Smile (Brian Wilson album)

Smile, sometimes typeset with the idiosyncratic partial capitalization SMiLE, is a solo album by Brian Wilson, with lyrics by Van Dyke Parks released on 28 September 2004 on CD and two-disc vinyl. Wilson, Parks and Darian Sahanaja completed the legendary unfinished album project, started in 1966 for Wilson's former band, The Beach Boys. It was released in the fall of 2004 with back-up from members of his touring band, including three members of Wondermints.


Work on the original Beach Boys version of Smile (what Brian Wilson called 'a teenage symphony to God') began in 1966, following the release of their album Pet Sounds, and based on the recording mode of their single "Good Vibrations". But a combination of resistance from the other members of the band, recording difficulties, Brian Wilson's dissatisfaction with the project itself, and his eventual mental breakdown led to the collapse of its sessions. Remnant recordings from the 1966-67 sessions have since surfaced on bootleg recordings and official Beach Boys greatest hits compilations, and a few recordings were completed by the Beach Boys and released between 1967 and 1971.

The 2004 Smile album is in three suites. Some of the themes of the first section are early Americana, from Plymouth Rock to the Old West, farmlands, the building of the railroad and new housing. The album, appropriately for a 'teenage symphony to God' begins with 'Our Prayer' which is coupled with 1950s doo-wop song 'Gee', including the lyrics 'How I love my girl'. This segues into 'Heroes and Villains' which was conceived as the cornerstone of the entire Smile album. The 'Heroes and Villains' lyric 'My children were raised, you know they suddenly rise. They started slow long ago, head to toe, healthy, wealthy and wise.' ties in with the childhood/fatherhood theme of the second suite. 'Roll Plymouth Rock' partly reprises the 'Heroes and Villains' theme and features lyrics in Hawaiian, a theme that is returned to in the third suite. The easy-going 'Barnyard' features band members mimicking farmyard animals. The clanging sound of metal evident on 'Cabin Essence' is echoed in 'Workshop' in the third suite.

Some of the themes of the second suite are childhood and fatherhood and it features some music box-style melodies.'Surf's Up' has arcane, mysterious lyrics and considerable wordplay.

The third suite mostly seems to represent 'The Elements Suite' that Brian Wilson had talked about. It begins with the partly waltz-like 'I'm In Great Shape', which then features an upbeat vocal and gradually grows darker, becoming reminiscent of the kind of score that would be used at moments of growing tension or drama in cartoons, such as those by Disney. Indeed, lyricist Van Dyke Parks has said that Brian Wilson has a 'cartoon consciousness'. 'I Wanna Be Around' suggests the literal physical repair of a broken heart, fitting in with the 'Workshop' theme. Like 'I'm In Great Shape', 'Vega-Tables', epitomizes an interest in health and fitness that Brian Wilson had at the time. The song, like several on the album, has a carefree, humorous quality. 'Vega-Tables' also represents the 'Earth' theme of 'The Elements,' which is either all or part of the third suite. 'On A Holiday', originally an instrumental, has a reprise of the 'Roll Plymouth Rock' lyric and a distinctly jaunty pirate theme with some nursery rhyme-style lyrics, e.g. 'And isn't that a moon for a milky way?' The song segues into 'Wind Chimes,' the 'Air' part of the 'Elements' with the line 'Whisperin' winds send my wind chimes a-tinklin'. This song has a new age music feel. This is followed by the 'Fire' element, the Grammy-award winning 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow,' which has a helter skelter, ghost train/fun house kind of sound. The song is regarded as something of an expression of Brian Wilson's use of psychedelic drugs at the time and the title refers to the suspected cause of the Great Chicago Fire, a cow that knocked over a lantern. The following song, 'In Blue Hawaii' (the 'Water' element), also makes reference to a cow ('Wholly Holy Cow!'). The song acts as a soothing solution to the intense heat of the previous song: 'I could really use a drop to drink, somewhere in a placid pool and sink.' The album ends on 'Good Vibrations' (which has been described as a 'pocket symphony'), undoubtedly the best known song on the album. 'Good Vibrations' broadly goes through three distinct phases (as Smile does) and makes use of Theremin-like sounds from an Electro-Theremin, which had previously been used mainly in horror films. There is an indication that 'Good Vibrations' is meant to be regarded as separate from or perhaps an encapsulation of the spirit of the rest of 'Smile.' This is strongly suggested by the last line of the penultimate song 'In Blue Hawaii,' 'Aloha nui means goodbye,' and the reprise of the harmonies from the first song 'Our Prayer' before 'Good Vibrations' begins. Nevertheless, the tone and the choice of instrumentation in the song seems to bear more similarity to the rest of 'Smile' than to 'Pet Sounds' that some, including several Beach Boys, would have liked to have seen 'Good Vibrations' feature on.

The album was supposedly conceived as a musical journey across America from east to west, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii, as well as traversing some of the great themes of American history and culture, including the impact of white settlement on native Americans, the influence of the Spanish, the Wild West, and the opening up of the country by railroad and motorway. It seems chronological, moving from early America through the Victorian era and ending with the 1960s drug culture (eg. Mrs O'Leary's Cow) and the Hawaii of 'In blue Hawaii' which, in terms of American statehood (since 1959), was very recent when the album was first conceived.

In interviews to promote Smile, Brian Wilson has concentrated on the happy, humorous qualities of the music, which are evident. However, there is also a clear and beautiful melancholy in Brian Wilson's voice and throughout the album eg. on 'Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine' and 'Surf's Up.' The lyrics to 'You Are My Sunshine' have been altered to past tense, adding a reflective somberness. The intensity of the chorus on 'Cabin Essence' and of 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow,' for just two obvious examples, show that the humor became entwined with dark, powerful, intensity as evidenced by the famous stories surrounding Smile. As Brian Wilson long referred to the innovative Smile as 'inappropriate music,' though, it is understandable that he would wish to concentrate on the unambiguously happy aspects of the project.


On February 20, 2004, 37 years after it was conceived, a complete version of Smile was performed by Wilson along with his backing band, which includes former Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett, members of The Wondermints and percussionist Nelson Bragg, in a live performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London. This performance was made whole by the addition of either lost or newly-composed lyrics that filled the gaps left open by the original 1966-67 Beach Boys sessions. This show was followed by subsequent performances elsewhere in Britain.

Recording of the new version of Smile began in April 2004 with his ten-piece touring band, augmented by a ten-piece string section and an acoustic bassist. The basic tracks were taped at Sunset Sound in just four days, with overdubbing and mixing continuing through April, May, and June.

On September 28, 2004, Brian Wilson released his newly recorded studio version of Smile, to critical praise. Smile is the greatest scoring album of at least the last 7 years based on Metacritic's estimations of various critics reviews. For the new version, Wilson, Wondermints leader Darian Sahanaja, woodwind player/string arranger Paul Mertens, and lyricist Van Dyke Parks based their arrangements on the original, unreleased Beach Boys tapes to give Smile a coherent and fresh, updated sound.

Interestingly, although Brian was reported to have only included "Good Vibrations" in the original Smile track listing at Capitol's insistence, a new version of the song—featuring Wilson's Pet Sounds collaborator Tony Asher's original lyrics, rather than the later Mike Love lyrics—was included as the closing track of the album.

The new Smile album was followed by two U.S. tours, with its featured stop in New York's Carnegie Hall; the two Carnegie Hall shows were amalgamated for broadcast on NPR's Creators At Carnegie series. Wilson and company also took the show to Australia and New Zealand, as well as many countries throughout Europe.

The Showtime cable network released a documentary film about the making of Brian Wilson Presents Smile known as "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile." in the fall of 2004. And a DVD of a live version of the new Smile (shot in an L.A. studio) was released in May 2005, along with the Showtime/"Beautiful Dreamer" documentary.

In 2005, Smile won graphic artist Mark London and Rhino Records the 2005 ALEX award for Best Vinyl Package.

Track listing

All songs by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, except where noted.

  1. "Our Prayer/Gee" (Brian Wilson/William Davis and Morris Levy) - 2:09
  2. "Heroes and Villains" - 4:53
  3. "Roll Plymouth Rock" - 3:48
  4. "Barnyard" - 0:58
  5. "Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine" (Haven Gillespie and Beasley Smith/Jimmie Davis) - 1:04
  6. "Cabin Essence" - 3:27
  7. "Wonderful" - 2:07
  8. "Song for Children" - 2:16
  9. "Child Is Father of the Man" - 2:18
  10. "Surf's Up" - 4:07
  11. "I'm in Great Shape/I Wanna Be Around/Workshop" (Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks/Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt/Brian Wilson) - 1:56
  12. "Vega-Tables" - 2:19
  13. "On a Holiday" - 2:36
  14. "Wind Chimes" - 2:54
  15. "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (Brian Wilson) - 2:27
  16. "In Blue Hawaii" - 3:00
  17. "Good Vibrations" (Tony Asher, Mike Love, and Brian Wilson) - 4:36

Bonus tracks

  1. "Heroes and Villains" (Instrumental) - 4:46
  2. "Cabin Essence" (Instrumental) - 3:27
  3. "On a Holiday" (Instrumental) - 2:36
  4. "Wind Chimes" (Instrumental) - 2:54

The first of these tracks appeared on the second-edition CD release of Smile, all of them constitute side four of the vinyl release.


Smile received high critical acclaim from music critics, earning a 97 on Metacritic. It is currently the highest ranked album in their database, along with Led Zeppelin's How the West Was Won and Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn. Rolling Stone gave the album five out of five and said, "Smile is beautiful and funny, goofily grand. Robert Christgau who was skeptical of the album back in the 60's was also impressed, "I considered the legend of Smile hot air back then, this re-creation proves he had plenty more to make of it. Cokemachineglow writer Scott Reid praised the album for surpassing hype, "Defying most all fan fears, not to mention several laws of logic and nature, SMiLE has arrived as incredible and ground-breaking a record as any of us could have hoped.Pitchfork Media awarded the album 9.0 out of 10 and later named it 5th best album of 2004 and the 25th best album released between 2000 and 2004. John Bush of Allmusic commented that Smile was "a remarkably unified, irresistible piece of pop music", yet decreed that it was "no musical watershed on par with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Wilson's masterpiece, Pet Sounds".

The album also received multiple nominations for the 2004 Grammy Awards, including Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (for Mark Linett). The album won one Grammy, in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance (for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," the same track which had caused Wilson such mental anguish at the end of the original recording sessions).

One person not pleased with the ultimate release of Smile was former Beach Boy Mike Love, who sued Brian Wilson in 2005 over it, claiming that Wilson's re-recording of songs originally recorded by the Beach Boys caused millions of dollars in damages to a partnership between himself and Wilson. However, Love's lawsuit was thrown out of court in 2007 by a federal judge, who determined that no such partnership existed between Love and Wilson at the time of the re-recordings and that none had existed for decades.

Charts and sales

Smile hit #13 in the US during a chart stay of 17 weeks. It reached #7 in the UK, going gold (100,000).


Three singles were released to promote the album:

  • "Good Vibrations" was released on CD and 7" vinyl prior to the album's release and included live versions of "Our Prayer" and "Good Vibrations" from the live debut of Smile recorded at Royal Festival Hall, in London on 2004-02-20.
  • "Our Prayer" was released in the United Kingdom as a one-sided 10" single on clear vinyl. The track was remixed as the Freeform Reform Version by the London band Freeform.
  • "Wonderful" had a limited release of 5,000 on blue, green, and yellow vinyl backed with "Wind Chimes."



Stockholm Strings 'n' Horns


One of the principal sources of original information on Smile, and the basis for much of its legendary status, was Jules Siegel's article "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!" which appeared in the first issue of Cheetah Magazine in October 1967. Almost equally influential was Domenic Priore's 1987 book Look, Listen, Vibrate, Smile.

In Lewis Shiner's novel Glimpses, the mental time-traveling protagonist meets and befriends Brian Wilson, and encourages Wilson to complete Smile over the objections of his bandmates. Glimpses won the 1994 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

External links

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