|The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions [9 CD] (2011)|
The Beach Boys - The Smile Sessions
Location: Hawthorne, California, U.S.
Album release: November 1, 2011
Record Label: Capitol; 2011
Original Release Date: 1966
Number of Discs: 9
By Mark Richardson; November 2, 2011
It's a rite of passage for students of pop music history: At some point, you learn that the Beach Boys weren't just a fun 1960s surf band with a run of singles that later came to be used in commercials; at their best, they were making capital-A Art. The record that convinces most is Pet Sounds, that understated 1966 masterpiece that articulates a specific kind of teenage longing and loneliness like nothing before or since. Once you've absorbed that record, you find yourself going back through songs like "Don't Worry Baby", "The Warmth of the Sun", and "I Get Around", finding a deeper brilliance where you once heard only pop craftsmanship. As you make these discoveries, you come to learn about the auteur at the center of it all, Brian Wilson, who shouldered the burden of being the creative force in one of the most successful and musically ambitious pop bands of the era. And then you find out about SMiLE.
Conceived, recorded, and ultimately abandoned in 1966 and 1967, SMiLE was to be something like Brian's Sgt. Pepper's, his attempt to make the great art-pop album of the era. He followed his muse to the ends of the earth, putting a grand piano in a massive living room sandbox, outfitting another room with an Arabian tent, making session musicians wear fireman's hats for the recording of a song about the elements, freaking out when an actual fire broke out down the street from the studio around the time of recording of said track, and, no surprise, taking enough drugs to amplify the whole scene and turn it into something terrifying. But the record was not to be. The music recorded for SMiLE was too far-out for the rest of the band (lead singer Mike Love hated the lyrics penned by Wilson's collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, an opinion he still holds) and Wilson had trouble finishing tracks. Eventually, he shelved the record for good and the band issued the low-key, weird, and supremely stoned Smiley Smile. By setting the record aside, Wilson became afraid to indulge his talent, and his contributions to the Beach Boys would never again be central to the band.
If you're wired a certain way, once you learn the SMiLE story, you long to hear the album that never was. It looms out there in imagination, an album that lends itself to storytelling and legend, like the aural equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. And the songs from the sessions that eventually made it out on other records-- "Surf's Up", "Cabin Essence", "Heroes and Villains", and more, including material on the 1993 Beach Boys career-overview box Good Vibrations-- were so brilliant that the lack of proper release becomes almost painful. So you might start hunting down bootlegs, poring over the fragments, and finding competing edits and track sequences, which only feeds your desire to know what the "real" SMiLE could have been.
Only in 2003, when long-time Beach Boys fanatic and tape trader Darian Sahanaja and his band the Wondermints collaborated with Brian on a live version of SMiLE and 2004's Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE album did the lost record assume a definitive shape. But as exciting as that record was at the time, the lure of the originals never went away. So there was naturally a great deal of excitement when, early this year, we heard that the original tapes were being assembled for official release. This epic story finally has an ending, and it's a very happy one. As archival projects go, SMiLE is as surprising, generous, and successful as anything in recent memory. The version of the album, based on the Wilson/Wondermints sequence, feels remarkably complete and whole, even though it was largely built from unfinished scraps.
During this period, Wilson and Parks were working on an enormous canvas. They were using words and music to tell a story of America. If the early-60s Beach Boys were about California, that place where the continent ends and dreams are born, SMiLE is about how those dreams were first conceived. Moving west from Plymouth Rock, we view cornfields and farmland and the Chicago fire and jagged mountains, the Grand Cooley Damn, the California coast-- and we don't stop until we hit Hawaii. Cowboy songs, cartoon Native American chants, barroom rags, jazzy interludes, rock'n'roll, sweeping classical touches, street-corner doo-wop, and town square barbershop quartet are swirled together into an ever-shifting technicolor dream.
Befitting an album concerned with history, SMiLE feels strangely adrift from time, using the technology of the day and an avant-garde approach to pop song form to make the past look both familiar and strange. In 1966 and 1967, old-timey music, if you squinted at it just so, could be imbued with a haze of psychedelia. And this is a deeply psychedelic album, though disorientation mostly comes from its juxtapositions, how the orchestral miniatures (or "feels," as Wilson called his modular melodic ideas) bump into each other and find their way from one song to the next, the "Heroes and Villains" refrain here, the "Child Is Father of the Man" refrain there.
The 2004 sequence divided the album into three "movements," with songs connected thematically, and this reissue wisely puts each on its own side of vinyl (if you want only the record proper, the 2xLP, with key outtakes added on the fourth side, is absolutely the way to go). Each movement has at least one pop masterpiece. On the first, there's "Heroes and Villains" and "Cabin Essence", both exploring western themes in Parks' bent style. Here and especially on side two's "Surf's Up", the level of Parks' writing is astounding. He had the sound-driven jumble of imagery of contemporaneous Dylan, but his words were far tighter and more disciplined. He also understood the power of a good pun. Sounds are slurred together to take on new meaning through clusters that extended beyond the spaces between the words. So, "The music hall, a costly bow," in "Surf's Up" also sounds like, "The music holocaust," and lines like, "canvas the town and brush the backdrop," layer image atop image with breathtaking efficiency.
Each side's arc also serves to push forward the record as a whole. Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE has made this sequencing seem canonical, and there were enough raw materials in the vault available to piece together a worthy approximation. Once in a while, you can hear a stitch or shift that would have no doubt been done over later, but those moments are rare and ultimately only add to the record's charm. By the time the tense and throbbing neo-classical piece "Fire (Mrs. O'Leary's Cow)" comes along in the third movement and then leads into "Love to Say Dada" (mostly an instrumental, it was meant to have lyrics; they were added for Brian Wilson Presents Smile, the song titled "In Blue Hawaii") and then to the extended "Good Vibrations", the strength of the album as a full piece is staggering.
But part of the allure of SMiLE will always be the pieces, and the deluxe box has a lot of them. There's almost a full disc of "Heroes and Villains" fragments and another entire CD with bits of "Good Vibrations". Given the nature of this release, the extras are illuminating, arguably more essential than most outtakes included with bonus albums. Having source materials hints at roads not taken, and also offers insight into the difficulty of actually creating a record on this scale, given how much we've heard about all the bouncing and layering that SMiLE entailed (the complexity of which is partly to blame for the project's being late and ultimately abandoned) and how many of the basic tracks were recorded live in the studio with a dozen or more musicians at once. There were only four and eight tracks to work with on the tape of the time, so one of them would need multiple instruments just to have voices and overdubs added later. Not to mention that these modular sections were eventually going to be stitched together with tape and razorblades. Beyond the fragments, there are brilliant single performances, like the two demo versions of "Surf's Up". To my ears, the song is a high-water mark of pop songwriting, positively haunting with its melodic twists and turns. And Brian's vocal performances, with wild leaps into the upper reaches of his falsetto, give the track an almost unbearable poignancy. It's incredible to think that "Surf's Up" would remain in the vault for five years, until it appeared in re-worked form on the 1971 album of the same name.
On the sessions material, you also get to hear Wilson running the show in the studio, and apart from a few asides where he talks about hash and LSD, he sounds excited, patient, and kind, offering encouragement about mood, timing, and tempo. He surely wasn't an easy guy to work for, but hearing his voice on these tapes, it's remarkable how together he seems and how willing he is to work with these musicians to make something great. Most of all, his studio patter provides a nice counterbalance to SMiLE's prevailing narrative, of a crazed genius unraveling in the face of trying to create his masterpiece. We love crack-up stories. There's something in the Western psyche that loves to romanticize the alleged connection between madness and genius. And someone like Wilson-- fragile, paranoid, childlike, and dreamy-- fits one template of the crazed genius to a T. Never mind that he was a student of music, put in twice as many hours of extremely hard work as anyone else in the band, and relied greatly on collaboration and outside inspiration. When thinking of SMiLE, the guy in the fireman's hat thinking his music could burn down buildings is who we remember. But now we have the full picture. SMiLE was never finished, and it still isn't, but we can safely say this is as close as it'll ever come. What's here is brilliant, beautiful, and, most importantly, finally able to stand tall on its own.
Taken from: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16000-the-smile-sessions/?utm_campaign=most-read-week&utm_medium=related&utm_source=pitchfork
Their classic songs epitomize the spirit of the California lifestyle and The Beach Boys have become an American icon to a worldwide audience. The Beach Boys’ first hit “Surfin’” (1961) launched a string of chart-topping songs that spans nearly forty years and includes eternal anthems of American youth: “Surfin’ USA”, “Surfer Girl”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “I Get Around”, “California Girls”, “Help Me Rhonda”, “Barbara Ann”, “Good Vibrations”, ”Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Kokomo” and more.
Their chart success alone would have earned The Beach Boys their spot in The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (they were inducted in 1988), not to mention 32 RIAA Platinum and Gold record awards and worldwide sales estimated at over 100 million. But The Beach Boys' story is one of not only commercial but also artistic success. Their unique blend of harmonies, musical arrangements and timeless lyrics still place the music of The Beach Boys among the All-Time Favorites of today’s music critics. As an example, VH-1 named “Pet Sounds” as the #3 album in the Top 100 Albums in Rock 'n' Roll History, as judged in a poll of musicians, executives and journalists. The Beach Boys were honored at the 2001 Grammy Awards, receiving The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy.
In the 1960's, there were two groups on Capitol Records - one American, the other British - whose name began with the letters "B-E-A-." Each of these groups featured a bass playing songwriter born in June of 1942, and each group made records that have withstood the test of time to become classics of popular culture.
The Beatles, of course, broke up in 1970. But the American band, The Beach Boys, continued on, recording new material and selling out concert tours. To this day, generations of fans are still falling in love with the golden harmonies of California's musical ambassadors to the world.
For The Beach Boys, it all began in the modest home of Murry and Audree Wilson in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne. In the bedroom shared by their sons, oldest brother Brian taught his younger siblings to sing. In late-night sessions, middle brother Dennis and baby brother Carl learned the harmonies that Brian had absorbed from countless listenings to Four Freshmen and Hi-Los records.
Joining in on Christmas carols at holiday gatherings was Mike Love, the Wilson brothers' first cousin. Mike and Brian also spent many nights together in the late '50's listening to the car radio and singing along to their favorite hits of the day.
However, until 1961, singing was just something the Wilson/Love clan did for fun. It was when that familial foursome became five in 1961, with the addition of Al Jardine (Brian's Hawthorne High football teammate and El Camino Junior College classmate) that the self-named "Pendletones" began to take their vocalizing a little more seriously. Al had a love of folk music and his voice was the fourth part to fill out the harmony blend.
When Murry and Audree returned from a trip to Mexico, they found that Brian and Mike had penned “Surfin’,” which would become The Beach Boys first single release on the Candix label. Thanks to a remarkable chain of events, they made their first recording and miraculously scored their first chart record.
The formula? Their California garage band sound and an original song about a local fad had immediate teen appeal, and "Surfin'" reached the Top 3 on L.A. radio hit-lists. But as each of the newly-named Beach Boys earned only about $200 from that moment of fame, in early '62 (even though the group had made their live performing debut on December 31, 1961 at a Ritchie Valens memorial concert), the record business probably felt more like a hobby than a job. After all, Carl and Dennis were still in high school, Al and Brian were in college and Mike was 20 and working a full-time job.
Nonetheless, they were determined to have a career, and they cut a demo tape that would turn out to be their first major label record. With that tape and the help of the Wilson brothers' father, Murry, the group secured a record contract with Capitol Records in mid-1962. Their first single, "Surfin' Safari" b/w "409" was virtually an overnight hit, and almost right out of the box, The Beach Boys became Capitol's hottest act.
In the late summer of '62, the group recorded their first long-player, Surfin' Safari, and that release triggered an avalanche of music. From 1962-1969, Capitol released 20 Beach Boys albums, many of which went "Gold" and hit the Top 20, as The Beach Boys became first the most popular group in American and ultimately one of the most popular in the world.
In another milestone, The Beach Boys pioneered the concept of the self-contained band, and in the process, revolutionized the recording business. In an unparalleled act of rock 'n' roll rebellion, The Beach Boys, with Murry Wilson running interference, turned the system upside down, demanding and winning the right to control their records. The Beach Boys' declaration of independence smashed all precedents. Brian Wilson won his creative freedom, and The Beach Boys became the first, and for a long time, the only rock artists to completely control the musical output of their career.
From the beginning, the group featured Carl Wilson (Brian's studio sidekick, the musical director of the touring band and a truly pacific soul) on lead guitar; Dennis (the inspiration for The Beach Boys' first song, the group's sex symbol and a real surfing beach boy) bashed on drums; Mike Love (Brian's first lyrical collaborator and the co-writer of many of The Beach Boys' biggest hits) sang lead and became the extroverted emcee of the live shows; Al Jardine (briefly replaced by Wilson neighbor David Marks in 1962 and 1963) strummed rhythm guitar and added his voice to the family blend; and Brian played bass, wrote the songs, arranged the instruments and the vocals, and produced the records. When Brian quit touring in late 1964, to spend more time in the studio, his spot was filled temporarily by then-studio musician Glen Campbell and permanently by songwriter/record producer Bruce Johnston.
The Beach Boys' biggest hits read like a soundtrack of the 1960s, from their early surf and car songs like "Surfin' USA" and "Little Deuce Coupe" to the fun in the sun smashes like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "California Girls"...from the psychedelic beauty of "Good Vibrations" to the nostalgic "Do It Again." From 1962-1965, The Beach Boys scored 16 Top 40 hits including "I Get Around" b/w "Don't Worry Baby," one of the greatest singles of all time, and a #1 smash for the group at the very height of Beatlemania.
In 1966, The Beach Boys' one-two punch of the Pet Sounds album and the "Good Vibrations" single, earned the group international acclaim, and established group leader Brian Wilson as the influential genius of modern pop music. As Paul McCartney recently remarked, "Pet Sounds was my inspiration for making Sgt. Pepper's...the big influence. That was the big thing for me (in 1966). I just thought, 'Oh, dear me. This is the album of all-time. What are we going to do?'" At the end of 1966, a year-end poll in one of England's music papers found The Beach Boys topping The Beatles as the #1 vocal group in the world.
In 1967-1969, the last years of their first Capitol association, The Beach Boys had five more Top 40 hits and released a number of albums, such as Brian's personal favorite, Friends, which The Beach Boys fans and critics regard fondly and 20/20 with the Top 20 hit “Do It Again”. In 1969, The Beach Boys recorded their final Capitol single, appropriately titled "Breakaway" to indicate that it was the end of the relationship.
The next era for The Beach Boys, which coincidentally began as The Beatles called it quits, is affectionately known as the “Brother Years”, in reference to Brother Records, the new family-owned record label and home to The Beach Boys. The new arrangement brought the boys a new level of freedom and control of their music. The broader dimension of the Brother releases showcased the songwriting and production of Dennis, Carl, Al and Bruce in addition to a number of songs penned by Brian and Mike. In the Nineties, the two eras were united when Capitol Records became the licensee of the Brother Records catalog.
The first two Brother releases, 1970’s Sunflower and 1971’s Surf’s Up, are now recognized, by critics and fans, as two overlooked masterpieces. As a group, The Beach Boys were at their prime but rock guitars and feedback eclipsed the brilliant pop music. With 1972’s Carl and the Passions – So Tough and 1973’s Holland, The Beach Boys wrestled with different music styles. Even with their new sonic adventures, their harmonies, the taproot of The Beach Boys sounds, always shined through.
Around this time, with much thanks to Carl and Mike, The Beach Boys transformed themselves into one of the world’s premiere live acts, a title their former labelmates, The Beatles, never could claim. With Carl’s musical direction and Mike’s role as lead singer and frontman, The Beach Boys took all the hits and the studio gems and converted them into arena-rock anthems. Seeing The Beach Boys summer concert tour became a truly American experience. A new generation of fans made the music of The Beach Boys their soundtrack to summer. The Beach Boys in Concert, an album that came out in 1973, offers an excellent aural snapshot of this burgeoning entity. On the heels of their touring success, Capitol Records released a 2-record “best of” collection, Endless Summer, in 1974. It went straight to Number 1 on the album chart and remained on the chart for 3 years. Rolling Stone Magazine went on to name The Beach Boys the band of the year in 1974.
The band took the momentum back into the studio and recorded 15 Big Ones, their first studio record in 3 years. Brian Wilson was back on board and contributed 5 tracks. The band had a chance to pay tribute to their favorite 50s tunes while reinterpreting their signature sound. 15 Big Ones went Top 10 on the album chart. It was followed in 1977 with The Beach Boys Love You.
The late 70’s brought the releases M.I.U. (1978), L.A. Album (1979), and Keepin’ The Summer Alive (1980). Brothers Carl and Dennis each released their own solo albums. Dennis released his solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977. Carl released his solo album, Carl Wilson in 1981 and a second record, Youngblood followed in 1984. In 1985 the band released the self-titled album The Beach Boys that featured the Top 20 hit “Getcha Back”. Dennis remained a member of The Beach Boys until his drowning death in 1983. Carl Wilson passed away in 1998.
In 1988, The Beach Boys were at the top of the pop charts with the #1 single “Kokomo” from the Cocktail Motion Picture Soundtrack. The multi-platinum “Kokomo” is The Beach Boys biggest selling hit, climbing to #1 on the pop music and video charts of Billboard, Cashbox, Radio & Records and Hits magazines in 1988.
The 1980’s and 90’s found The Beach Boys performing at milestone events including: the Live Aid Concert, Farm Aid concerts, the Statue of Liberty’s 100th Anniversary Salute and the Super Bowl. In 1980, they played to over 500,000 people in the first of four Independence Day concerts on the Washington Monument Grounds. On July 4, 1985 they played to an afternoon crowd of an estimated one million in Philadelphia and that evening they performed for over 750,000 people on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Former U.S. Secretary of Interior James Watt’s efforts to ban The Beach Boys from the Washington Monument Grounds in 1983 created an international furor that VH-1 has termed one of the most important moments in rock.
Brian also returned to the studio in 1988 and released his first solo album Brian Wilson that was met with critical acclaim. In 1998 released Imagination also to rave reviews and launched his firstsolo tour and has been actively touring ever since.
This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.
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