What are your opinions on Smiley Smile, and for those who were at least 13 or above in '67, do you think Smile, if it came out as envisioned by BW, could’ve been a success? Why, in an age of “avant garde” rock did Pet Sounds fail commercially?
Look at what else came out in 1967. Smiley Smile didn’t have the chops next to all of that. Surf music was done. I mean we had Jim Morrison, we had Janis Joplin, we had Jefferson Airplane, we had Velvet Underground, we had Jimi Hendrix. (I think we also had Ultimate Spinach but nobody remembers them.) On alternative stations you could hear Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa. There was a burst of creativity in music and…the good old reliable Beach Boys. Everything was newer and better and the BBoys’ attempts at psychedlic rock were found wanting in comparison.
A few years later, or a few years earlier, and yeah, it would have been something.
I was working at Borders when Brian Wilson Presents Smile came out, to the awe of our Music supervisor.
Jimi Hendrix was right on “Third Stone from the Sun”.
Boy, was he ever.
ETA: but I’m probably in the minority. And I’m OK with that.
Ha! I was exactly 13 in 1967. I thought then that Smiley Smile was a mess, and still do. If Smile was anything like Brian Wilson Presents Smile, which was released in 2004, I think it would have sold better than Smiley Smile did.
Three great songs and the rest is an indulgent mess. Too bad because Wilson and the Beach Boys put out a lot of great music - Sunflowers and Surf’s Up were great albums.
The parts from the Smile project that were subsequently used for Smiley Smile were completely destroyed, such as “Wind Chimes” and “Wonderful”.
I think *Smile *would have been a success because it moved the Beach Boys’ sound away from surf music towards a more psychedelic countercultural direction, similar to how The Beatles and others had done. Also, because it’s simply so good musically - it’s probably my joint favorite “rock/pop” album.
I recommend seeking out the bootleg Purple Chick Mix of Smile. You can listen to it on Youtube. One thing to note about this mix, though, is that it has an extended “Good Vibrations” with some alternate lyrics, which are badly recorded, but it has some bonus tracks, including an extended “Good Vibrations” with original lyrics, which sounds a lot better, so I swap these two tracks. I also prefer the bonus version of “Surf’s Up”, which adds four bars before the coda.
Wiki says the album went platinum, and that Sloop John B and God Only Knows and Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Caroline, No were all Top 40 hits (with one hitting #8, and another hitting #3). You could do a lot worse.
Don’t forget All You Need is Smiles.
Funnily enough, I’ve been getting into post-Smile Beach Boys lately (inspired by reading Brian Wilson’s recent memoir) and just gave Smiley Smile a good listen the other day. The first time I heard it, years ago, I didn’t think much. Hearing it with a bit fresher perspective, I enjoy it. If you can divorce it from any pre-knowledge of Smile — The Greatest Album (N)ever Made — and just take it on its own terms, it’s an admittedly shaggy but nevertheless warm and charming record. It reminds me of Paul McCartney’s first solo album (also literally a home-made effort) but weirder, maybe a little sloppier but also more endearing.
Would Smile have been a hit had it come out? It depends. Most of the best work on Smile was in the can by the end of 1966. If Brian could have held himself together well enough to get the album to market in the first months of 1967, it would have certainly knocked people for a loop. Critics would have eaten it up, and Paul McCartney would have nervously wondered whether the then-in-progress Sergeant Pepper was going to measure up.
But I think commercially it would have underperformed, worse than Pet Sounds. “Good Vibrations” was kind of a fluke hit, but in general, the Beach Boys’ fanbase didn’t go for Brian’s excesses. *Pet Sounds, *which sold poorly by Beach Boys standards, was sophisticated and arty but at least the subject matter is approachable. Smile is just fucking weird. Capitol would have not been pleased, Brian probably still would have burned out from the effort and his position as undisputed composer/producer/creative genius of the Beach Boys would not have survived the ordeal. They would have had to change direction regardless, the way Dylan created the leaner, more straightforward John Wesley Harding after the lyrical excesses of Blonde on Blonde, and the other members would have had to step up to fill the vacuum left by Brian. So something like Smiley Smile (building on the leftovers of Smile proper) might well have come out anyway.
Pet Sounds was too early. It came out in May 1966 and rock wasn’t avant garde yet. Not a single one of the names Hilarity mentions had yet put out a single album.
Moreover, none of them had the kind of baggage the Beach Boys dragged with them, a devoted fanbase who were looking for one type of song. (The Airplane’s first album was folk-rock, but they weren’t known nationally then.) “Barbara Ann,” a goofy a cappella singalong from their covers album that preceded Pet Songs, charted higher than any song on the later album. It even charted higher than “California Girls,” which might be their best song ever. Smile wouldn’t have had a chance in that atmosphere.
That’s deserving, I think. I saw Brian Wilson on tour earlier this year. The first act was about two dozen Beach Boy classics. The audience was going nuts. After the intermission he played *Smile *from beginning to end. Polite applause. The encore was four big hits. The audience torn the place down brick by brick. People left their wheelchairs. Alabama elected a Democratic senator. Brian wrote one kind of song as good as anyone in rock history. His other work is spotty and often not well orchestrated. Contemporaries like McCartney and Paul Simon had much more range. That’s not a knock against him. He’s in the pantheon and will be there forever. But not for Smiley Smile.