By John Cody
• Brian Wilson Presents Smile (DVD), Rhino, 2005
FOR DECADES, the Beach Boys’ lost album from 1967, Smile, was considered the greatest album never released.
Tapes have circulated for years, and those lucky enough to hear the original sessions argue that, had it been released, it would have taken the place in rock history that the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band occupies.
Smile was a trippy, neo-psychedelic experience, but with little relationship to what was happening in San Francisco or London at the time. Almost 40 years on, Pepper can sound dated, a product of a bygone era and mindset; whereas the bits of Smile that made it out are as fresh as ever. A facsimile of the original work can be assembled, and is an amazing listening experience.
The only song completed and released to the public during the period the work was actually being created was the single ‘Good Vibrations,’ which topped music charts around the world. It was a tantalizing taste of what should have come.
The full-length album was slated for an early 1967 release; but head Beach Boy Brian Wilson abandoned the work after suffering numerous breakdowns – in large part caused by internal friction within the band. Particularly problematic was Wilson’s relationship with Mike Love, who disliked the new direction and urged Wilson to stick to the tried and true (and tired) formula of surf, sand, cars and girls. Drugs certainly played a part, opening – and then closing – Wilson’s mind.
After decades of refusing to even discuss the project, Wilson went back into the studio and recorded it from scratch last year. In addition to the CD, a double disc DVD set was released in May .
The DVD includes a complete performance recorded before a studio audience last year in Los Angeles; and Beautiful Dreamer, a fascinating hour-long documentary chronicling the album’s long, strange history from inception to realization.
It’s an emotional film, highlighted by Smile lyricist and long time Wilson champion Van Dyke Parks taking the stage in tears at the London premiere. As an exploration of one of the all-time mysteries of pop music, Beautiful Dreamer goes a long way to clearing up misconceptions around Wilson’s greatest work.
Wilson is scheduled to perform the entire Smile album at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre August 29.
© John Cody 2005