The Smile Sessions is being touted as the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Beach Boys[/lastfm]’ final finishing of 1967’s Smile–an album that was supposed to be the follow-up to the still-influential 1966 classic Pet Sounds.
While that may be true, Smile Sessions actually comes off as more of an experiential, experimental look into the cultural and artistic mindset of the mid- to late-’60s, the popularity of psychedelic drug use, and the amazing working process of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Brian Wilson[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Van Dyke Parks[/lastfm].
The Smile Sessions starts with what the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Beach Boys[/lastfm] are most famous for: their sweet-toned harmonies. Reminiscent of divine Gregorian chant, “Our Prayer” is a dulcet introduction into Smile Sessions–an album with songs that pierce through the good-old-boy gossamer to expose a hammock full of relaxed psychedelia, Dadaist jazz, circus strains, and Tin Pan Alley vaudeville.
On the second album during “Our Prayer (Dialog),” Wilson asks “Are you guys feeling the acid yet?”
“Heroes and Villains” shows the quirky underbelly of the quintessential twee ’60s sound with symphonic pop gem turned vaudeville when Wilson sings lines like “in the cantina, margaritas keep the spirit high.” In the midst of us getting to know this drunken character, the Beach Boys mimic the sound of a police siren with their harmonic wail. Our hero (or villain?) is “under arrest.”
The song becomes a question of light and dark, major and minor chords, light melodies with crunchy percussive. It’s ostensibly one of Wilson’s finest accomplishments.
Although as fine as “Heroes and Villains” is, it’s not as eccentric, endearing, and ultimately, as modern as “Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock).”
More Smile: “Worms,” “Surf’s Up,” and full track list
Rough around the edges with carnivalesque instrumentation and guttural tribal chants, “Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)” is druggy, fanciful, and fun. There are tinges of the[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”] Beatles[/lastfm], Hawaiian exotica, and creepy strings befitting the most absurd Willy Wonka scenario.
“Barnyard” boasts insanely-wild animal noises and reminds me of their Party! album. Just replace the animal noises with the chattering of drunken females. “My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine)” sounds less like the title suggests and more like the sardonic moan of a disbelieving man.
“Cabin Essence” comes complete with Americana guitar and “doing-doing” sound effects. The bounce of a horse? The pluck of strings? Raindrop falling?
Regardless of what the sound effect is supposed to be, the Beach Boys do a fantastic job of creating a richly-layered soundscape to both tell a story and create sonic synesthesia. The song is a melodic masterpiece.
“Look (Song For Children)” might be the most macabre interlude into ’60s pop music that a child might have. The instrumental borrows strains from “Good Vibrations” but comes bounding out like a flock of floppy-footed clowns riding slant-eye elephants. In fact, all the songs on the Smiles Sessions have a slight “circus” vibe.
One might imagine from the title that their song “Surf’s Up” would be another of their mainstream masterpieces. In fact, the song is experimental, poetic, and jazzy–like the pop-version of a beatnik’s dope-slurred coffee shop lament.
“Surf’s Up” is an astonishing piece of time-specific storytelling.
Playing off the jazz undertones of “Surf’s Up,” “I Wanna Be Around/Workshop” is a slinky little number which is accompanied by the rhythmic din of a saw, a hammer in the workshop, and the scream of “oww” at the end.
The chopping continues with “Vega-Tables,” an awesomely ridiculous tune that seems slanted towards children. The song has a plethora of sound effects like chewing and the choral mantra of “sleep a lot, eat a lot, brush ’em like crazy/ run a lot/ do a lot/ never be lazy.”
Perhaps a sarcastic jab at themselves, their artistic ideals, and all the melodic “da-da’s” in their music, “Love To Say Dada” is them playing around with nonsense syllables and the then-popular Dadaism that encouraged more avant-garde and absurdist musical movements.
The second album is less an album, per se, than different takes on the songs on the first CD plus glimpses into the Beach Boys recording process.
Much like the Party! album, The Smile Sessions is an interesting look into the psyche of Brian Wilson and his ingenious creative mind as well as a musical archetype for the artistic, literary, and societal influences at the time. Smile Sessions is a piece of history, not only musically, but culturally as well.
[lastfm]Beach Boys[/lastfm] – SMiLE
1. Our Prayer (1:06)
2. Gee (0:51)
3. Heroes And Villains (4:53)
4. Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock) (3:36)
5. I’m in Great Shape (0:29)
6. Barnyard (0:48)
7. My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine) (1:57)
8. Cabin Essence (3:32)
9. Wonderful (2:04)
10. Look (Song for Children) (2:31)
11. Child Is Father of the Man (2:14)
12. Surf’s Up (4:12)
13. I Wanna Be Around / Workshop (1:23)
14. Vega-Tables (3:49)
15. Holidays (2:33)
16. Wind Chimes (3:06)
17. The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow) (2:35)
18. Love to Say Dada (2:32)
19. Good Vibrations (4:13)
1. Our Prayer “Dialog” (9/19/66) (3:02)
2. Heroes and Villains: Part 1 (3:08)
3. Heroes and Villains: Part 2 (4:18)
4. Heroes and Villains: Children Were Raised (1/27/67) (2:07)
5. Heroes and Villains: Prelude To Fade (2/15/67) (3:42)
6. My Only Sunshine (11/14/66) (6:52)
7. Cabin Essence (10/3/66) (5:19)
8. Surf’s Up: 1st Movement (11/4/66) (4:55)
9. Surf’s Up: Piano Demo (12/15/66) (3:53)
10. Vega-Tables: Fade (4/12/67) (5:25)
11. The Elements: Fire session (11/28/66) (8:27)
12. Cool, Cool Water (Version 2) (10/26-10/29/67) (3:32)
13. Good Vibrations Session Highlights (8:20)