March 26th, 2017
Another brief track in our quick sweep of Americana, and this time it is the great American songbook that Brian glides through, as we are treated to a brief instumental rendition of Old Master Painter and then a chorus of You Are My Sunshine. The song is sung in the past tense (you were my sunshine) and the overall effect is somewhat mournful; something in the past being lost?
March 23rd, 2017
After the expansive and thought-provoking Roll Plymouth Rock, the album lightens up as we go to the country and explore an animal Barnyard. In the Americana context, the importance of the farms is probably the link here. It’s possible that the animal noises that the band had to make may have put them off SMiLE, but in the released version and shows, Brian’s band seem to enjoy the humor in making the animal sounds.
March 21st, 2017
While Chuck Berry was certainly a rock and roll survivor, his recent passing reminds us that nothing is forever, and that the roots of rock and roll are now a number of generations away. It is also fair to say that without him, there may well not have been the Beatles, Beach Boys or even Dylan in form that gave him worldwide acclaim. The Beatles covered his songs; Brian Wilson used on one of his melodies as a basis for the hit that set the Beach Boys off. While others may have made rock and roll into art, Chuck Berry gave it the original backbeat. And for that, we say thank you and goodbye to the one of the main pioneers.
March 17th, 2017
This track was commonly known to collectors (and even released on the Beach Boys box set) as Do You Like Worms?, which possibly gave an indication to outsiders of SMiLE’s weirdness. The bits and pieces that came out on the box set and “unofficial” releases also seemed incomplete; part of intriguing puzzle. But it all came together on the 2004 release under the more “palatable” title of Roll Plymouth Rock.
As with many things related to Van Dyke Parks, there are a million things happening at once, but the major themes seems to be exploring America, colonization and possibly a loss of innocence. As with many things on SMiLE, there are sections and sub-sections, including the famous Bicycle Rider chorus and the “Hawaii” chorus which is insanely catchy and, like much of SMiLE, imprints itself on your brain permanently.
March 13th, 2017
1. Train Tracks for Wheezy - A Little Orchestra and Haiku Salut
2.Let’s Live Before We Die - The Beach Boys
3. Why – The Beach Boys
4. Bobby Left Me – Brian Wilson
5. Kahuna Sunset - Buffalo Springfield
6. Falcon Lake (Ash On The Floor) – Buffalo Springfield
7. What Makes You Stay – Deana Carter
8. Here You Come Again- Dolly Parton
9. All Our Dreams Are Coming True- Gene Page
10. Christmas Makes Me Cry- Kacey Musgraves
11. Present Without a Bow – Kacey Musgraves
12. Perfect World- Katie Melua
13. All-Night Vigil ( Nunc Dimittis) -Katie Melua
14. Two Bare Feet -Katie Melua
15. Walking Down Madison -Kirsty MacColl
16. Soho Square - Kirsty MacColl
17. In Amsterdam – Paul Weller
18. Discover A Lovelier You -Pernice Brothers
19. Alpine Crossing – Swing Out Sister
20. Caipirinha -Swing Out Sister
21. I’m in Love -Teenage Fanclub
22. The First Sight -Teenage Fanclub
23. Will You Be Staying After Sunday -The Peppermint Rainbow
March 11th, 2017
This is what I wrote eight years ago in the original track by track for SMiLE. In 2017, it may be good reminding ourselves that the heroes do win in the end…
This was the song that confused and amazed; as the Beach Boys first single after the worldwide super-smash, Good Vibrations, it didn’t light up the charts and led a general chart decline in the late 60s. And although 1967 was a pretty much “anything goes” year, the seeming barbershop psychedelia of Heroes And Villains didn’t catch on in the summer of love.
Of course, a book could be written about this song, which is the centerpiece of the first suite of SMiLE, often referred to as the Americana section. There were many different sections, some of which became parts of other songs, some left out altogether. The “In The Cantina” section, which is restored to the released SMiLE version gives this song a distinct wild west feel and also adds to the “humor” which was one of the intentions of SMiLE.
But the key theme of the song is duality -there is complexity as well as simplicity in the song, light as well as darkness. SMiLe expands the seeming narrow theme of young adult love of Pet Sounds to a wide portrait of life from birth to death, America from Hawaii to Plymouth Rock. And in this life, there are heroes and villains and many of us may have this duality within ourselves. In the end, we are thankful that the ultimate musical hero, Brian Wilson conquered the villain of his demons and came out with the completed SMiLE. Yes, the heroes win in the end.
March 8th, 2017
Regular readers of the blog will know that the music of Prefab Sprout and Paddy McAloon is very much up there as one of my favorite artists. As Paddy has suffered both sight and hearing problems, any music from him is a special gift, and the unexpected 2013 album Crimson/Red could have been seen as a swansong. But he is back with a Youtube video , and even if it is a one-off, the subject matter could hardly be more relevant in the strange post-2016 world. There is also a great write-up on the song and it’s background on the Guardian.
March 4th, 2017
In further celebration of the 50th anniversary of when SMiLE was originally planned to be released, I’m going to do a reboot of the track-by-track (based on Brian’s 2004 released version).
The opening of SMiLE immediately suggests we are doing something very different to Pet Sounds. While Pet Sounds hinted indirectly at spirituality (God Only Knows coming closest), Our Prayer starts as a direct invocation to a higher force and inspiration -those ascending notes immediately taking us to a place that can only be called spiritual, however we interpret that term.
And then we are taken back to earth and teenage emotions, as Brian opens the great American songbook with an excerpt of Gee (how I love that girl). SMiLE has been playing for just over a minute, and we can already see a wide canvas of American life.
February 26th, 2017
Having finished reading Brian Wilson’s new autobiography, there is little doubt that SMiLE was pivotal to Brian’s life- the book opens with the first performance of the album in 2004. Brian’s breakdown in 1964 and Pet Sounds were also very important -indeed matching the greatness of Pet Sounds was surely one of the reasons SMiLE was such as challenge to complete - but the collapse and redemption of SMiLE mirrors Brian’s own retreat and recovery.
The book also talks about the connection between SMiLE and America – Brian notes that the album is about the whole world, but particularly about America. The first movement in particular covers the breadth of the country, from Hawaii to Plymouth Rock, the growth of the country, the heroes and villains and great American music. It shows the possibilities and greatness of the country, the ability to assimilate many things and come out even greater. In this respect, as we celebrate 50 years since SMiLE was originally scheduled to be released, maybe America needs a SMiLE even more than ever.
February 20th, 2017
There was no release date in 1967 for SMiLE. Given that most of the sessions took place in the later part of 1966, and the last studio album from the Beach Boys was Pet Sounds in May 1966, in an alternate universe we may well have seen the Beach Boys releasing SMiLE exactly 5o years ago. But the legend took a different turn, and instead we saw the first “release” of SMiLE in a live concert in London exactly 13 years ago. And I was one of the very lucky people who was there.
February 20, 2004 will always be one of the greatest day of my life, when I was a live witness to musical history being made in the company of the some greatest legends of rock and pop (Paul McCartney, George Martin and Paul Weller were there as well as the co-creator of SMiLE Van Dyke Parks). SMiLE is a great album, but it will always be even more special to me, because of that connection.
Over the next few months, this blog will celebrate the 50th anniversary of SMiLE being shelved and celebrate the music itself. As we will see, SMiLE is ultimately a microcosm of life itself, as well as the triumph against adversity. The world may well have done with a SMiLE in 1967 but now , more than ever, we need it in 2017.