Smile


Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

Smile (occasionally typeset as SMiLE) was a projected album by the Beach Boys, intended to follow their eleventh studio album Pet Sounds. After the Beach Boys’ main songwriter Brian Wilson abandoned large portions of music recorded between 1966 and 1967, the group recorded and released the dramatically minimized Smiley Smile album in its place. Several of the tracks eventually found their way onto subsequent Beach Boys albums and compilations. As more fans learned of the original Smile, details of its recordings acquired considerable mystique, and it became famous as one of pop music’s legendary milestones. Working with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Smile was composed as a concept album with a nonlinear narrative, existing today in its unfinished and fragmented state as an unordered series of abstract musical vignettes. Its genesis came during the recording of Pet Sounds, when Wilson began recording a new single: “Good Vibrations”. The track was created by an unprecedented recording technique: over 90 hours of tape was recorded, spliced, and reduced into a three-minute pop song. It quickly became the band’s biggest international hit yet; Smile was intended to be produced in a similar fashion. Wilson touted the album “a teenage symphony to God,” incorporating a diverse range of music styles including psychedelic, doo-wop, barbershop singing, ragtime, yodeling, early American folk, classical music, and avant-garde explorations into noise and musical acoustics. The album’s collapse has been attributed to several factors: internal resistance towards the project; legal battles with Capitol Records; the prolonged formation of Brother Records; technical difficulties with recording; Carl Wilson’s draft battle; and Brian Wilson’s escalating substance abuse, mental health issues, and creative dissatisfaction. Following this, many attempts were made to complete the Beach Boys’ Smile without Brian’s involvement. It was in the 1980s when bootlegged tracks from Smile began circulating widely among record collectors, inspiring others to assemble their own version using what surviving recordings were available. As a solo artist, Brian reinterpreted the project for concert performances in 2004, and then followed up with the studio album Brian Wilson Presents Smile. Though he had finally completed the work, Brian clarified that his 2004 arrangement differed substantially from how he had first conceptualized the album during the 1960s. On October 31, 2011, The Smile Sessions was released containing an approximation of what the Beach Boys’ completed Smile might have sounded like while using Brian Wilson Presents Smile as a template for its track list sequencing. It received universal acclaim. In 2012, the compilation was ranked number 381 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. In 2013, it won the Best Historical Album award at the 55th Grammy Awards.