Marilyn Wilson said: "We went shopping one day and we brought home some wind chimes. We hung them outside the house and then one day, while Brian was sitting around he sort of watched them out the window and then he wrote the song. I think that’s how it happened. Simple. He does a lot of things that way."
In its original version, "Wind Chimes" was in AAB form. The finished 'A' sections feature Carl Wilson on lead vocals, singing over a backing track consisting of marimbas, percussion, and double bass. As with all parts of the project, Brian Wilson experimented with a number of variant arrangements for "Wind Chimes" - Takes 1-3 and Takes 8-9 of the A-section backing track feature an alternative arrangement in which the marimbas were replaced by multiple keyboards (possibly celeste, organ, piano and/or harpsichord). There is also a surviving alternate vocal version of the A section (possibly a demo) on which Brian sings the lead vocal.
The B section consists of variations on the bass line from the A section, first sung by the whole group over a full backing track, and then, repeated much more quietly, by three pianos. The session tapes reveal that while Brian was usually exacting in his musical demands as a producer, he was also very alert and responsive to improvisations and even apparent "mistakes" made by his session musicians. During a 'pickup' take for the 'B' Section backing track one of the keyboard players accidentally plays a scale of five semitones, instead of the central 3-semitone riff. Wilson immediately stops the take, enthusiastically declares "That was a good mistake!", and then instructs the musicians to incorporate this accidental change into the next take.
The song was recorded in three sessions. On August 3, 1966 at Gold Star Studios, Brian Wilson produced the backing track. Two months later, on October 5, the A sections of the backing track were redone with a much smaller band, and the band recorded their vocals on October 10. The October recording sessions were at Western Studios and were engineered by Chuck Britz.
After Smile was abandoned, the group quickly recorded an album, to be released in its place. Smiley Smile would be released in September 1967 and featured both new songs and new recordings of songs originally intended for Smile. The new version of "Wind Chimes" was recorded by the band on July 10 & 11 at Brian Wilson's home studio. It starts with 2 A sections, just like the original version, but the rest of the song is different, ending with a vocal tag based on a Smile track called "Holidays". As with the other Smile songs that were re-recorded for Smiley Smile, the arrangement is much sparser than the original recording. Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Dennis Wilson all take turns on the lead vocals.