The Smile Sessions

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The Smile Sessions
The Smile Sessions png.png
Compilation album and box set by The Beach Boys
  • October 31, 2011 (2011-10-31) (iTunes)
  • November 1, 2011 (2011-11-01) (worldwide)
Recorded October 15, 1965 (1965-10-15)–June 18, 1971 (1971-06-18)
  • 48:24 (tracks 1–19)
  • 143:05 (2-CD)
  • 396:28 (box set)
Label Capitol
Producer Brian Wilson (original recordings)
The Beach Boys chronology
Summer Love Songs
(2009)Summer Love Songs2009
The Smile Sessions
That's Why God Made the Radio
(2012)That's Why God Made the Radio2012
Singles from The Smile Sessions
  1. "Cabin Essence" / "Wonderful"
    Released: June 15, 2011

The Smile Sessions is a compilation album and box set recorded by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on October 31, 2011 by Capitol Records. The set focuses on abandoned recording sessions from their unfinished 1966–67 album Smile which – if completed – would have followed the group's 11th studio album Pet Sounds. It features comprehensive session highlights and outtakes, while the first 19 tracks comprise an approximation of what the completed album might have sounded like.

The compilation is the first and only package devoted to the 1960s Smile recordings originally produced by Brian Wilson, arriving after decades of public anticipation and numerous false starts. The project was led primarily by audio engineers Alan Boyd, Mark Linett, and Capitol A&R director Dennis Wolfe, with Wilson acting as a remote supervisor, assisting the engineers with some mixing decisions. Previously, Wilson had completed a solo album based on Smile in 2004, which Boyd, Linett, and Wolfe used as a blueprint for The Smile Sessions. Wilson later stated that while the compilation is "not a far cry" from his original vision, he prefers his 2004 version. It is preceded by the similar box set The Pet Sounds Sessions (1997).

The Smile Sessions received virtually unanimous critical acclaim upon release.[1] It was voted number 381 in Rolling Stone's 2012 list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time"[2] and won the award for Best Historical Album at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in 2013.[3] The Los Angeles Times encouraged its inclusion in "every library of American recording history," deeming it an essential learning tool for university composition departments, music professors, budding recording engineers, and composers.[4] A spiritual successor, 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow, followed in 2017.


Wilson rerecorded Smile from scratch in 2004. Previously, the album lacked a coherent structure, and existed only as a "jumble of sessions" for many unfinished fragments of songs.[5]

Though certain fragments of the original Smile recording sessions subsequently leaked from 1967–2011 via studio albums, compilations and bootlegs, a comprehensive and official package had not been compiled by Capitol Records, largely due to the logistics in organizing the hundreds of convoluted song components and out of respect for Wilson who was once deeply disturbed by some of the recordings, associating the album with all of his failures.[6]

Work on what would have been the original Beach Boys version of Smile began in 1966, following the release of their album Pet Sounds, and based on the complex engineering methods of their single "Good Vibrations". After Wilson abandoned the project, sporadic attempts would be made over the next few decades to either finish or release the album as it was. During this time, recordings from the sessions would surface in underground trading circles and become a focal point for bootleg recording makers and collectors.[7][8] Plans for Smile's resurrection as an archival release go back to the early 1980s, when it was proposed that the album be issued in some form by Wilson and/or compilers.[9] An official release of some archival Smile material was finally included in the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys box set in 1993. A few years later, Capitol Records issued The Pet Sounds Sessions box set, which featured an assortment of alternate mixes and highlights of the Pet Sounds recording sessions spread over four CDs. There was hope that the box set would be followed by an official Smile release, but it failed to materialize.[7]

Thirty-eight years after the original album's conception and a period of mental rehabilitation, Wilson reconciled with the project and released a new interpretation of the source material via a solo album entitled Brian Wilson Presents Smile in 2004.

Work on The Smile Sessions began in mid-2010 before the project was greenlit.[9] In an interview with Jeremy Roberts on February 3, 2011, Al Jardine revealed "Capitol Records plans to issue a Beach Boys version of Smile sometime this summer to begin the celebration of the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary. Smile is the Holy Grail for Beach Boys’ fans, so it will be good." Jardine also mentioned that the surviving Beach Boys "didn't do any new recording. I'm happy to see it finally come out. Brian’s changed his mind about releasing the material, but it was inevitable, wasn’t it?"[10] The release was confirmed by Capitol Records on March 11, with the acknowledgement that an official release was planned for later in 2011.


In the 1970s, the Beach Boys attempted to manipulate Brian's prerecorded demo vocals onto Smile backing tracks, but were unsuccessful, and required software samplers.[11]

Disc one of The Smile Sessions assembles the Smile album as it may have sounded in the 1960s while loosely following the template spelled by Brian Wilson's 2004 interpretation. Wilson himself made a few suggestions to the compilation's sequencing after it was presented to him by the compilers Mark Linett, Alan Boyd and Dennis Wolfe.[5] Brian has stated that the exact running order was not decided in 1967 and that the original Smile would have been "less uplifting" than his 2004 version.[12] Although the track listing to The Smile Sessions is different from what it would have been on the original 1967 Smile album, interviews with Linett clarified that the track listing of the first disc would "present the whole piece as close to it as was envisioned, or as is envisioned, as possible ... with input from Brian as from everybody else".[9]

When asked whether Linett and Boyd had arrived at what he had envisioned during the 1960s, Brian responded: "Somewhat, yeah. To some degree. It's not a far cry from what I thought it would be."[13] He added that he preferred his 2004 version, and that the sound of The Smile Sessions disappointed him because of its unfinished state.[14] Linett argued that The Smile Sessions may be more accurate to Brian's vision than if he had completed the album in 1967, surmising that "he would have been happier if he had had a bigger canvas to present this," referencing the overwhelming amount of material that would have had to have been condensed into a two-sided vinyl LP, and Brian's ambition to "expand the boundaries of what a pop record was beyond what anybody was doing at the time."[13]

Non-Smile tracks[edit]

Not all of the tracks feature material recorded solely in the February 1966 through May 1967 timespan in which Smile was being worked on. In reference to including sessions from Smiley Smile, Linett stated, "Of course there’s things that some people think – should Smiley Smile sessions be there – [with tracks such as] 'Can't Wait Too Long', we get into a very fuzzy area."[5] Some elements were recorded by the Beach Boys at later dates or for other purposes.

  • Brian Wilson's lead vocals for "I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard" are taken from his and Van Dyke Parks' piano demo of "Heroes and Villains" (which includes the other two songs), recorded on November 4, 1966 for KHJ Radio and featured in full as track 36 on Disc Two in the 5-CD box set edition. The vocals were stripped from the demo and laid on the existing backing tracks, comprising instrumentation, backing vocals and animal noises by the band.
  • "The Elements: Fire" contains wordless vocals that were recorded for "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" on June 29, 1967.
  • "Holidays" and "Wind Chimes" segue together with a pitch-shifted version of the Smiley Smile "Wind Chimes" coda, recorded July 11, 1967.
  • The water chant intro to "Love to Say Dada" was recorded on October 29, 1967 for an early version of "Cool, Cool Water".
  • Carl Wilson's lead vocal on "Cabin Essence" was recorded for the 20/20 album on November 20, 1968.
  • The "bygones", Carl Wilson's backing vocals and the "Child Is Father of the Man" coda of "Surf's Up" was recorded on June 18, 1971.

The Smile reconstruction presented in disc one is largely mixed in single-channel mono due to missing stems and as a nod to Wilson's producing methods at the time. Digital manipulation was used; most prominently on "Surf's Up", in which the instrumental track is mashed up and synced with the vocal stem from an alternate performance of the song.[9]


The reunited Beach Boys in 2012, performing "Heroes and Villains" during their 50th anniversary tour

After numerous delays, The Smile Sessions was released online via iTunes on October 31, 2011, and the next day on CD, vinyl, and through other online services via digital download.[15] The compilation was made available as a single CD, a deluxe 2-CD package, as well as a limited edition deluxe box set composed of 5 CDs, 2 LPs, 2 7" vinyl singles, a poster, and a 60-page booklet that features high quality photographs, essays and recording sessionography.

The crowdsourcing film studio Tongal was used to create the music videos for The Smile Sessions, where fans in 2011 could submit video concepts, which were voted on and ultimately selected by other fans for two videos.[16][17]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[19]
The A.V. ClubA[20]
Consequence of SoundA+[21]
The Guardian5/5 stars[22]
One Thirty BPM100%[23]
Paste9/10 stars[24]
Pitchfork Media10/10[8]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[25]
Ultimate Classic Rock5/5 stars[26]

The Smile Sessions has been acclaimed by a majority of notable music publications. It was crowned as the best reissue of 2011 by Rolling Stone magazine,[27] while The Wire magazine placed it fifth in its annual critics' poll of the top releases of the year.[28] The box set version of the album won the Best Historical Album award at the 55th Grammy Awards.[3]

Pitchfork Media gave the album a perfect score and had particularly high praise of "Surf's Up" stating, "To my ears, the song is a high-water mark of pop songwriting, positively haunting with its melodic twists and turns. And Brian's vocal performances, with wild leaps into the upper reaches of his falsetto, give the track an almost unbearable poignancy."[8] PopMatters claimed "There is something holy in the tapestry of the album" and when reflecting on the drama surrounding the album's history stated "Contemporary bands could certainly stand to realize that all the band myths and stories in the world don’t matter much if you can't bring the songs, and no one brought the songs like Brian Wilson." The Los Angeles Times encouraged its inclusion in "every library of American recording history," suggesting, "university composition departments, music professors, budding recording engineers and composers should study it."[4]

Musicians including Henry Rollins have given enormous praise to the compiled recordings, calling it "even better than advertised ... Sonically, the album is one of the best things you are likely to hear in all of your life. There are moments on SMiLE that are so astonishingly good you might find yourself just staring at your speakers in unguarded wonder, as I have."[29]


Year Organization Accolade Result
2011 Rolling Stone 10 Best Reissues of 2011[2]
2012 The Wire Top 50 Releases of 2011[28]
2012 Rolling Stone The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[2]
2013 National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Award for Best Historical Album Won

Track listing[edit]

Compact disc[edit]

All tracks written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, except where noted.

Movement one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Our Prayer" (Brian Wilson)group1:05
2."Gee" (William Davis, Morris Levy)group0:51
3."Heroes and Villains"Brian Wilson (verse), Al Jardine (chorus), Mike Love, group4:52
4."Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)"group3:35
5."I'm in Great Shape"Brian Wilson0:28
6."Barnyard"Brian Wilson0:48
7."My Only Sunshine (The Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine)" (Gillespie/Davis, Mitchell)Dennis Wilson1:55
8."Cabin Essence"Carl Wilson (verses), group (chorus), Dennis Wilson (2nd chorus), Mike Love (tag)3:30
Movement two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
9."Wonderful"Brian Wilson2:04
10."Look (Song for Children)" (Brian Wilson)group2:31
11."Child Is Father of the Man"group2:10
12."Surf's Up"Brian Wilson (sections one and two), Carl Wilson, Jardine (tag)4:12
Movement three
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
13."I Wanna Be Around / Workshop" (Johnny Mercer/Brian Wilson)Instrumental1:23
14."Vega-Tables"Jardine, Brian Wilson (tag)3:49
15."Holidays" (Brian Wilson)Instrumental2:32
16."Wind Chimes" (Brian Wilson)Carl Wilson3:06
17."The Elements: Fire (Mrs. O'Leary's Cow)" (Brian Wilson)group2:35
18."Love to Say Dada" (Brian Wilson)Brian Wilson2:32
19."Good Vibrations" (Brian Wilson, Mike Love)Carl Wilson (verses), Love (chorus and bridge), group4:15
Bonus tracks
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
20."You're Welcome" (Brian Wilson)The Beach Boys1:08
21."Heroes and Villains (Stereo Mix)"B. Wilson, Love4:53
22."Heroes and Villains Sections (Stereo Mix)"The Beach Boys7:16
23."Vega-Tables (Demo)"Love, B. Wilson1:46
24."He Gives Speeches"B. Wilson1:14
25."Smile Backing Vocals Montage"The Beach Boys8:30
26."Surf's Up 1967 (Solo Version)"B. Wilson3:47
27."Psycodelic Sounds: Brian Falls into a Piano" (Brian Wilson)spoken1:30
28."Capitol Smile Promo" (Capitol Records)spoken1:02

Vinyl LP[edit]

Both discs (Capitol T-27658) are pressed with Capitol's black/rainbow LP label used from 1962–1968. The replicated album cover remains entirely true to the original, bearing the original catalog number for the mono release (T 2580).
LP one
LP two

Box set edition[edit]

5-CD Set

All tracks written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, except where noted.

All music composed by Brian Wilson, except where noted.

Bonus vinyl LP

As above.

Bonus 7" double-sided vinyl discs

Below are loose reproductions of what were intended to be lead singles for the original Smile album: "Heroes and Villains" (Capitol 27658) and "Vega-Tables" (Capitol 27667). Both discs feature the Capitol orange/yellow swirl "West Coast label" originally used from 1962–1968. "Heroes and Villains" was issued with its previously unused 1967 picture sleeve complete with original catalog number (Capitol 5826). "Vega-Tables" is a vinyl-exclusive mix.[citation needed]

All songs written and composed by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks.

Single one, side one
1."Heroes and Villains: Part One"3:09
Single one, side two
1."Heroes and Villains: Part Two"4:08
Single two, side one
Single two, side two
1."Surf's Up"4:12



The Beach Boys

Additional musicians


  • Alan Boyd – compilation producer, editing, liner notes, producer
  • Chuck Britz – engineer
  • Stacey Freeman – product manager
  • Frank Holmes – design, drawing
  • Mark Linett – compilation producer, editing, liner notes, mastering, mixing, producer
  • Domenic Priore – project consultant
  • Tom Recchion – art direction, design
  • Peter Reum – photography
  • Diane Rovell – contractor
  • Mikel Samson – production design
  • Guy Webster – photography
  • Brian Wilson – arranger, compilation producer, composer, liner notes, main personnel, photography, producer
  • Dennis Wolfe – compilation producer, liner notes


Chart Peak
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[30] 84
Dutch Albums Chart[31] 20
Finnish Albums Chart[32] 46
French SNEP Albums Chart[33] 84
German Media Control Albums Chart[34] 26
Japanese Oricon Albums Chart[35][dead link] 14
Norwegian VG-lista Albums Chart[36] 13
Spanish Albums Chart[37] 90
Swedish Albums Chart[38] 9
Swiss Albums Chart[39] 65
UK Albums Chart[40] 25
US Billboard 200[41] 27
US Billboard Vinyl Albums[42] 1


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  3. ^ a b Alyssa Toomey and Rosemary Brennan (February 10, 2013). "2013 Grammy Awards Winners: The Complete List". E!. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Roberts, Randall (November 6, 2011). "'Smile Sessions' reveals creation". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "SMiLE Sessions - Mark Linett Interview (transcript)". Icon Fetch. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
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  12. ^ "Ear Candy Mag interview with Brian Wilson (10-16-04)".
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  18. ^ The Smile Sessions at Metacritic Retrieved May 1, 2013.
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