Heroes and Villains

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"Heroes and Villains"
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Smiley Smile
B-side "You're Welcome"
Released July 31, 1967 (1967-07-31)
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded October 20, 1966 (1966-10-20)–June 14, 1967 (1967-06-14)
Genre Psychedelic rock,[1] psychedelic pop, progressive rock[2][3]
Length 3:36
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks
Producer(s) The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys singles chronology
"Then I Kissed Her"
"Heroes and Villains"
"Wild Honey"
Smiley Smile track listing

"Heroes and Villains" is a song by the American rock band the Beach Boys, co-written by the group's leader Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks. Originally intended by Wilson to be the centerpiece of the ambitious but shelved album Smile, a re-recorded version of the song was released on Smiley Smile (1967). This version was also released as a single, with "You're Welcome" on the B-side, which charted at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 2004 Wilson released a new version of "Heroes and Villains" for his solo album Brian Wilson Presents Smile, and in 2011 an extended mix compiled of abandoned 1966 and 1967 material appeared on The Smile Sessions.



Composed in early 1966, mostly in a large sandbox holding a piano built in Brian Wilson's living room, "Heroes and Villains" was the first collaboration between Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. It is reported that when Wilson first played the melody to him, Parks devised the opening line on the spot. Various musical themes in the song recur in numerous other songs and musical fragments which Wilson recorded for Smile. The song makes heavy use of chromatic scales. Like most of the Smile songs, "Heroes and Villains" is based around a deceptively simple three-chord pattern. It encapsulates Wilson's musical approach for the project, which was to create songs that were (for the most part) structurally simple, but overlaid with extremely complex and often highly chromatic vocal and instrumental arrangements, and capped by Parks' lyrics. They exemplify the allusive and playful nature of Parks' writing for Smile, evidently combining the experiences, feelings and preoccupations of both Wilson and Parks. Marilyn Wilson said, "There are so many screwed-up people in the music industry. The good guys and the bad guys…That’s one thing Brian had in mind when they did 'Heroes and Villains.'"[4]

"Heroes and Villains" is generally thought to have been the first song written specifically for Smile,[citation needed] although "Barnyard" and "I'm in Great Shape" might have been written at about the same time.

Wilson is known to have been deeply influenced by the music of George Gershwin at an early age (especially "Rhapsody in Blue"), and Smile emulates both Gershwin's emphatic American-ness, and the episodic and programmatic characteristics of the composer's works. A short scene featuring Brian at the piano in the 2003 DVD documentary on the making of Smile suggests that Brian may have directly based the recurring "Heroes and Villains" piano motif on a variation or inversion of a fragment of "Rhapsody in Blue".


Despite its early genesis, the recording of the song was a difficult and protracted process. Wilson halted work on the other Smile tracks at the end of 1966 and concentrated on producing a version of "Heroes and Villains" for single release. However, despite holding at least 20 recording sessions for the song over a period of several months and assembling several different edits of the track, he was unable to complete the work to his satisfaction until after the May 1967 announcement that Smile had been shelved.

The first attempt at tracking the song on May 11, 1966 (2:45 in length) was unsatisfactory and taped over; it apparently included "My Only Sunshine" as a section of the song according to one of the session musicians.[5] The backing track of the first two verses was recorded on October 20, 1966. February 27, 1967 sessions were devoted to the chorus backing track. After Smile was scrapped, the remainder of the track was worked on between June 12 and June 14.

The song underwent many changes during its production, and several important elements, including the so-called "Cantina" scene and the segment commonly known as "Bicycle Rider", were taken out of the finished single and album versions, although they were retained in alternate mixes prepared by Wilson. A single version of the song was released in mid-1967, but rumors persist of a far longer edit,[6] and it is known that several alternate versions were put together. Both Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys frequently included a variation of a "Do You Like Worms?" segment when performing the song in concert.

Capitol Records had scheduled January 13, 1967 as the release date for the single. Yet, although he was renowned for his efficiency in the studio, Brian Wilson clearly struggled to complete "Heroes and Villains", and despite devoting more than 20 sessions to it between October 1966 and March 1967, he was unable to complete it to his satisfaction. Al Jardine believes that Brian underproduced the song for the Smiley Smile album. As he explains "We recorded a pale facsimile of 'Heroes and Villains', replete with discordant transitions…Brian re-invented the song for this record…He purposefully under-produced the song".[7]

Initial release and reception[edit]

Terry Melcher was present for the public debut of "Heroes and Villains," as he's recounted:

Brian was holding onto this single, like: "All right, world – I've got it," and waiting for the right time. He felt it was important to wait for the right time. It was a good record. This woman, I guess she was an astrologer–of sorts–she came by Brian's house. She said to him, "Brian – the time is right." He was waiting for the word from this woman to release the record, I guess. So he said, "All right." He called the whole group. It was like: 'OK. Look. Here it is.'A small disk, you know. Seven inches. It was very solemn, very important. Weighty. A heavy situation. It was all, "Brace yourself – for the big one." All the group had those limos. And there was a caravan of Rolls-Royces taking the record to KHJ. He was going to give the station an exclusive, just give it to them without telling Capitol. We got to the gate of KHJ. The guard wouldn't let us in. A little talking, a little hubbub, a little bullshit. The guard was finally intimidated enough by four or five Rolls-Royce limousines to open his gate. We got in the building, got to the disc jockey who was presiding over the turntable. It was pretty late, probably around midnight. Brian said, "Hi, I'm Brian Wilson, here's the new Beach Boys single. I'd like to give you and KHJ an exclusive on it." And this asshole turned around and he said: "Can't play anything that's not on the playlist." And Brian almost fainted. It was all over. He'd been holding the record, waiting for the right time. He'd had astrologers figuring out the correct moment. It really killed him. Finally they played it, after a few calls to the program director or someone, who screamed, "Put it on, you idiot." But the damage to Brian had already been done.[8]

"Heroes and Villains" was good enough to place at number 12 on the US Billboard charts, number eight in the United Kingdom, number five in Canada, number six in New Zealand, and number 10 in Italy and Sweden. It also charted at number 11 in Australia, number 24 in Germany, number 30 in France, number eight in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Malaysia, according to contemporary national charts sourced and cited by Billboard in fall 1967.

Wilson is said to have had enormously high hopes for "Heroes and Villains" as the follow-up single to the Beach Boys' previous number 1 hit "Good Vibrations". When the single failed to significantly replicate the success of "Good Vibrations", it destroyed his self-imposed competitive rivalry to The Beatles. According to Jack Rieley, Wilson would often recount in "agonizing detail" about how "Heroes and Villains" was supposed to lift the Beach Boys' public image from "surfing/car songs" to being on "creative par with the Beatles". Wilson interpreted the failure of "Heroes and Villains" as an ultimate rejection by the public to his musical growth and artistry.[9] Mike Love would go on to call "Heroes" as "the last dynamic Brian moment".[10] Upon its release and reflective of the general reaction, the single was purportedly dismissed as a "psychedelic barbershop quartet" by seminal rock figure Jimi Hendrix.[11]

In late 1967, during sessions for the unreleased album Lei'd In Hawaii, the Beach Boys recorded a stripped down live-in-the-studio version of "Heroes and Villains". Later, Mike Love and Brian Wilson would overdub this version with a scripted (by Brian Wilson) self-deprecating monologue satirizing the song, with Love calling "Heroes and Villains" a "nuclear disaster" and that "being basically masochists, [The Beach Boys] kind of enjoyed having this record bomb". Love also assures the listener that "it's all in fun", despite it harshly criticizing his musical ability and commercial shortcomings.

It topped the charts at about 40, and the next week it just zoomed right off to about, oh well, about 250. Right now, it's lurking at about 10,000 on this year's "Top 10,000"! ... We've gotta figure on one hit, well, I mean, every six years, you gotta get a little animosity generated somehow ... We want to thank you for coming to show and throwing all these nice objects at us. Really, we'll see you back again next time around.[12][13]

Although the track was meant to be taken lightheartedly, it can be interpreted as a reflection of Wilson's extremely low self-confidence as a musician at the time.

Alternate releases[edit]

"Heroes and Villains"
Heroes and Villains Smile Sessions.jpg
The cover for the bonus "Heroes and Villains" 7" vinyl packaged with The Smile Sessions box set utilizes original 1967 artwork.
Song by The Beach Boys from the album The Smile Sessions
Released November 1, 2011 (2011-11-01)
Recorded 1966–1967
Length 4:53
Label Capitol
Producer Brian Wilson
The Smile Sessions track listing

A number of different edits of the song exist; one was released as a single in July 1967 and appeared on their September 1967 LP Smiley Smile. An original completed Smile version was eventually released as a bonus track on the Beach Boys Smiley Smile/Wild Honey two-fer in 1990, containing various outtakes. A 2001 stereo mix appears on the Hawthorne, CA album. On the Endless Harmony Soundtrack, there is a demo of the song, which also incorporates two other songs: "I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard". In 2011, The Smile Sessions were released containing alternate mixes of the song, plus extensive session highlights.

The intended "Heroes And Villains" single was originally assigned as Capitol 5826 and issued with a white picture sleeve showing six pictures of the group members. However, Brian Wilson was still experimenting and creating further concepts for the song, thus the Capitol single was never pressed. By the time of the final single mix, the Beach Boys created their own Brother label and issued "Heroes and Villains" as its first single (Brother 1001) with the cartoon picture sleeve. The picture sleeve for the unreleased Capitol single is a rare, highly sought item among Beach Boys collectors.

There have been persistent rumors of a far longer two-part edit, reputedly running for six, seven or even ten minutes, and that this edit was intended for single release, split across the two sides of a single entitled "Heroes and Villains Part 1" and "Heroes and Villains Part 2".[6][7][14] These rumors have been said by various people to have been a falsehood purported by Domenic Priore.[5] However, it is possible that this rumored long edit (if it exists) may in fact have been part of a trial assembly of the song and related fragments as part of the planned sequencing of the Smile tracks. During this era, Wilson often made acetates of the material he was working on for friends and family.

The song was re-recorded in 2004 as part of Brian Wilson's Brian Wilson Presents Smile solo album, with the 'cantina' segment included.

Concert versions[edit]

The Beach Boys have released four different live versions of the song: on The Beach Boys in Concert; on Good Timin': Live at Knebworth, England 1980, as part of a medley with "Cotton Fields"; on the Endless Harmony Soundtrack, and also on the Beach Boys Concert/Live in London twofer, as a bonus track. It is also on Al Jardine's Live in Las Vegas album. While Brian was absent from the touring section of the group, Jardine sang lead on this song. "Heroes and Villains" was included in the Beach Boys' 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour in 2012 with Brian on lead, and was cited as one of the concert highlights.[15][16]


The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Related Smile compositions[edit]


"Cantina" is an unused section of "Heroes and Villains" that lasts about 30 seconds, and was projected to serve as a bridge between the second verse and the "my children were raised" section. It appears on every extended alternate releases of the song, including the re-recording made by Wilson in 2004 and the composites present on The Smile Sessions. The instrumentation features prominent use of a tack piano arranged in the style of old Western saloons.

"I'm In Great Shape" and "Barnyard"[edit]

Like "Cantina", "I'm In Great Shape" and "Barnyard" were both considered for inclusion in "Heroes and Villains".[nb 1] Within surviving acetates unearthed in 2013, it's evident that Brian Wilson experimented with incorporating recorded sections of "I'm In Great Shape" as part of the projected "Heroes and Villains" single.[17][18] A number of arrangements for "I'm In Great Shape" were attempted, each featuring significantly different instrumentation. Despite the track being less than a minute long, it was considered as a standalone core Smile track as early as December 1966. "Barnyard" is also less than a minute long, and features animal noises sung by the Beach Boys as backing vocals.

In Brian Wilson's 2004 live performances of Smile, "I'm In Great Shape" begins the third movement of the album, but on The Smile Sessions, it is presented earlier in the first movement as the link between "Do You Like Worms?" and "Barnyard". Brian Wilson Presents Smile music director Darian Sahanaja has explained:

Starting the third movement with "I'm In Great Shape" was probably a performance decision. I always felt that this song building into a feedback frenzy and breaking into "I Wanna Be Around" and "Workshop" was the disoriented, reality defying portion of the performance. Shaking things up and slightly derailing before getting back on track—as if a metaphor for life. It seemed to fit for those reasons. However, the tape session research shows that it was definitely part of the "Heroes and Villains" variations, and so the decision [with The Smile Sessions] was to keep it within that context.[19]

In the 1970s, Wilson was reported to have stated:

"The Barnyard Suite," that was going to be four songs—in four short pieces—combined together, but we never finished that one. We got into something else.[4]

For Brian Wilson Presents Smile, the idea of a "Barnyard" suite was dropped.[nb 2]

"My Only Sunshine"[edit]

A cover version of "You Are My Sunshine" was recorded as part of a two-song medley of traditional pop standards, the other being "The Old Master Painter". This medley was considered for inclusion in "Heroes and Villains" under the label "My Only Sunshine".[nb 3] On "My Only Sunshine", Dennis and Brian Wilson bookend the lead vocals.[nb 4] The ending of "My Only Sunshine" is stylistically similar to a scrapped closing section for "Heroes and Villains", which ended up being restored in The Smile Sessions.[nb 5]

"He Gives Speeches"[edit]

The descending harmony vocals heard in "My Only Sunshine" were recycled by Wilson for "He Gives Speeches".[nb 6] "He Gives Speeches" was later reworked on Smiley Smile as "She's Goin' Bald" with new lyrics by Mike Love. This version includes some unusual effects, including the novel use of an "Eltro Information Rate Changer" to raise the pitch of the group's vocals without affecting the tempo. An example of this obscure effect is present in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[20]

"You're Welcome"[edit]

"You're Welcome" was released as the B-side to the July 31, 1967 (1967-07-31) "Heroes and Villains" single. It is a short chant sung by the Beach Boys over a thumpy background track featuring a glockenspiel and a timpani. The only lyrics are "Well / you're well / you're welcome to come". In 1967, Mike Love said of the piece "[It's] incredible. The title is 'You’re Welcome'. No other lyrics. I don’t know how Brian did it, but there’s no accompaniment. 'Heroes and Villains' is going to be released as the first single on our new label, Brother Records…We are finishing it [the album] now."[6]:198

"Whistle In"[edit]

Like "You're Welcome", "Whistle In" is a short chant sung by the Beach Boys. It features a driving honky-tonk piano and an electric bass line doubled by Mike Love's bass-baritone voice singing the line "dum, dum, dum, whistle in". Other backing and harmony vocals are shared by the Beach Boys, which Carl Wilson leads with the lines "remember the day, remember the night, all day long" similar to the 1964 Shangri-Las single "Remember (Walking in the Sand)". Because it was recorded on January 27, 1967 (1967-01-27)—the same day as the "Cantina" section—it is speculated to have branched from the "Heroes and Villains" composition.[7] "Whistle In" was later completed and released for Smiley Smile.

Other songs[edit]

"Do You Like Worms?" contains prominent sections of the "Heroes and Villains" theme. In addition, the tracks "Vega-Tables"[nb 7] and "Love to Say Dada"[nb 8] began life as an interpolated section for "Heroes and Villains".


  1. ^ An early piano demo that merges "Heroes and Villains," "I'm In Great Shape," and "Barnyard" together can be heard on track 36, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set. This version was recorded on November 4, 1966 for Los Angeles DJ Humble Harve Miller.
  2. ^ Technically, a short "Barnyard" suite does end up being presented within The Smile Sessions; "I'm In Great Shape", "Barnyard", and "My Only Sunshine" feature a structure linked by four spliced tape reels totaling a runtime of 3:09.
  3. ^ An early version of "My Only Sunshine" is entitled "Heroes and Villains: Fade" and can be heard on track 28, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  4. ^ Vocals by Brian Wilson are only audible on the last few seconds of disc 1, track 7 entitled "My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine)".
  5. ^ This alternate closing section can be heard as "Heroes and Villains: Prelude to Fade" on track 19, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  6. ^ "He Gives Speeches" is a bonus heard on track 24, disc 1 of The Smile Sessions.
  7. ^ An early version entitled "Heroes and Villains: Do a Lot" can be heard on track 7, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  8. ^ An early version entitled "Heroes and Villains: All Day" can be heard on track 17, disc 2 of The Smile Sessions box set.
  1. ^ J. DeRogatis,"Kaleidoscope eyes: psychedelic rock from the 1960s to the 1990s", (Fourth Estate, 1996), ISBN 1-85702-599-7, p.18.
  2. ^ Himes, Geoffrey. "Brian Wilson Remembers How To Smile". Paste Magazine.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Stars & Stripes, Vol 1". Album Liner Notes.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Preiss, Byron (1979). The Beach Boys (Rev. ed. ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312070267. 
  5. ^ a b Shenk, Lou. "Smile Primer". alphastudio.com. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Domenic, Priore (1995). Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!. California: Last Gasp. ISBN 0867194170. 
  7. ^ a b c Leaf, David. "Smiley Smile/Wild Honey liner notes". Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Nolan, Tom (October 28, 1971). "The Beach Boys: A California Saga". Rolling Stone. 
  9. ^ Jack Rieley's comments & Surf's Up
  10. ^ The Guardian, 1998
  11. ^ Petridis, Alexis (27 October 2011). "The Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Carlin, Peter Ames. Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, p. 124-125.
  13. ^ Mike Love "Heroes and Villains" monologue on YouTube
  14. ^ Howard, Ed (July 28, 2003). "Smile: The Definitive Lost Album". Stylus. stylusmagazine.com. 
  15. ^ setlist.fm, 2012
  16. ^ Levinson, Paul (May 2012). "The Beach Boys in White Plains". Infinite Regress. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  17. ^ "Beach Boys – 8 Original "Smile" Acetates from the collection of Van Dyke Parks". Record Mecca. recordmecca.com. 2013. 
  18. ^ Smileysmile.net, andy on March 03, 2013, 12:56:03 AM
  19. ^ Roedel, J. (October 12, 2011). "The AD Interview :: Darian Sahanaja (Behind The Smile Sessions)". Aquarium Drunkard. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  20. ^ Carlos, Wendy (July 2008). "Vintage Technologies: The Eltro and the Voice of HAL". Retrieved 23 July 2013. 

External links[edit]