Archive for the ‘SMiLE Track-by-track’ Category

SMiLE Track-By-Track XVII: Good Vibrations

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

“Good Vibrations” cover

It’s appropriate to end our revisit of the SMiLE track-by-track on the day the rains came to Cape Town. We got our drought relief. But in the ensuing, some lost their lives while others lost their livelihoods.

You know this song. And indeed, I’ve already covered this song on this blog on the 40th anniversary of it’s release, which I noted then was a highpoint for the group, and unfortunately the only was down. So the question is, does it belong on SMiLE?

I believe the answer is yes -for both commercial and thematic reasons. Commercially, I believe it had to be there, just as Sloop John B had to be on Pet Sounds- a strong hook to buy the album. Brian wasn’t oblivious to commercial necessity and it was on the original SMiLE tracklist.

Thematically, I see Good Vibrations as a kind of “fifth element” -the non-visible, almost spiritual connection that one can have between people; the transcedesence that is hinted at in the fire and water segments that precede this song.

On the 2004 version of the completed SMiLE, Brian goes back to the original Tony Asher lyrics and adds the hum-de-dum sections that was not part of the original single. Some may have seen it as churlish to move away from the song that everyone knew, but this was always going to be remake, and the differences provide some good distinguishing features and it certainly rocked in live performances.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XVI: In Blue Hawaii

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

As I repeat my original write-up of the “water” element, we have the worst drought for many generations in Cape Town. We definitely need some healing water soon- it’s in the forecast, let’s hope it comes for real.

We move from the fire to the cleansing water, but the initial part of the “water” section is the atonal water chant. Then suddenly, the music changes to the elemental, healing “I love to say da da” and we are magically transported to Hawaii and some of the most beautiful harmonies and music imaginable.

The resulting creation, In Blue Hawaii, is for my money, one of the top songs in Brian’s canon, and made SMiLE well worth almost four decades of waiting. Water is the purifying ,cleansing element, and the lyrics certainly hint at the Christian concept of washing away sin. Even outside that context, there is definite sense of escaping from the madness into some sort of paradise, and the song, presumably only finished in 2004, definitely fits in well with the overall redemption that concluded the story of SMiLE.

One of things that has struck me about SMiLE is the “elemental” nature of the music- not just the elements theme that is part of the album, but the way that much of the music has a way of sticking in your head, as if Brian has found the very element of a pure pop melody. The main refrain- known originally as I Love To Say Da Da and resurrected in Cool Cool Water- has a childlike quality to it, but once you hear it, you’ll never forget it. Just like water itself, it seems part of the very basics of music and life.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XV: Mrs O’Leary’s Cow

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

This is the one track in the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson canon that genuinely scares me, and one that I have mixed feelings about. Of course, it has a history with Brian Wilson’s own paranoia and belief that the track had some sort of power to inflict troubles, but the reality is that the track became a key part of the SMiLE debacle that imposed huge mental chains on Brian.

Mrs O’Leary’s Cow is a track like no other in Brian’s ouevre. Forget the silly whistles that lead-in the track; the music is like a descent to hell, with a heaviness that rival’s anything that metal can bring up. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable experience, but there is a power that is overwhelming, and no amount of fireman’s hats and whistling can distract that there is something intense happening here.

Most peversely, but in line with the singularity of this piece, the song got the only proper Grammy that Brian and the Beach Boys ever got, for best instumental. This is despite the humming in the song, and even more so, despite Brian being known as the master of vocal harmony.

But in album of duality, the element fire, which this song clearly represents, has the most duality of all. Fire can detroy and kill, but at the same time, it can also renew by burning out the old to allow the new to grow. And that is the miracle of SMiLE, that the fire that almost consumed Brian eventually lead to his biggest redemption.


SMiLE Track-By-Track XIV: Wind Chimes

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Windchimes have a distinctly spiritual quality and this song pays tribute to these popular household items, as well the air element. As with much of SMiLE, there is a real sense of contrast, especially between the slow, ethereal first part of the song and the quite heavy instrumental fadeout. Of course, the element air is one of contrasts- it can be the light breeze, or the raging hurricane.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XIII: On A Holiday

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

This is an interesting track, a bit of a break (holiday?) from the elements theme. Instrumental sections called Holiday were known to collectors, but on the completed 2004 album, it becomes a fully realised vocal track called On A Holiday. The “pirate” lyrics gave the track and album a certain coolness, and there was speculation whether the pirates referred back to the abovementioned collectors. Nick Walusko did his pirate rap and overall, this was one of the fun moments on SMiLE.

Things get a bit more serious at the end with the beautiful “long long ago” and the “whispering winds” section leading into the next part of the “elements”…

SMiLE Track-By-Track XII: Vega-Tables

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Generally regarded as the “earth” section of the elements, Vega-Tables focuses on the theme of healthy living, tying back to the I’m In Great Shape section of the previous track. One can see again the humor element of SMiLE coming through in the goofy instrumentation and the offbeat lyrics that turn around the traditional dislike that people, especially children, have for vegatables. However, a deeper message can be seen in the idea of looking after your body, and by implication, the earth around us. Also listen to great segue from the previous workshop sounds into this track.

SMiLE Track-By-Track XI: I’m In Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

The fragmentary nature of SMiLE is nowhere more noticeable than here – in less than two minutes, we have three distinct and completely separate sections– a brief new song, an old standard and then the sound of workshop instruments. We are now in the final section of SMiLE, which can be described as the “elements” and while these sections don’t seem to directly follow that theme, we get a taste of healthy living (possibly linked to the “earth” element, a broken heart and then that heart being fixed. As I have blogged before, the sound of the workshop can be quite therapeutic -just think of it as your heart being repaired.

SMiLE Track-By-Track X: Surf’s Up

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

It is appropriate to (re)post my Surf’s Up write-up on Easter Sunday – and a time when we all need “a children’s song.”

Surf’s Up is the centerpiece of SMiLE in many ways- close to the middle of the album and lyrically, the richest track on the album. Indeed there is so much going on lyrically that one could write a dissertation on it. Van Dykes Parks word-play reaches a new level here (“The music-hall – A costly bow/holocaust”) and the very title turns the Beach Boys early surfing roots on its’ head. We’re not playing some superficial ocean sport now, we’re diving into the very reality of human existence.

I believe this is one of the songs that lends itself to individual interpretation but the overall sense to me is someone who has lost their humanity in a superficially opulent situation (represented by the grand opera house), gets close to a breakdown (always been moved by lyrics “a broken man too tough to cry”) and then finds redemption in children and simplicity (“a children’s song”).

Brian’s music makes the song, and there is a spiritual quality to the many soaring musical phrases, and you can really sense the “teenage symphony to God” that Brian said he was trying to put together in this album. There is certainly a religious sense of redemption even although the lyric isn’t specifically spiritual, and musically this is marked by the change as we get to the “Surf’s Up” chorus with the almost wordless sense of wonder and change.

And so, the second movement of SMiLE ends in a sense of wonder, rebirth and astonishment at the cycles of life. What a ride!

SMiLE Track-By-Track IX: Child Is The Father Of The Man

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

This is a piece of music that can simply be described as beautiful. Child Is The Father Of The Man is the most classical-sounding piece on the album. Of course, it was known to many as the coda to Surf’s Up and some instrumental versions of the stand-alone song existed “unofficially”, but once again, it makes much more sense in the completed version. The brief lyrics have a postive message that fits in well with what ultimately meant to be an uplifting album.

SMiLE Track-By-Track VIII: Song For Children

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Known to pre-February 2004 collectors as Look (and other titles), this was then an instrumental which didn’t seem to fit in with anything else on what was thought to be part of SMiLE. There was therefore a sense of an obscure looking jigsaw piece being found and fitting in beautifully, when this (officially titled as Song For Children) was played as part of the second movement of SMiLE in that famous premiere. The melody evokes possibly a children’s funfair, while the lyrics refer back to Wonderful, parenthood and childhood, giving a real sense that this was all part of a masterplan back in 1966/67. And even if it wasn’t all thought of then, it remains one of 2004, and all time’s, great creations.