smile album, and that and a couple of other songs were junked…[because I] didn't want to put them on the album. I didn't think that the songs were right for the public at the time. I just didn't have a…commercial feeling about some of these songs, what we've never released. Maybe some people like to hang on to certain songs as their own little songs that they've written, almost for themselves. You know, what they've written is nice for them... but a lot of people just don't like it. In a 1967 radio interview, he acknowledged: "We had done about six months work on another thing, but we jumped and ended up doing the entire thing here at the house with an entirely different mood and approach than what we originally started out with." When questioned on why the Beach Boys took the approach they did, he stated, "We just had a particular atmosphere — that we were working in that inspired the particular kind of things that were on the album."
In January 1968, Wilson elaborated further to journalist Jamake Highwater in an interview to promote the Beach Boys' forthcoming Stack-O-Tracks compilation: "Around '64, all of a sudden I found myself in the studio taking hours and hours just going through track experiences. Then all of a sudden, the two came together: the vocal and the tracks. Then all of a sudden I began to realize it was all one art, all one thing. And now, God, it's come so far, I don't really know what to say about it." Wilson claimed that he had run out of ideas "in a conventional sense," and that he was "about ready to die". After finally giving up his production pace, he says: "I decided not to try any more, and not try and do such great things, such big musical things. And we had so much fun. The Smiley Smile era was so great, it was unbelievable. Personally, spiritually, everything, it was great. I didn't have any paranoia feelings.
Dennis Wilson called the album a product of its context, saying "Smiley Smile was just something we were going through at that time connected with drugs, love, and everything." In 1968, he said, "We got very paranoid about the possibility of losing our public. We were getting loaded, taking acid, and we made a whole album which we scrapped. Instead, we went to Hawaii, rested up, and then came out with the Smiley Smiles [sic] album, all new material. Drugs played a great role in our evolution but as a result we were frightened that people would no longer understand us, musically." When the Beach Boys declined at the last minute to headline the Monterey Pop Festival in June, their cancellation was seen as "a damning admission that they were washed up [and] unable to compete with the 'new music'", in the words of Steven Gaines. David Leaf explained: "Monterey was a gathering place for the 'far out' sounds of the 'new' rock, and the Beach Boys in concert really had no exotic sounds (excepting 'Good Vibrations') to display. The net result of all this internal and external turmoil was that the Beach Boys didn't go to Monterey, and it is thought that this non-appearance was what really turned the 'underground' tide against them."
Recording and production
From the vast sum of material Brian had recorded for Smile, only portions of the backing track for "Heroes and Villains" (recorded October 1966) and the coda for "Vegetables" (recorded April 1967) were sourced for Smiley Smile. In addition to this, "Good Vibrations", which had been recorded sporadically from February to September 1966, was placed on Smiley Smile in its original form. Beyond these examples, the large majority of Smiley Smile was recorded in a modular approach at Brian's home studio in Bel Air from June 3 to July 14, 1967.
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The studio set up at Brian's house was, in its mid-1967 incarnation for Smiley Smile, in its infancy. Due to the sporadic nature at which Brian decided to produce the record at the house, there was little time to fully outfit the Bel Air residence as a proper equipped recording studio. The Beach Boys recorded the album using what was predominantly radio broadcasting equipment which was lacking many technical elements and effects found in conventional studios. This led to unconventional ways of achieving particular sounds at the home, such as a replacement for what would be achieved by an echo chamber. Jim Lockert, engineer for Smiley Smile recalled "Brian's swimming pool had a leak in it and was empty, so we put a microphone in the bottom of this damn near Olympic-size pool and the guys laid down inside the pool and sang so the sound would go down the wall of the concrete pool into the microphone – and that was part of the vocals on one of those songs",[nb 1] and has spoken out about other peculiarities of the sessions which include vocals being tracked in the shower. Due to this eclectic mix of recording paraphernalia and curious methods of tracking the sounds, Smiley Smile possesses a distinct signature sound.
"Good Vibrations" had already established the Beach Boys use of the Tannerin, a relatively new kind of electronic instrument, and it reappears on other Smiley Smile tracks. Tape manipulation was also a prominent feature, with varispeed being applied to a few miscellaneous vocals. On "She's Goin' Bald", a new device called the Eltro Information Rate Changer was used to raise the pitch of the group's vocals without affecting the tempo.[nb 2]
Brian Chidester called Smiley Smile the first "in a series of lo-fi albums" by the Beach Boys. Beach Boy Bruce Johnston was absent for most its sessions. He later said, "Smiley Smile was an album that marked the end of an era," referencing the fact that Smiley Smile marked the point where Brian began relinquishing his hold as the creative leader of the Beach Boys. It was the first album where the production was credited to the group, instead of Brian alone. Dennis explained: "He wanted it that way. He said 'It's produced by the Beach Boys.'"[nb 3]
Music and style
Harrison notes that "The lack of formal or harmonic development makes the listener focus upon other qualities such as instrumentation, timbre, and reverberation. A concentrated listening effort thus goes quickly to subtle details."
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Author Jim DeRogatis referred to Smiley Smile as a work of the "ultimate psychedelic rock library". Its core instrumental combo is organ, honky-tonk piano, and electronic bass. Al Jardine remembered that Brian became obsessed with a three-tiered Baldwin organ, causing him to base his new arrangements from a minimalist approach. According to music theorist Daniel Harrison, Smiley Smile is not a work of rock music as the term was understood in 1967, and that the album "can be thought of as a kind of protomiminal rock music." He adds,
Smiley Smile can almost be considered a work of art music in the Western classical tradition, and its innovations in the musical language of rock can be compared to those that introduced atonal and other nontraditional techniques into that classical tradition. The spirit of experimentation is just as palpable in Smiley Smile as it is in, say, Schoenberg's op. 11 piano pieces. Yet there is also a spirit of tentativeness in Smiley Smile. We must remember that it was essentially a Plan B—that is, the album issued instead of Smile. … Whereas a Schoenberg could have notated his compositions cheaply on paper and waited for sympathetic performers to play them, Brian Wilson composed in a recording studio that charged by the hour, employed professional musicians, and required the services of a record company to mass produce and distribute his work. Commercial failure simply cannot be tolerated in this regime, and a work like Smiley Smile has no place in it."
Smiley Smile continued Brian's explorations in "party tracks", a form of music which includes the sounds of people shouting and making noises as if at a party.[nb 4] Brian previously enacted this approach with Beach Boys' Party! in 1965, thereby mixing that album's style with the composition method he devised for "Good Vibrations". Some recording accidents were used to their advantage, such as in "With Me Tonight", which contains an informal link between the verse and chorus by way of a voice saying "good", as in "good take", spoken by Lockert from the control room.
Differences from Smile
The only remnants of Smile that were unchanged from their original form were "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains".[nb 5] In contrast, "With Me Tonight", "Wind Chimes", "Wonderful", and most of "Vegetables" were rerecorded with dramatically scaled down arrangements. The Smile version of "Wonderful", as biographer Peter Ames Carlin explains, "had been a jewel-like ballad featuring an elegant arrangement of harpsichord, strings, horns, and blooms of delicate vocal harmony that celebrated the resilience of love and innocence even in the face of cynicism. The Smiley Smile version, on the other hand, featured a tossed-off organ track, high-pitched backing vocals produced either by a sped-up tape or the voice box–shrinking effects of helium, and a midsong digression into an unstructured doo-wop sing-along, with much giggling and drugged-out whispering." Similarly for "Wind Chimes", "[it lost] its shimmering marimbas in exchange for a horror movie–like organ and a midsong blast of dissonant noise that twists the once-dreamy song into something more like a waking nightmare." Jardine says, "There are some pretty cool songs on that album but I didn't like rehashing some of the Smile songs. That didn't work for me."
Some tracks only faintly recalled compositions stemming from the earlier Smile era.[nb 6] The only completely new songs composed post-Smile were "Little Pad", "Gettin' Hungry", and the closing track "Whistle In".
In mid-June 1967, before the release of Smiley Smile, Capitol A&R director Karl Engemann began circulating a memo which discussed conversations between him and Wilson of a 10-track Smile album. It would have followed up the release of Smiley Smile, and would not have included the selections "Heroes and Villains" nor "Vegetables". Engemann also referred to Smiley Smile as a "cartoon" stopgap for Smile.
The album was preceded by the singles "Heroes and Villains" and "Gettin' Hungry".[nb 7] "Heroes and Villains" peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The latter was not credited to the Beach Boys, but instead to Brian Wilson and Mike Love. "Good Vibrations" was issued as a standalone single a year earlier to wide acclaim; Brian reportedly objected its placement on Smiley Smile, but for the first time, he was outvoted by his bandmates, who insisted on the single's inclusion.
Smiley Smile peaked at number 41 on US Billboard charts for what was their worst performing album to date. Leaf wrote: "By the time Smiley Smile was released in September of 1967, the Beach Boys had become cultural dinosaurs. And it happened almost overnight." According to writer Scott Schinder, the album was released to "general incomprehension. While Smile may have divided the Beach Boys' fans had it been released, Smiley Smile merely baffled them." When released in the UK a few months later, it performed better, reaching number 9 on British charts, though a review published by NME admitted of the album: "By the standards which this group has set itself, it’s more than a grade disappointing."
The magazine Cheetah raved the album, observing that "the mood is rather childlike (not childish) – the kind of innocence that shows on the album cover, with its Rousseau-like animals and forest, and the smoke from the cabin chimney spelling out the title. ... The expression that emerges from this music is very strange: it’s a very personal mood." A review in Hit Parader praised the album for "probably [having] more a cappella harmony than on any album since the fall of the singing-group era in the late 1950s" but decreed that they "still like Pet Sounds better."
Author Domenic Priore reflected: "Actually, the reason most people didn't care for Smiley Smile is that it came out in place of Smile. ... In a lot of ways, we’re lucky to have a Beach Boys album like Smiley Smile." In retrospective reviews, Richie Unterberger gave the album four out of five stars, calling it "a rather nifty, if rather slight, effort that's plenty weird", and noting that the media-hype of the collapsed Smile project at the time was much to blame for its lackluster reception in the United States. In a 2007 issue for Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau and David Fricke named it one of the 40 essential albums of 1967; Christgau declared: "Towering it's not; some kind of hit it is." In 2001, Spencer Owen of Pitchfork Media awarded the album a 9.5/10 score, and wrote "Smiley Smile is a near-masterpiece. Without any awareness of Smile's existence, this album could have been a contemporary classic.…Group harmonies shine just as beautifully as any on Pet Sounds, and although the album isn't anywhere close to the sonic revolution that Sgt. Pepper had already brought, Wilson's innovative production and arrangements still bring out the best in every single track."
Pete Townshend of The Who is a known admirer of the record, as is Robbie Robertson of The Band. In a 2012 interview with Time, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith stated that his "island" music picks would be albums by AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, and Smiley Smile, "Just for the melodic fuck all." Composers for the Japanese role-playing video game series EarthBound cited Smiley Smile and related work as major influences on the games' soundtracks. Smiley Smile later inspired the tribute albums Smiling Pets (1998) and Portland Sings The Beach Boys "Smiley Smile" (2013).
Journalist Nick Kent believed that the album "undersold the worth" of the Smile compositions, and that the album comprised "dumb pot-head skits, so-called healing chants and even some weird 'loony tunes' items straight out of a cut-rate Walt Disney soundtrack".
|Mojo||United Kingdom||Mojo 1000 – The Ultimate CD Buyers Guide[better source needed]||2001|
|NME||United Kingdom||All Times Top 100 Albums[better source needed]||1974|
|OOR Magazine||Netherlands||The Summer of Love, the Best Albums of 1967[better source needed]||1992|
(*) denotes an unordered list
TracklistAll songs written and composed by Brian Wilson except where noted.
|1.||"Heroes and Villains" (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks)||B. Wilson/Al Jardine||3:37|
|2.||"Vegetables" (B. Wilson/Parks)||Jardine/B. Wilson/Mike Love||2:07|
|3.||"Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (W. Woodpecker Symphony)"||instrumental||2:15|
|4.||"She's Goin' Bald" (B. Wilson/Love/Parks)||B. Wilson/Love/Dennis Wilson/Jardine||2:15|
|5.||"Little Pad"||Love/Carl Wilson/B. Wilson||2:30|
|1.||"Good Vibrations" (B. Wilson/Love)||C. Wilson/B. Wilson/Love||3:36|
|2.||"With Me Tonight"||C. Wilson||2:17|
|3.||"Wind Chimes"||Love/B. Wilson/C. Wilson/D. Wilson||2:36|
|4.||"Gettin' Hungry" (B. Wilson/Love)||Love/B. Wilson||2:27|
|5.||"Wonderful" (B. Wilson/Parks)||C. Wilson||2:21|
|6.||"Whistle In"||C. Wilson/Love||1:04|
|Smiley Smile / Wild Honey 2001 CD reissue bonus tracks|
|12.||"Heroes and Villains (Alternate Take)" (B. Wilson/Parks)||B. Wilson||3:00|
|13.||"Good Vibrations (Various Sessions)"||(instrumental)||6:57|
|14.||"Good Vibrations (Early Take)" (B. Wilson, Tony Asher)||C. Wilson with B. Wilson||3:03|
|15.||"You're Welcome"||The Beach Boys||1:11|
|16.||"Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" (Bobby Troup)||The Beach Boys||2:33|
|17.||"Can't Wait Too Long"||B. Wilson with C. Wilson||5:34|
Chart information courtesy of AllMusic and other music databases.
|1967||UK Top 40 Album Chart||9|
|1967||US Billboard 200 Albums Chart||41|
- The Beach Boys
- Al Jardine – vocals, water bottle
- Bruce Johnston – vocals
- Mike Love – vocals
- Brian Wilson – vocals
- Carl Wilson – vocals
- Dennis Wilson – vocals
- Production staff
- Dennis mentioned that it was "Heroes and Villains" that was recorded in a swimming pool.
- Developed by Wendy Carlos, an example of this obscure effect is present in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- In 1976, Brian denied that it was a conscious decision for the group to become more democratic.
- The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women#12 and 35" (1966) were similar examples of party tracks.
- "Heroes and Villains" was modified substantially during the Smiley Smile sessions before being issued as a single preceding the album's release. Comparing Brian's original Smile mixes with the single version, Jardine called it "a pale facsimile … Brian re-invented the song for this record … He purposefully under-produced the song."
- "She's Goin' Bald" borrowed the verse melody from a Smile fragment known as "He Gives Speeches" and "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" lifted a recurring melodic hook from "The Elements: Fire".
- Their respective B-sides were "You're Welcome" and "Devoted to You", both non-album tracks. The latter had been released on Beach Boys' Party! two years earlier.
- Harrison 1997, p. 47.
- DeRogatis 2003, p. 38.
- "Album reviews: Wild Honey". Billboard 17 (51). December 23, 1967. ISSN 0006-2510.
- Chidester, Brian (March 7, 2014). "Busy Doin' Somethin': Uncovering Brian Wilson's Lost Bedroom Tapes". Paste. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
- Badman 2005, p. 200.
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