Smiley Smile

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For detailed information surrounding the history and themes of this album, see Smile (The Beach Boys album).
Smiley Smile
Studio album by The Beach Boys
Released September 18, 1967 (1967-09-18)
Recorded February 17, 1966 (1966-02-17)–July 14, 1967 (1967-07-14)
Studio Sunset Sound Recorders, United Western Recorders, CBS Columbia Square, Brian Wilson's home studio, and Wally Heider Studios, Los Angeles
Length 27:36
Label Brother/Capitol
Producer The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Best of The Beach Boys Vol. 2
Smiley Smile
Wild Honey
Singles from Smiley Smile
  1. "Heroes and Villains"
    Released: July 24, 1967 (1967-07-24)

Smiley Smile is the twelfth studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on September 18, 1967.[5] Though the album reached number 9 on UK record charts, Smiley Smile only resonated moderately with US audiences, reaching number 41 – the lowest chart placement the band had yet had for a record. Critics generally received the album with confusion.[6] Discounting the inclusion of standalone single "Good Vibrations" and the solo-credited "Gettin' Hungry", only one single was issued from Smiley Smile: "Heroes and Villains".

Devised as a simplified version of their then-forthcoming Smile – a different LP which would have contained elaborately orchestrated compositions labored over for several months – Smiley Smile is best known for its contrasting lo-fi production with an avant-garde and protominimal rock approach to arranging. The album was recorded in a span of six weeks at Brian Wilson's makeshift home studio following his declaration that the Smile tapes were now distinctly off-limits. After settling payment disputes with Capitol Records, Smiley Smile was distributed in collaboration with Brother Records, a new record label and holding company founded by the group. Smile was left unfinished while the group embarked on new projects.

Carl Wilson famously compared Smiley Smile and Smile to "a bunt instead of a grand slam".[7] Smiley Smile has since grown in stature over the years to become a cult and critical favorite in the Beach Boys' oeuvre.[6] In 1974, it was voted the 64th greatest album of all time by NME writers.[8] In 2000, it was one of 100 albums featured in the book The Ambient Century as a landmark in the development of ambient music.[9]


In late 1966, the Beach Boys released "Good Vibrations", an elaborately produced single which had major international success. Smile was conceived as an extension of the song's recording approach, and, together with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson composed several songs intended for Smile. Several months later, the project was shelved due to technical problems, internal resistance, and legal disputes.[10] After the announcement that Smile was cancelled in May 1967, the Beach Boys were still under pressure and contractual obligation to record and present an album to Capitol Records.[citation needed] On June 2, 1967, Wilson declared to his band mates that the material recorded during the Smile era was now distinctly off-limits.[11]

In 1968, Wilson intimated on the subject of "Surf's Up" and other Smile material: "[It] was supposed to come out on the Smile album, and that and a couple of other songs were junked…[because I] didn't want to put them on the album. I didn't think that the songs were right for the public at the time. I just didn't have a…commercial feeling about some of these songs, what we've never released. Maybe some people like to hang on to certain songs as their own little songs that they've written, almost for themselves. You know, what they've written is nice for them ... but a lot of people just don't like it."[12] In January 1968, Wilson elaborated further to journalist Jamake Highwater in an interview to promote the Beach Boys' forthcoming Stack-O-Tracks compilation: "Around '64, all of a sudden I found myself in the studio taking hours and hours just going through track experiences. Then all of a sudden, the two came together: the vocal and the tracks. Then all of a sudden I began to realize it was all one art, all one thing. And now, God, it's come so far, I don't really know what to say about it." Wilson claimed that he had run out of ideas "in a conventional sense," and that he was "about ready to die". After finally giving up his production pace, he says: "I decided not to try any more, and not try and do such great things, such big musical things. And we had so much fun. The Smiley Smile era was so great, it was unbelievable. Personally, spiritually, everything, it was great. I didn't have any paranoia feelings.[13]

In 1983, brother and band member Carl Wilson reflected: "It was also a thing of, 'What if it didn't turn out to be great, what if it had totally flopped?' That would have completely destroyed him [Brian]. We would have lost him forever in terms of having any communication with him. In the middle of all this, Brian just said, 'I can't do this. We're going to make a homespun version of it instead. We're just going to take it easy. I'll get in the pool and sing. Or let's go in the gym and do our parts.' That was Smiley Smile."[14] Dennis Wilson called the album a product of its context, saying "Smiley Smile was just something we were going through at that time connected with drugs, love, and everything."[15] In 1968, he said, "We got very paranoid about the possibility of losing our public. We were getting loaded, taking acid, and we made a whole album which we scrapped. Instead, we went to Hawaii, rested up, and then came out with the Smiley Smiles [sic] album, all new material. Drugs played a great role in our evolution but as a result we were frightened that people would no longer understand us, musically."[16]

When the Beach Boys declined at the last minute to headline the Monterey Pop Festival in June, their cancellation was seen as "a damning admission that they were washed up [and] unable to compete with the 'new music'", in the words of Steven Gaines.[17] David Leaf explained: "Monterey was a gathering place for the 'far out' sounds of the 'new' rock, and the Beach Boys in concert really had no exotic sounds (excepting 'Good Vibrations') to display. The net result of all this internal and external turmoil was that the Beach Boys didn't go to Monterey, and it is thought that this non-appearance was what really turned the 'underground' tide against them."[10]

Recording and production[edit]

From the vast sum of material Brian had recorded for Smile, only portions of the backing track for "Heroes and Villains" (recorded October 1966) and the coda for "Vegetables" (recorded April 1967) were sourced for Smiley Smile. In addition to this, "Good Vibrations", which had been recorded sporadically from February to September 1966, was placed on Smiley Smile in its original form. Beyond these examples, the large majority of Smiley Smile was recorded in a modular approach at Brian's home studio in Bel Air from June 3 to July 14, 1967.[18]

Much of Smiley Smile uses sparse instrumentation enhanced by inventive vocal arrangements and quirky elements, such as celery bites for percussion.[19]

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The studio set up at Brian's house was, in its mid-1967 incarnation for Smiley Smile, in its infancy. Due to the sporadic nature at which Brian decided to produce the record at the house, there was little time to fully outfit the Bel Air residence as a proper equipped recording studio. The Beach Boys recorded the album using what was predominantly radio broadcasting equipment which was lacking many technical elements and effects found in conventional studios. This led to unconventional ways of achieving particular sounds at the home, such as a replacement for what would be achieved by an echo chamber. Jim Lockert, engineer for Smiley Smile recalled "Brian's swimming pool had a leak in it and was empty, so we put a microphone in the bottom of this damn near Olympic-size pool and the guys laid down inside the pool and sang so the sound would go down the wall of the concrete pool into the microphone – and that was part of the vocals on one of those songs",[nb 1] and has spoken out about other peculiarities of the sessions which include vocals being tracked in the shower. Due to this eclectic mix of recording paraphernalia and curious methods of tracking the sounds, Smiley Smile possesses a distinct signature sound.[21]

"Good Vibrations" had already established the Beach Boys use of the Tannerin, a relatively new kind of electronic instrument, and it reappears on other Smiley Smile tracks.[citation needed] Tape manipulation was also a prominent feature, with varispeed being applied to a few miscellaneous vocals.[1] On "She's Goin' Bald", a new device called the Eltro Information Rate Changer was used to raise the pitch of the group's vocals without affecting the tempo.[citation needed][nb 2]

Brian Chidester called Smiley Smile the first "in a series of lo-fi albums" by the Beach Boys.[10] Beach Boy Bruce Johnston was absent for most its sessions.[23] He later said, "Smiley Smile was an album that marked the end of an era," referencing the fact that Smiley Smile marked the point where Brian began relinquishing his hold as the creative leader of the Beach Boys.[15] It was the first album where the production was credited to the group, instead of Brian alone.[24] Dennis explained: "He wanted it that way. He said 'It's produced by the Beach Boys.'"[25][nb 3]

Music and style[edit]

Harrison notes that "The lack of formal or harmonic development makes the listener focus upon other qualities such as instrumentation, timbre, and reverberation. A concentrated listening effort thus goes quickly to subtle details."[1]

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In a 1967 radio interview, Brian acknowledged: "We had done about six months work on another thing, but we jumped and ended up doing the entire thing here at the house with an entirely different mood and approach than what we originally started out with." When questioned on why the Beach Boys took the approach they did, he stated, "We just had a particular atmosphere—that we were working in that inspired the particular kind of things that were on the album."[27] Author Jim DeRogatis referred to Smiley Smile as a work of the "ultimate psychedelic rock library".[2] Its core instrumental combo is organ, honky-tonk piano, and electronic bass.[28] Al Jardine remembered that Brian became obsessed with a three-tiered Baldwin organ, causing him to base his new arrangements from a minimalist approach.[19] According to music theorist Daniel Harrison, Smiley Smile is not a work of rock music as the term was understood in 1967, and that the album "can be thought of as a kind of protomiminal rock music."[29] He adds,

Smiley Smile can almost be considered a work of art music in the Western classical tradition, and its innovations in the musical language of rock can be compared to those that introduced atonal and other nontraditional techniques into that classical tradition. The spirit of experimentation is just as palpable in Smiley Smile as it is in, say, Schoenberg's op. 11 piano pieces. Yet there is also a spirit of tentativeness in Smiley Smile. We must remember that it was essentially a Plan B—that is, the album issued instead of Smile. … Whereas a Schoenberg could have notated his compositions cheaply on paper and waited for sympathetic performers to play them, Brian Wilson composed in a recording studio that charged by the hour, employed professional musicians, and required the services of a record company to mass produce and distribute his work. Commercial failure simply cannot be tolerated in this regime, and a work like Smiley Smile has no place in it."[30]

Smiley Smile continued Brian's explorations in "party tracks", a form of music which includes the sounds of people shouting and making noises as if at a party.[nb 4] Brian previously enacted this approach with Beach Boys' Party! in 1965,[31] thereby mixing that album's style with the composition method he devised for "Good Vibrations".[32] Some recording accidents were used to their advantage, such as in "With Me Tonight", which contains an informal link between the verse and chorus by way of a voice saying "good", as in "good take", spoken by Lockert from the control room.[27][1]

Differences from Smile[edit]

The only remnants of Smile that were unchanged from their original form were "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains".[nb 5] In contrast, "With Me Tonight", "Wind Chimes", "Wonderful", and most of "Vegetables" were rerecorded with dramatically scaled down arrangements.[10] The Smile version of "Wonderful", as biographer Peter Ames Carlin explains, "had been a jewel-like ballad featuring an elegant arrangement of harpsichord, strings, horns, and blooms of delicate vocal harmony that celebrated the resilience of love and innocence even in the face of cynicism. The Smiley Smile version, on the other hand, featured a tossed-off organ track, high-pitched backing vocals produced either by a sped-up tape or the voice box–shrinking effects of helium, and a midsong digression into an unstructured doo-wop sing-along, with much giggling and drugged-out whispering."[33] Similarly for "Wind Chimes", "[it lost] its shimmering marimbas in exchange for a horror movie–like organ and a midsong blast of dissonant noise that twists the once-dreamy song into something more like a waking nightmare."[6] Jardine says, "There are some pretty cool songs on that album but I didn't like rehashing some of the Smile songs. That didn't work for me."[19]

Some tracks only faintly recalled compositions stemming from the earlier Smile era.[nb 6] The only completely new songs composed post-Smile were "Little Pad", "Gettin' Hungry", and the closing track "Whistle In".[citation needed]

In mid-June 1967, before the release of Smiley Smile, Capitol A&R director Karl Engemann began circulating a memo which discussed conversations between him and Wilson of a 10-track Smile album. It would have followed up the release of Smiley Smile, and would not have included the selections "Heroes and Villains" nor "Vegetables". Engemann also referred to Smiley Smile as a "cartoon" stopgap for Smile.[35][36]


Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[37]
Blender 5/5 stars[38]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[39]
Pitchfork Media 9.5/10[40]

The album was preceded by the singles "Heroes and Villains" and "Gettin' Hungry".[nb 7] "Heroes and Villains" peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.[20] The latter was not credited to the Beach Boys, but instead to Brian Wilson and Mike Love.[citation needed] "Good Vibrations" was issued as a standalone single a year earlier to wide acclaim; Brian reportedly objected its placement on Smiley Smile, but for the first time, he was outvoted by his bandmates, who insisted on the single's inclusion.[20]

Smiley Smile peaked at number 41 on US Billboard charts[24] for what was their worst performing album to date.[41] Leaf wrote: "By the time Smiley Smile was released in September of 1967, the Beach Boys had become cultural dinosaurs. And it happened almost overnight."[10] According to writer Scott Schinder, the album was released to "general incomprehension. While Smile may have divided the Beach Boys' fans had it been released, Smiley Smile merely baffled them."[24] When released in the UK a few months later, it performed better, reaching number 9 on British charts,[citation needed] though a review published by NME admitted of the album: "By the standards which this group has set itself, it’s more than a grade disappointing."[20]

The magazine Cheetah raved the album, observing that "the mood is rather childlike (not childish) – the kind of innocence that shows on the album cover, with its Rousseau-like animals and forest, and the smoke from the cabin chimney spelling out the title. ... The expression that emerges from this music is very strange: it’s a very personal mood."[20] A review in Hit Parader praised the album for "probably [having] more a cappella harmony than on any album since the fall of the singing-group era in the late 1950s" but decreed that they "still like Pet Sounds better."[20]


In Fort Worth, Texas, there is a drug clinic which takes people off the streets and helps them get over bad LSD trips. They don't use any traditional medical treatment whatsoever. All they do is play the patient our Smiley Smile album and apparently this acts as a soothing remedy which relaxes them and helps them to recover completely from their trip.

Carl Wilson, 1970[42][better source needed]

Author Domenic Priore reflected: "Actually, the reason most people didn't care for Smiley Smile is that it came out in place of Smile. ... In a lot of ways, we’re lucky to have a Beach Boys album like Smiley Smile."[10] In retrospective reviews, Richie Unterberger gave the album four out of five stars, calling it "a rather nifty, if rather slight, effort that's plenty weird",[37] and noting that the media-hype of the collapsed Smile project at the time was much to blame for its lackluster reception in the United States. In a 2007 issue for Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau and David Fricke named it one of the 40 essential albums of 1967; Christgau declared: "Towering it's not; some kind of hit it is."[43] In 2001, Spencer Owen of Pitchfork Media awarded the album a 9.5/10 score, and wrote "Smiley Smile is a near-masterpiece. Without any awareness of Smile's existence, this album could have been a contemporary classic.…Group harmonies shine just as beautifully as any on Pet Sounds, and although the album isn't anywhere close to the sonic revolution that Sgt. Pepper had already brought, Wilson's innovative production and arrangements still bring out the best in every single track."[40]

Pete Townshend of The Who is a known admirer of the record, as is Robbie Robertson of The Band.[10] In a 2012 interview with Time, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith stated that his "island" music picks would be albums by AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, and Smiley Smile, "Just for the melodic fuck all."[44] Composers for the Japanese role-playing video game series EarthBound cited Smiley Smile and related work as major influences on the games' soundtracks.[45] Smiley Smile later inspired the tribute albums Smiling Pets (1998) and Portland Sings The Beach Boys "Smiley Smile" (2013).[46]

Journalist Nick Kent believed that the album "undersold the worth" of the Smile compositions, and that the album comprised "dumb pot-head skits, so-called healing chants and even some weird 'loony tunes' items straight out of a cut-rate Walt Disney soundtrack".[47]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Mojo United Kingdom Mojo 1000 – The Ultimate CD Buyers Guide[48][better source needed] 2001
NME United Kingdom All Times Top 100 Albums[8][49][better source needed] 1974
OOR Magazine Netherlands The Summer of Love, the Best Albums of 1967[50][better source needed] 1992

(*) denotes an unordered list


Track details per 1990 CD liner notes by David Leaf.[10]

All songs written and composed by Brian Wilson except where noted. 

Side one
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Heroes and Villains" (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks) Brian Wilson 3:37
2. "Vegetables" (B. Wilson/Parks) Al Jardine 2:07
3. "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (W. Woodpecker Symphony)"   instrumental 2:15
4. "She's Goin' Bald" (B. Wilson/Love/Parks) Mike Love 2:15
5. "Little Pad"   Carl Wilson and B. Wilson 2:30
Side two
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Good Vibrations" (B. Wilson/Love) C. Wilson with Love 3:36
2. "With Me Tonight"   C. Wilson 2:17
3. "Wind Chimes"   group 2:36
4. "Gettin' Hungry" (B. Wilson/Love) B. Wilson and Love 2:27
5. "Wonderful" (B. Wilson/Parks) C. Wilson 2:21
6. "Whistle In"   C. Wilson with Love 1:04


Chart information courtesy of AllMusic and other music databases.[51]

Year Chart Position
1967 UK Top 40 Album Chart 9
1967 US Billboard 200 Albums Chart 41


Sourced from 1990 liner notes by David Leaf,[10] except where noted.

The Beach Boys
Production staff


  1. ^ Dennis mentioned that it was "Heroes and Villains" that was recorded in a swimming pool.[20]
  2. ^ Developed by Wendy Carlos, an example of this obscure effect is present in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[22]
  3. ^ In 1976, Brian denied that it was a conscious decision for the group to become more democratic.[26]
  4. ^ The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women#12 and 35" (1966) were similar examples of party tracks.[31]
  5. ^ "Heroes and Villains" was modified substantially during the Smiley Smile sessions before being issued as a single preceding the album's release. Comparing Brian's original Smile mixes with the single version, Jardine called it "a pale facsimile … Brian re-invented the song for this record … He purposefully under-produced the song."[10]
  6. ^ "She's Goin' Bald" borrowed the verse melody from a Smile fragment known as "He Gives Speeches"[10] and "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" lifted a recurring melodic hook from "The Elements: Fire".[34]
  7. ^ Their respective B-sides were "You're Welcome" and "Devoted to You", both non-album tracks. The latter had been released on Beach Boys' Party! two years earlier.


  1. ^ a b c d Harrison 1997, p. 47.
  2. ^ a b DeRogatis 2003, p. 38.
  3. ^ "Album reviews: Wild Honey". Billboard 17 (51). December 23, 1967. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  4. ^ Chidester, Brian (March 7, 2014). "Busy Doin' Somethin': Uncovering Brian Wilson's Lost Bedroom Tapes". Paste. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  5. ^ Badman 2005, p. 200.
  6. ^ a b c Carlin 2006, p. 129.
  7. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 297.
  8. ^ a b Stebbins 2011.
  9. ^ Prendergast 2000.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Leaf, David (1990). Smiley Smile/Wild Honey (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 
  11. ^ Badman 2004, p. 188.
  12. ^ Prokopy, David E. (1996). "The Prokopy Notes". The Smile Shop. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  13. ^ Highwater 1968.
  14. ^ Himes, Geoffrey (September 1983). "The Beach Boys High Times and Ebb Tides Carl Wilson Recalls 20 Years With and Without Brian". Musician (59). 
  15. ^ a b Priore 1995, p. 194.
  16. ^ Griffiths, David (December 21, 1968). "Dennis Wilson: "I Live With 17 Girls"". Record Mirror. 
  17. ^ Gaines 1986, p. 179.
  18. ^ Doe, Andrew G. "GIGS67". Bellagio 10452. "GIGS66". Endless Summer Quarterly. 
  19. ^ a b c d Sharp, Ken (April 2, 2013). "Al Jardine of the Beach Boys: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About "SMiLE" (Interview)". Rock Cellar Magazine. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f Priore 2005.
  21. ^ Preiss 1979.
  22. ^ Carlos, Wendy (July 2008). "Vintage Technologies: The Eltro and the Voice of HAL". Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  23. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 128.
  24. ^ a b c Schinder 2007, p. 119.
  25. ^ Dennis Wilson - Pete Fornatale Interview 1976 on YouTube
  26. ^ Fornatale, Pete (November 3, 1976). "Interview with Brian Wilson" (MP3). NY Radio Archive. WNEW-FM 102.7. 
  27. ^ a b Video on YouTube
  28. ^ Harrison 1997, p. 51.
  29. ^ Harrison 1997.
  30. ^ Harrison 1997, p. 49.
  31. ^ a b Whiteley & Sklower 2014, p. 150.
  32. ^ Harrison 1997, pp. 46–49.
  33. ^ Carlin 2006, pp. 128–129.
  34. ^ Dillon 2012.
  35. ^ Badman 2004, p. 195.
  36. ^ Priore 1988, p. 160.
  37. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. "Smiley Smile - The Beach Boys : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  38. ^ [1][dead link]
  39. ^ The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music, Concise (4th Edition), Virgin Books (UK), 2002, ed. Larkin, Colin.
  40. ^ a b "Smiley Smile/Wild Honey". Pitchfork Media Inc. March 29, 2001. 
  41. ^ Carlin 2006.
  42. ^ "Beach Boys Quotes". Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  43. ^ Christgau, Robert; Fricke, David. "The 40 Essential Albums of 1967". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  44. ^ Luscombe, Belinda (6 August 2012). "10 Questions for Steven Tyler". Time Magazine. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  45. ^ Itoi, Shigesato (June 16, 2003). "『MOTHER』の音楽は鬼だった。" [Music of "MOTHER" was a demon]. Translation. Archived from the original on July 5, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2014. 
  46. ^ Wheadon, Bret. "Tribute Albums". Beach Boys: The Complete Guide. Retrieved August 17, 2014. 
  47. ^ Kent 2009, p. 44.
  48. ^ Mojo Magazine, Winter 2001
  49. ^ New Musical Express Magazine, 1974
  50. ^ Muziekkrant OOR, 1992
  51. ^ "UK Top 40 Hit Database". EveryHit. 


External links[edit]