Smiley Smile album
- US Release: September 18, 1967
- UK Release: November 1967
- Chart High: US #41; UK #9
- Heroes & Villains b/w You’re Welcome
- Gettin’ Hungry b/w Devoted To You (Party Album)
With unrest surrounding their latest as-yet unreleased SMiLE recordings, The Beach Boys’ new LP, Smiley Smile, is released in the U.S. on September 18th, 1967 and worldwide by November 1967. Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson tells the US press: “It was not as ambitious an album as Pet Sounds was. But [Smiley Smile is] the most fun thing we ever did. I listened to it in a jungle in Africa and it sounded great. Cut largely at Brian Wilson’s new home studio, Smiley Smile cobbles together inferior-quality versions of songs originally intended for SMiLE and hastily recorded new material. Only “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes & Villains” appear in their original versions. “Good Vibrations” is here to help bolster sales, even though Brian is strongly against it’s inclusion. But he is outvoted by the other Beach Boys, the first time that the entire group has overruled him. Clearly, as he had feared, it is the end of an era.
Fans, critics and the music industry alike hang their heads in disbelief and sheer bewilderment when they first listen to Smiley Smile. There have been months of SMiLE-related hysteria, including the memorable appearance by Brian on the Inside Pop TV show just five months earlier, a performance that prepared everyone for the greatest album ever made. Now Smiley Smile appears – and becomes one of the most baffling and bizarre albums to appear from a major rock act. The underground rock aristocracy have already deemed The Beach Boys passe, and now have the material with which to crucify them. The press wastes no time in effectively blacklisting the band, refusing to review their latest records, or reviewing them long after they have been released…
Pictured: The Beach Boys in 1967.
Beach Boys guitarist Carl Wilson will sum up the Smiley Smile LP as “a bunt instead of a grand slam” and says that it all but destroys the group’s reputation for forward-thinking pop. The album is the first (and last) to be released by this incarnation of Brother Records, with a production credit to “The Beach Boys”. It charts no higher than #41 in the US. In the UK, where it is released in November, Smiley Smile will peak at #9, but the album receives a mauling from the once appreciative UK music critics.
“Undoubtedly the worst album ever released by The Beach Boys,” writes the Melody Maker reviewer. “It contains two single tracks, “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes & Villains”, which are good, but the rest seem to be more a series of introductions to songs, which never start. There is a poor instrumental track “Fall Breaks And Back To Winter”, and the rest are so childish and pointless they don’t bear discussion, which is a tragedy in view of their past output. Prestige has been seriously damaged.” With the recordings for Smiley Smile over and the record out, it becomes clear that 25-year-old Brian Wilson has lost his control over The Beach Boys. It seems also that his drive and desire to create great artistic statements have deserted him. From now on Brian will be happy to let go and allow others to take over.
Pictured: 1967 advertisement for the “Heroes & Villains” single.
Jamie Atkins reviews in retrospect for Record Collector, July 2018:
“Smiley Smile had the unenviable task of restoring the reputation of The Beach Boys. On the surface, it’s a goofy, at times spooked take on the psych in the vogue at the time. Despite the verdant, Rousseau like sleeve, the songs did not, with the exception of “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes & Villains”, appear to be finished; at least not when compared to the meticulous, lush Pet Sounds. Songs seem barely rehearsed and fragmentary, such as “Little Pad”, which collapses in hilarity, thanks to a blossoming interest in mind-altering substances.”
“Smiley Smile must be one of the strangest ever releases by a mainstream pop group, yet it has a definite charm. The vocals are intimate and heavy-lidded, as a result of the relaxed nature of the sessions. Musically, it’s deceiving; the arrangements of many of the tracks are remarkably complex, yet sound simple: “With Me Tonight”, for example, a heart-swelling slice of beatific barbershop. The legendarily aborted SMiLE material was completely overhauled and re-recorded. “Wind Chimes”, previously breezy and bucolic, became tense and claustrophobic; the usually angelic harmonies of The Beach Boys sound discordant, even malevolent, until the end of the track when a beautiful a cappella flourish gives way to a barely audible Dennis, Brian and Carl harmony tag. Similarly, “Wonderful” flipped to show it’s sinister side; a sweet, harpsichord-led piece of harmonic heaven was updated to sound hushed and full of foreboding.”
“Smiley Smile was their lowest-charting original record yet, reaching #41, in spark contrast to the all-conquering Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the latest by their one-time chart rivals. The shadow of SMiLE continued to loom large in particular in Brian. Having deconstructed his most ambitious work, the group’s visionary began to take a back seat, appearing uninspired and burnt-out. From this period on, Brian’s involvement declined, far from the young man who had energetically overseen every creative aspect of their success.”
Pictured: The cover and label for the US version of the”Heroes & Villians” single.
Smiley Smile Sessions
June 3, 1967, Los Angeles, CA
Just as the world is rejoicing to the breathtaking new sounds of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Beach Boys return to the studio to record some more music. It is at this point that SMiLE segues into Smiley Smile. It has been over a year since the landmark Pet Sounds album was released, and six months since the remarkable “Good Vibrations” single. At Brian Wilson’s request most of the recordings made during the SMiLE sessions are now distinctly off limits, and The Beach Boys find themselves in a bind for new material. So over the next six weeks – until July 14th – the group, with a partly lethargic Brian, begins to re-record many SMiLE-period songs in drastically simplified forms, including “Wind Chimes” and “Wonderful”.
During this period, Brian will never fully revisit the original SMiLE tapes, aside from the few recordings that will appear on Smiley Smile such as “Heroes & Villains”, which includes portions of the SMiLE-era recordings, and a small snippet of the original “Vega-Tables” that appears at the end of Smiley Smile’s “Vegetables”. There will also be elements of Smiley Smile tracks that that echo parts of SMiLE, such as the melody of “She’s Goin’ Bald”, drawn from “He Gives Speeches”, and “Mama Says” on Wild Honey will be based on a part of “Vega-Tables”. Subsequent releases of SMiLE-era material – “Cabinessense”, “Our Prayer” and “Surf’s Up” – will be overdubbed and completed by Carl and Dennis Wilson without Brian’s cooperation in November 1968 and June/July 1971, although Brian does make an appearance during the recording of the “Child Is The Father Of The Man” tag of “Surf’s Up” in June 1971.
The Smiley Smile sessions are strained – so trained, in fact, that Bruce Johnston (newest Beach Boys member, sings, plays piano, and bass) has little involvement. It is clear that Brian, after his recent turmoil, is not completely capable of producing or even leading The Beach Boys, even though he finds himself intermittently controlling the proceedings. Carl Wilson says “We’d just let the tape machines roll. We’d just make up stuff and do it. There wasn’t the same type of effort put into that album. It was very simple, more like a “jam” album.”
Pictured: Dennis Wilson (foreground) and Brian Wilson (background) in 1967.
Smiley Smile Sessions
June 11, 1967, Bel Air, CA
Today, at Brian Wilson’s new Home Studio, vocals and instrumentals are recorded for what will remain an unreleased track “Good News”. In an attempt to bring a dejected Brian Wilson back to the music, sessions for Smiley Smile leave Western Recorders and move into Brian’s living room at his Bel Air home. A hastily constructed, makeshift, portable 8-track studio, paid for by The Beach Boys, is built in a non-soundproofed room to encourage further involvement from Brian. Throughout these sessions at Brian’s home studio the group is joined by engineer Jim Lockert. Lockert tells Byron Preiss: “When we started at the house we had remote equipment. It was rented and brought into the house. [There was] one large room which had been a music room for the former owner, and there was a hallway and an office. The cables ran across the hall into the music room, and there was a closed-circuit television so you could see what was going on.”
Carl Wilson will recall: “Most of Smiley Smile was done at Brian’s house, with his own equipment and in his studio, which he had built in a couple of days. We did part of it in his gym, part in his backyard, and even in his swimming pool…all over the place.” As the sessions progress, Lockert says, they adapt and improve the set-up, moving the recording equipment out of the office. “We found a room adjacent to the large music room and built a control room in there, [installing] a remote console and speakers. We physically changed the music room into a recording studio with isolation and baffles and sound treatment so we could do some recording in there without problems.”
On June 12th, the first of three straight sessions for the new version of “Heroes & Villains” is started. The recordings today include the taping of an entirely new vocal track and a re-recording of parts of the instrumental track. To create an echo-chamber effect the group records instrumental parts in Brian’s drained swimming pool. A microphone is fed out through a window in the house, across the garden, and into the empty pool in Brian’s backyard. The next day further vocal sessions for “Heroes & Villains” are carried out. Engineer Jim Lockert recalls later: “We’d play the track and they’d work out their [vocal] parts until they got them…and if it was what they wanted they’d go in immediately and double it or overdub it with another part. Then the last thing they used to do is go to the high parts. Brian would put his part on last most of the time. The high part.”
Pictured: Various covers for the “Heroes & Villians” and “Gettin’ Hungry” singles.
Monterey International Pop Music Festival
- June 16-18 1967
The last shift in Brian Wilson’s attempt to win over the hip community is played out. The Beach Boys are scheduled to headline the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, a summit of rock music over these three days at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California, with the emphasis on love, peace, flowers and youth. Although Brian is a member of the board of this non-profit event, The Beach Boys do not in in fact appear – and thus squander their hopes of becoming the world’s predominant pop group. The prime official reason for their non-appearance is that their negotiations with Capitol Records are at a crucial stage and that they have to get “Heroes & Villains” out right away. An unofficial explanation is that Brian had had a disagreement with the festival’s promoter.
As expected, the festival is a huge success and the public notes The Beach Boys’ non-appearance as a tacit agreement that they are no longer hip. Singer Otis Redding takes their place as Saturday evening’s headlining act – and that night’s show is the first to be totally sold out. In truth the group’s new material is “imprisoned” by an ongoing legal dispute with Capitol Records. With no new songs to play at the festival, Brian has no alternative but to withdraw The Beach Boys from the concert. As The Beatles usher in the new, exciting psychedelic age with Sgt. Pepper, The Beach Boys will be quickly left behind as unpopular, unfashionable and out of date, as throwbacks to 1950’s doowop. Their rejection by the American press and the music buying public will last for three long years. – Next Release
Pictured: 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival poster.