An Odd Smile

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of Smiley Smile – more than 16 months after Pet Sounds, which would be seen as productive these days, but was an eternity in the mid 60s. And a lot has happened since I posted on the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds in May last year.

Ah..Smiley Smile, the album released during the “Summer Of Love” in 1967 that befuddled a generation, changed the commercial and critical perception of the Beach Boys, and now survives as a minor cult classic. What can one say about this unusual album which sounds nothing like the Beach Boys, or any other group, released before or since. “Barbershop on acid” may be one description, but one really has to hear this record to believe it.
Smiley Smile shares a similar name, and at least five songs with the abandoned SMiLE album that you can read about here. Indeed much of the music was probably conceived at some stage during the SMiLE sessions, but aside from Good Vibrations and parts of Heroes And Villains, was completely re-recorded in Brian’s home studio.

There is a “stoned” feel that permeates much of the album, but there is also a wide variety of styles. The slick production of Good Vibrations also doesn’t sit well with the homespun feel of much of the remaining material. Quality is also a mixed bag…Little Pad and With Me Tonight have strong tunes beneath the goofiness, the alternative Wind Chimes is spooky but fascinating, but the bizarre approach to Wonderful doesn’t work when contrasted with the SMiLE versions.

As David Leaf noted, the progression from Surfin’ Safari to Pet Sounds was stopped with this album which seemed to go in a direction that no-one predicted or understood. This album must take some of the blame for the loss of critical and commercial appeal that blighted the Beach Boys in the late 60s and early 70s, and prevented the strong albums that followed this one becoming succesful in their own time. It also seems bizarre that the band approved this release when seeming to resist the groundbreaking, but surely more conventional album that SMiLE surely would have been had it been released in 1967.

Even so, an album with Good Vibrations,Heroes And Villains and some great harmonies and a sense humor is still better than average. Smiley Smile will befuddle you, but over time, you may well learn to love much of it.

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