Child Is Father of the Man

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"Child Is Father of the Man"
Song by The Beach Boys
from the album The Smile Sessions
ReleasedOctober 31, 2011
RecordedOctober 1966, United Western Recorders and July 1971, Brian Wilson's home studio, Los Angeles
Songwriter(s)Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks
Producer(s)Brian Wilson
Audio sample
"Child Is Father of the Man"

"Child Is Father of the Man" is a song written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. Originally recorded by the American rock band the Beach Boys, it was to be included on their projected album Smile. Due to the project's abandonment, the intended nature of the piece is mostly unknown. The result left is a nearly instrumental piece with the words "child" and "father of the man" sung over the chorus. Biographer Jon Stebbins describes the track: "a brooding and expansive aura, with a plaintive harmonica line not dissimilar to those heard on Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtracks."[1]

In 2004, Wilson completed the track for his album Brian Wilson Presents Smile. This rerecorded version incorporated an additional set of lyrics penned by Parks. In 2011, the Beach Boys' version was released for the first time as part of The Smile Sessions box set.


"Child is father of the man" is an idiom originating from the poem "My Heart Leaps Up" by William Wordsworth. In a 1966 interview, Wilson mistakenly attributed it to Karl Menninger, and added that the saying had fascinated him.[2] There exist many different interpretations of the phrase, the most popular of which is man being the product of habits and behavior developed in youth. According to collaborator Van Dyke Parks, he brought up the idiom to Wilson.[3]

Brian had a fervent desire to re-invent himself as an individual, not as a boy, and that's what happened, I think. By the time I met him, he had already done "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)"; he'd already raised the questions about being a man, and when I met him, that crisis was acute. I knew it was psychologically complex and over my head. The only way I could help with any of this, whatever it was he was going through, was refer him to that poem by Hawthorne [sic] from which the phrase "the child is father to the man" comes. He used it as part of his inquiry of Smile, as a lyric.[3]


Several sections of the song were recorded, but aside from a group piano demo, only one variation of the chorus's backing track was overdubbed with vocals sung in elaborate musical rounds.[3] According to The Smile Sessions compiler Mark Linett, "When he's not singing, you can hear faint background vocal parts that no longer exist on the multitrack. They must have been in his headphones, and were picked up by the vocal mic. It could be that Brian decided he didn't need them, or that he was going to re-record them, but never did. You hear this sort of stuff throughout the tapes."[4] The song was worked on between October and December 1966. After one more revisit in April 1967, the track was abandoned forever by the group.

Decades later in both The Smile Sessions and Brian Wilson Presents Smile, the song was included as the third track of the second movement. "Child Is Father of the Man" precedes "Surf's Up" and follows "Look (Song for Children)". When rerecorded by Wilson in 2004, he sang newly written lyrics by Parks (Easy, my child / It's just enough to believe / Out of the wild / into what you can conceive / You'll achieve).[3][5]


The song's chorus was later rewritten and rerecorded as the chorus for "Little Bird", a song on the band's 1968 Friends album released as a single.[6] It was then quoted within the closing section of "Surf's Up", which ended up appearing on their 1971 album of the same name.[7]


  1. ^ Stebbins, Jon (2011). The Beach Boys FAQ: All That's Left to Know About America's Band. pp. 90–91. ISBN 9781458429148.
  2. ^ Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! by Domenic Priore[page needed]
  3. ^ a b c d Priore, Domenic (2005). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece. London: Sanctuary. ISBN 1860746276.
  4. ^ Bell, Matt. "The Resurrection of Brian Wilson's Smile". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
  5. ^ Shenk, Lou. "Smile Primer". Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  6. ^ Chidester, Brian (March 7, 2014). "Busy Doin' Somethin': Uncovering Brian Wilson's Lost Bedroom Tapes". Paste. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  7. ^ Stebbins 2011, p. 91.