Brian Wilson Presents Smile
|Brian Wilson Presents Smile|
|Studio album by Brian Wilson|
|Released||September 28, 2004|
Sunset Sound Recorders and Your Place or Mine Recording, California
|Genre||Orchestral pop, psychedelic pop|
|Brian Wilson chronology|
|Singles from Brian Wilson Presents Smile|
Brian Wilson Presents Smile (also referred to as Smile or the abbreviation BWPS) is an album by Brian Wilson released on September 28, 2004 on CD and two-disc vinyl LP. Work on what would have been the Beach Boys' album Smile began in 1966 as a collaboration between Wilson and songwriter Van Dyke Parks. It was intended to succeed the group's album Pet Sounds and was based on the engineering methods of their single "Good Vibrations" before being shelved indefinitely. Many years later, Wilson chose to revisit the material with Parks as a concert performance. Motivated by the unexpected positive reception, a studio-recorded version was then released by Wilson as a solo album. It received similar acclaim, and lead Wilson to earn his first Grammy Award. The album has gone on to be featured in several "greatest albums" related lists.
Brian Wilson Presents Smile does not directly use any archival material from the 1966–67 Smile sessions. Recordings from the original Beach Boys' sessions were later released as The Smile Sessions in 2011. It featured a reconstruction of the Beach Boys' Smile album that loosely followed the track listing template never before established until the release of Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
The Smile album as it was to be recorded by the Beach Boys was worked on for a year before being shelved indefinitely. The original failure to complete Smile has been attributed to several factors: internal resistance towards the project, legal battles with Capitol Records, technical difficulties with recording, Carl Wilson's draft battle, and Brian Wilson's escalating drug use, mental health issues, and creative dissatisfaction with the project.
After many years of being asked about possibly completing the album — or even performing any of the songs from it — to mostly negative responses, Wilson began to reluctantly integrate some Smile songs into his touring setlists upon being urged by his peers. In March 2001, this brought Wilson to perform "Heroes and Villains" for the first time in decades at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City for "A Tribute to Brian Wilson". Filmed as a televised broadcast, various artists covered Wilson's other Smile compositions including "Our Prayer" by the Boys Choir of Harlem and "Surf's Up" by Vince Gill, Jimmy Webb and David Crosby with Wilson's backing band providing accompaniment. A performance of "Cabinessence" was considered, but dropped due to its complexity. When members of Wilson's band suggested performing the majority of Smile in concert as a follow up to his Pet Sounds Live, they were shocked to find Wilson approved the idea. Starting in 2003, he proceeded to complete the album's unfinished structure from memory with help from his band and original Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks. The new version of the album and its performance was made whole by the addition of either lost or newly composed lyrics by Parks that filled gaps left open by the unfinished 1966–67 Beach Boys sessions. On May 22, 2003, it was formally announced that Wilson and his band were to perform a live reinterpretation of Smile at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Darian Sahanaja of Wilson's band was integral to the album's completion. He has said that he acted as a secretary and facilitator for Wilson's and Park's ideas, and helped test ideas for the duo by sequencing individual song sections using Pro Tools as a digital audio workstation. He explains: "I gave him everything we could find as multitrack Pro Tools files, so that [Parks] and Brian could listen to the tracks as isolated as possible, learn and teach parts to the band, and work on sounds. With Brian's stuff of that period, if you try to dissect it from the finished product, especially where you have vocals on top of the instruments, you're never going to get it all." To relieve Wilson from the burden of deconstructing and reconstructing his own music, Sahanaja handled the task for him by transcribing the recordings as much as he possibly could, then presenting the resultant work back to him for necessary adjustments. Not all material stemming from the Beach Boys' Smile sessions were used by Wilson. According to Sahanaja, the tracks "He Gives Speeches" and "You're With Me Tonight" were played to Wilson, but declined for use. Sahanaja reasoned: "I imagine that it's just like when you're making a movie — you film a lot of scenes, and then it's impossible to fit them all in. You're most likely going to leave footage on the cutting-room floor." Altogether, these writing sessions ran for about two weeks in the fall of 2003. Wilson explicitly stated that could recall very little of Smile before revisiting the tapes with Parks, who reminded Wilson of the project's early Americana themes.
Parks was not initially involved in the project. It's said that during rehearsals between Wilson and Sahanaja for the unfinished song "Do You Like Worms?", Wilson was able to recall the track's original melody, but not the lyrics. Confronted with this dilemma, he telephoned Parks for help. Parks soon showed up at Wilson's doorstep, and the two extended their collaborations on several other tracks' arrangements and lyrics. For these new versions, Wilson, Parks, Sahanaja, and woodwind player/string arranger Paul Mertens based their arrangements on the original, unreleased Beach Boys tapes to give it an updated yet non-anachronistic sound.
On February 20, 2004, a live performance of the newly completed version of Smile was enacted by Wilson along with his backing band, which included former Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett, members of Wondermints and percussionist Nelson Bragg at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Among those in attendance that first night were Paul McCartney and George Martin. Other attendants included Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Paul Weller. It was presented in the form of three movements, with a half-four intermission between movements two and three. Upon completion, Wilson received a lengthy standing ovation and invited a tearful Parks onstage. Sahanaja reported that afterwards, Wilson rocked back and forth backstage — out of relief that he had finally conquered his fear of Smile — exclaiming "Darian! Darian! We did it! We did it!" The performance was then repeated at the Royal Festival Hall five more times for the next five nights, with each playing recorded for posterity on film and a 48-track Genex hard disk recorder.
Smile was bookended by two setlists performed by Wilson of regular Beach Boys hits such as "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows" along with obscurities "You're Welcome" and "Time to Get Alone". Reportedly after Parks took the stage on the first night, he played shaker during "Do It Again".
Music critic Jim DeRogatis categorized Smile as an album of orchestral pop, which refers to popular music that has been arranged and performed by a symphonic orchestra. Mikael Wood of Slate magazine called it a psychedelic pop album. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune called it a "quirky orchestral-pop song cycle". Wilson himself said that Smile is a pop album. Smile was intended to be explicitly American in style and subject, being chiefly motivated by the overwhelming British dominance of pop culture during the time of the album's inception. It follows 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. It seems chronological, moving from early America through the Victorian era and ending with Hawaii, which in terms of American statehood was still a very new state for 1966. In subsequent interviews to promote the album, Brian has concentrated on the happy, humorous qualities of the music, which are evident. Lyricist Parks has said that Brian has a "cartoon consciousness."
Movements one and two
According to Beach Boys archivist Peter Reum, the first episode represents "Americana", while the second is named "Cycle of Life". The presentation begins with the Wilson composition "Our Prayer" coupled with the 1950s doo-wop song "Gee". This segues into "Heroes and Villains", containing the the lyric "My children were raised, you know they suddenly rise, they started slow long ago, head to toe, healthy, wealthy and wise" tying in with the childhood/fatherhood theme of the second episode. "Roll Plymouth Rock" partly reprises the "Heroes and Villains" theme known as "Bicycle Rider" and features Hawaiian-sounding nonsense lyrics in a theme that is returned to in the third suite. The easy-going "Barnyard" features band members mimicking farmyard animals.
The third movement refers to "The Elements", or alternatively, "Spiritual Rebirth—Elements". It begins with the partly waltz-like "I'm in Great Shape", which then features an upbeat vocal and gradually grows darker. "I Wanna Be Around" suggests the literal physical repair of a broken heart. The clanging sound of metal evident on "Cabin Essence" is echoed in "Workshop". "Vega-Tables" epitomizes an interest in health and fitness that Brian 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 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. The song segues into "Wind Chimes," the "Air" part of the "Elements". This is followed by the "Fire" element, "Mrs O'Leary's Cow". The song 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!"
Smile's final track, "Good Vibrations", replaces the well-known lyrics of Mike Love with earlier lines penned by Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher. However, since Asher never wrote lyrics for the completed version, it was still necessary to use some of Love's lyrics, and credit him along with Asher and Wilson. It also includes an extended "humm-be-dumm" harmony section taken from an alternate 1966 edit of the song. "Good Vibrations" broadly goes through three distinct phases, as the album does, and features a custom-made Electro-Theremin.
Inspired by this success, Wilson began considering a studio recorded version of his Smile performances. After two weeks, it was decided to go ahead, and so Brian Wilson Presents Smile became fully-fledged studio album. Recording 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 recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders in four days, with overdubbing and mixing continuing until July with some stops at engineer Mark Linett's Your Place or Mine studio. Wilson began a Smile tour during these recording sessions.
When played live, digital keyboards were used to replicate the sound of various instruments such as harpsichord and tack piano, and electric drums were used in place of timpanis. These digital keyboards were kept for the album's recording, though a real upright piano and timpani was used. Some alterations were also made to tracks' specific arrangements, since they had been arranged with an audience in mind, along with the logistics of only having ten performers on stage. Linett elaborated: "For the studio version of Smile, Brian and the band eliminated some of the flourishes that were designed just for live performance and substantially reworked the instrumental arrangements." Most engineering for the album was modeled after practices common during the 1960s, and tracks were recorded and sequenced in discrete sections the same as they would have been on the original Smile.
On September 28, 2004, Brian Wilson released his newly recorded studio version of Brian Wilson Presents Smile. This was followed by two US tours, with its featured stop in New York's Carnegie Hall; a combination of the two shows were broadcast on NPR's Creators at Carnegie series. The concert series also went to Australia and New Zealand, as well Europe. The Showtime cable network released a documentary film entitled Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile in the fall of 2004. A DVD of the concert performance Smile (shot in an L.A. studio) was released in May 2005. 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 February 20, 2004.
- "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". The vinyl only release charted at number 29 in the UK singles chart in its first week of release.
To promote Brian Wilson Wilson Presents Smile Wilson through The Mail on Sunday released Good Vibrations a free compilation which included rerecorded Beach Boys songs. In response to this, Mike Love filed a lawsuit seeking compensation, arguing the free CD had adversely affected demand for the original tracks. The suit was dismissed after the court found there were no triable issues.
|Drowned in Sound||(10/10)|
Smile received high acclaim from music critics, earning a 97 on Metacritic, making it as of 2013, the joint highest contemporary score for an album excluding reissues and special editions. 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 1960s, 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." He went on to give the album his very rare A+ grade. 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 fifth 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".
When asked for thoughts on the album, Beach Boy Al Jardine commented in 2013: "Honestly, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought; I didn’t want to go there at that time. They were good enough to send me a copy. So I dropped the needle, as they used to say, and listened to a few cuts, and it was very nice. But there’s nothin’ like the real thing. And remember the production value was quite unique to that period of time in the recording process. We used great outboard gear at the time – the tube gear, echo chambers and acoustical chambers and that made everything sound really great. That’s what I like about the vintage stuff."
Smile 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". In December 2009, Rolling Stone placed Smile at number 88 on their list of the decade's 100 best albums.
Charts and sales
Smile opened at #13 in the US for a chart stay of 17 weeks. It reached #7 in the UK, going gold (100,000).
The Smile Sessions
The sequencing of Brian Wilson Presents Smile influenced the 2011 compilation The Smile Sessions. It features a newly assembled reconstruction of the Beach Boys' Smile album loosely modeled after the track listing for Brian Wilson Presents Smile. The project, supervised by Wilson, uses only surviving master tapes recorded by the group between the late 1960s and early 1970s.
All songs written and composed by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, except where noted.
|Movement one ("Americana")|
|1.||"Our Prayer / Gee" (Brian Wilson, William Davis/Morris Levy)||2:09|
|2.||"Heroes and Villains"||4:53|
|3.||"Roll Plymouth Rock"||3:48|
|5.||"The Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine" (Gillespie/Davis, Mitchell)||1:55|
|Movement two ("Cycle of Life")|
|8.||"Song for Children"||2:16|
|9.||"Child Is Father of the Man"||2:18|
|Movement three ("The Elements")|
|11.||"I'm in Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop" (Wilson/Van Dyke Parks, Johnny Mercer/Sadie Vimmerstedt, Wilson)||1:56|
|13.||"On a Holiday"||2:36|
|15.||"Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (Wilson)||2:27|
|16.||"In Blue Hawaii"||3:00|
|17.||"Good Vibrations" (Wilson, Tony Asher and Mike Love)||4:36|
|Bonus tracks, side four of vinyl release|
|18.||"Heroes and Villains (Instrumental)"||4:46|
|19.||"Cabin Essence (Instrumental)"||3:27|
|20.||"On a Holiday (Instrumental)"||2:36|
|21.||"Wind Chimes (Instrumental)"||2:54|
- The Brian Wilson Band
- Brian Wilson – vocals, keyboards
- Scott Bennett – vocals, keyboards, mallets, guitar
- Nelson Bragg – vocals, percussion, whistles, celery
- Jeffrey Foskett – vocals, guitar, hammer
- Probyn Gregory – vocals, guitar, brass, Tannerin, whistles
- Jim Hines – drums, mallets, saw, sound fx
- Bob Lizik – bass guitar, guitar, beret
- Paul Mertens – woodwinds, sax, harmonica, semi-conductor
- Taylor Mills – vocals, power drill, leg-slap
- Darian Sahanaja – vocals, keyboards, mallets, drill
- Nick Walusko – vocals, guitar
- Stockholm Strings 'n' Horns
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