It was the middle-80s and everything sounded like machines
to me: gated snares, the midi-d keyboards, the digital reverbs and drum machines. I remember
my long-time pal and musical partner Ross played me Tom Waits (Swordfish Trombones or Raindogs) and Jonathan
Richmond. These, plus XTC’s “Skylarking” and whatever bits of SMiLE I could get
my hands on pretty much kept me going during this time. Real warm, human music.
I had a copy of what I think was the first widely released SMiLE bootleg, the
one Ross had got from Mike Thornton and we’d copied onto cassette, a year or so
before, but now I had that next generation one…the CD that had the extended bits of “Heroes
& Villians”, the SMiLE version of
Vegetables and several other choice bits. I remember being so excited when I
found it at Go Boy Records down in Redondo Beach. That find… it made the day so
[I’d like to convey
the crazy obsession that I had with SMiLE at the time. I was reading the famous
David Leaf bio of The Beach Boys. I was trying to find the albums made just
after SMiLE---“Friends”, “20-20”, “Wild Honey” (I’d had Smiley Smile even
before I’d caught the SMiLE bug.) I searched all over Fresno for these albums,
but they were long out-of-print and hard to find. (I eventually found most of
them in Santa Cruz…used at Logos on Pacific probably.)I have a strong
summertime memory of reading that book, listening to these records while eating
pistachios and drinking Dr. Pepper!T he aforementioned Ross and I were trading
anecdotes we read about, or interviews we’d found, or videos we’d seen. I
remember assembling interviews and pics related to SMiLE found in music papers
and magazines and such and assembling them into a sort of collage that I put
into a frame and hung in the main living room of the house me and my band-mates
had first moved into when we moved down to Los Angeles. Then there was the strange
trips over and somewhere past Simi Valley, to the guy who lived in his pajamas and dealt in bootleg records. He had some stuff on tape that *no-one* had heard: weird mixes of Bicycle Rider
and even a session tape from “California Girls”, a strange mix of McCartney’s
“Band on the Run”. He’d play this stuff and say “Do you recognize this tune? Can you tell what’s
different here?” I think he was testing me. He kept talking about assembling a new and
better version of SMiLE that would really blow everyone’s mind. (I don’t think
he ever did. Part of me wonders if he’s still in his pajamas, and another part
is thankful for the rare bits and pieces he shared with me.)]
I was fascinated with counter-point: melodies and parts
interlocking and raising each other up. This idea was all over Brian Wilson’s
music, and in SMiLE, he had *that* as well as all the interesting textures
(like Tom Waits) and the innocent heart-warmth (like Jonathan Richmond); all
these interests of mine came together and were amplified in multiple headphone
listens of SMiLE.
I sat in my backyard and listened to Wilson’s 2004 version.
It really choked me up. All these bits and pieces had come together, and it was
lovely. I really loved the (Van Dyke Parks-made?) orchestral ‘link tracks’.
Several of the new tunes grabbed me..”InBlueHawaii”,etc.. One or two of the editorial
decisions weren’t ones that I’d have made (ha, like they’d ask me!)…but I loved
it. I loved the CD and loved the one opportunity I had to see it performed
Now it’s 2011, and just yesterday, I pulled the fascinating
little contraption out of the treasure-box-like package. I didn’t want to rush
over to the disc player or turntable. I
had a commitment for the next few hours, and I didn’t want touch this
thing until I had some time to really give it my full concentrated attention.
So that night, I started with the vinyl (guessing it’d be the closest thing to
the experience of someone in 1966, if it had actually been finished at that
Here are notes that I scribbled late last night:
Most impressed by side
3’s Wind Chimes and the various building bits at the end.
And wondering ..was
that Brian Wilson’s vocal and not Carl’s on “Surf’s Up”?
New stuff? Mostly
little tiny vocal overdubs onto tracks I’ve heard before.
Happy they used the
mostly original single version of Good Vibrations with some amusing additions. /”Fire”+the
vocals from “Fall Breaks Into Winter” was very cool and disturbing(as that
piece should be). My reaction to the music as a whole was not as emotional as
when I heard Brian Wilson’s first completed version from his 2004 release…but
emotional reactions can be explained by many outside factors. I think I felt
that the 2004 version was a closure….the First Completion. The MasterWork is
finally finished and it’s beautiful. This version feels like the Ultimate Fan’s
version of the 2004 work.—-they got a free Christmas Day in the Capital
vaults and could assemble the Final Beautiful Fan’s Version…and it is
beautiful…with the young Beach Boys’
perfect blend and heart-breaking vocals.
But the 2004 version
flows in a more organic fashion. This does feel a bit more like a re-creation,
where your hoping-for-the-best fan imagination fills in the gaps made by some
odd digital leaps and skips.
I felt like I was
opening some lost religious icon treasure when I opened the box set and saw
it’s component parts. The “Barnyard” “I’m In Great Shape” bits felt awkward and
Back to Nov. 4th.
With today’s re-listen I like it even more. Yeah, there are
pieces missing, but I’m very very happy to
have this nicely put together package…what with it’s documentation and
much-improved-over -the-bootlegs soundquality. And though the 2004 version is wonderful…these recordings have that rich vocal blend…you know *those* voices.
[hahaha, I’m still listening to the sessions on the other
disc…and I just heard Murray Wilson butt in, and Brian saying “Come on, Dad.
Leave me alone.” Hahaha. A bonus for us super-geeks who know too much about
Brian Wilson’s dad and Murray’s glass