Is This the Ultimate Fan Mix of “Smile”?

You probably know the story. Riding high in 1966, Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks began work on a new Beach Boys album. It would include the group’s #1 single, “Good Vibrations”, and be called Smile. It was going to be an amazing record (even Leonard Bernstein was impressed). But Brian eventually gave up. Various reasons have been given: opposition from at least one of the Beach Boys; Brian getting cold feet, thinking Smile wouldn’t be sufficiently “commercial”; his drug-fueled paranoia; and his inability to figure out how to put all the pieces together. Even hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the radio in February 1967 (“they got their first”).

Brian finally released his version of Smile in 2004, calling it “Brian Wilson Presents Smile”. The reviews were rapturous (“better 37 years late than never”).

But fans — some of them very talented — have been using the recordings from 1966 and 1967, both official releases and bootlegs, to create their own versions of Smile. Brian left so much music to play with.

Earlier this week, someone who calls himself “Mtt_Brand” on Reddit and “jsp444” on YouTube, whose real name is apparently Jack Stedron, uploaded a version of Smile that he says he worked on for three years. My first reaction was that Smile might have sounded something like this if it all had worked out in 1967.

This recording, Smile: the JSP Mix, uses technology that obviously wasn’t available in the 60s. It might be the ultimate fan mix of Smile. It’s certainly the best I’ve ever heard.

While I Was Away

Here are a few things from the past week or so I wanted to share:

From Paul Krugman at the New York Times:

Wonking Out: The Tax Cut Zombie Attacks Britain

I’ve written a lot over the years about zombie economic ideas — ideas that have failed repeatedly in practice, and should be dead, but somehow are still shambling around, eating policymakers’ brains. The pre-eminent zombie in American economic discourse has long been the belief that cutting taxes on the rich will create an economic miracle.

That belief is still out there: Even as its infrastructure was collapsing to the point that its largest city no longer had running water, Mississippi tried to raise its economic fortunes with … a tax cut….

The important point to understand is that there isn’t a serious debate about the proposition that tax cuts for the rich strongly increase economic growth. The truth is that there is no evidence — none — for that proposition….

Of course, people on the right, raised on the legend of Saint Reagan, believe that his tax cuts did wonders for the U.S. economy. But the data don’t agree [he has charts, etc.]

From Jamelle Bouie, also at the New York Times:

In political writing about the federal judiciary, there is a convention to treat the partisan affiliation of a judge or justice as a mere curiosity, to pretend that it does not matter that much whether a jurist was nominated by Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama so long as he or she can faithfully uphold the law.

The issue with this convention, as we’ve seen in the legal drama over the classified materials found … at Mar-a-Lago, is that it isn’t equipped to deal with the problem of hyperpartisan, ideological judges who are less committed to the rule of law than to their presidential patron….

Thankfully, there is a solution, and it takes only a simple vote of Congress: expand and reorganize the federal court system [well, actually it would only be a partial solution and important votes in Congress are rarely simple].

The practical reason to increase the number of courts and judges is that the country is much larger than it was in 1990, when Congress made its last expansion….

In the 32 years since 1990, the United States has grown from a population of roughly 250 million to a population of over 330 million….. And the federal judiciary is swamped. Last year, the Judicial Conference of the United States, a nonpartisan policymaking body for the federal courts, recommended that Congress create 79 new judgeships across existing district and appeals courts.

Congress, and here I mean Democrats, should go further with a court expansion to rival [Jimmy Carter’s in 1978]…. The goal is simple: to account for growth and to deal with the problem of a cohort of hyperpartisan and ideological judges whose loyalty to [the orange-ish ex-president] may outweigh their commitment to the law.

Would it be a partisan move? Yes. But it is a truth of American politics going back to the early days of the Republic that partisan problems — like the one engineered by Mitch McConnell … and the Federalist Society — demand partisan solutions.

From Charles Pierce for Esquire:

In the End, Climate Change Is the Only Story That Matters

To pretend otherwise is just to build the walls of your sandcastle higher.

While we watch the disembowelment of various lawyers in the employ of a former president* and wrap ourselves in the momentum of the upcoming midterm elections, the climate crisis—its time and tides—waits for no one. Every other story in our politics is a sideshow now. Every other issue, no matter how large it looms in the immediate present, is secondary to the accumulating evidence that the planet itself (or at least large parts of it) may be edging toward uninhabitability….

To stand on the bluffs above the Chukchi Sea [between Siberia and Alaska], looking down at a series of broken and ruined seawalls that have already failed to hold back the power of the ocean, and to consider that there are politicians in this country who are unwilling to do anything about the climate crisis, or who even deny it exists, is to wish they all could come and stand on these bluffs and look out at the relentless, devouring sea.

It probably doesn’t matter, but:

From Verlyn Klinkenborg for the New York Review of Books:

Endless Summer [not a great title]

Brian Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time….

I have trouble accepting that Smile—the album he abandoned in 1967—was finally finished in 2004, because I question the continuity of the creative mind that “finished” it nearly forty years after it was begun. My skepticism makes me wonder whether I’m simply clinging to the memory of my own experience of the Beach Boys when I was young. But I don’t think so. They’re the same doubts that apply, say, to Wordsworth’s late revisions to The Prelude.

The joy I experience listening to those early Beach Boys records—through “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” and slightly beyond—has nothing to do with nostalgia, with memories of where I was or who I was when I heard them. They don’t evoke for me an idealized California or even my adolescent yearnings. I don’t hear them from [Iowa] or Sacramento. I hear them from now. Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time. What makes them so remarkable isn’t just the artistic fulfillment they achieve. It’s the artistic promise they embody. You can feel the explosive, disruptive, but ultimately controlled power of Wilson’s musical imagination—usually in three minutes or less….

Wilson marvels, in one of the documentaries I’ve mentioned, how quickly he wrote the melody of a song like “Caroline, No.” To me, that’s a sign that he’s allowed himself to misunderstand—in wholly conventional terms—what’s most remarkable about his work. It isn’t the melodic line or the speed with which it was written that stuns me now and stunned me then. It’s the shape of the mind in which the intricate shapes of his music entangled and resolved themselves. That mind has only ever been captured in one place: in the music as Brian Wilson recorded it long ago. 

Finally, two conclusions about France:

Louis XIV’s Versailles estate is too damn big. Did any of those 18th century aristocrats walk great distances in their 18th century shoes? The “gardens” are not somewhere to stroll around. They’re somewhere to hike or ride around.

And almost every French waiter was extremely nice, even the one who spilled the orange juice. Aren’t they supposed to be mean and snooty? Or is that only at the more exclusive establishments?

Sometimes the Internet Works For Us

Yesterday, I visited YouTube to see what the algorithms had for me and saw this video:

Brian Wilson – Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) (Demo Vocal Tracks)”

It’s 2 1/2 minutes of Brian and I guess some of the other Beach Boys performing background vocals for a beautiful song on the Pet Sounds album, my all-time favorite (and #2 in the recent Rolling Stone Top 500 — “Who’s gonna hear this shit?” Beach Boys singer Mike Love asked. . . ).

This morning, the video popped up again. While I was listening, I noticed a link to a song by Fleet Foxes, one of my favorite groups:

Fleet Foxes – Shore (Full Album) 2020 

Fleet Foxes has a new album out? I didn’t know. So I played the first track:

“Wading In Waist-High Water”

It’s beautiful. Fleet Foxes often remind me of the Beach Boys. I wondered how the new album, released in September, was being received. A search for “Fleet Foxes Shore” turned up a review from Pitchfork magazine.

On his fourth album, singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold refines and hones Fleet Foxes’ crisp folk-rock sound, crafting another musically adventurous album that is warm and newly full of grace. 

They gave the album an 8.3, which sounds high.  

As I was looking at the review, I saw this:

Elsewhere, there are explicit nods to contemporary classical music, as on “Jara,” which features hocketing by Meara O’Reilly, and “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman,” which pairs O’Reilly with a snippet of Brian Wilson counting to resemble Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, and, in its sampling, also recalls the early work of Steve Reich. 

A snippet of Brian Wilson counting? Well, I had to click on that.

Surprise, surprise! It turned out to be:

Brian Wilson – Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) (Demo Vocal Tracks)”

Yes, YouTube had twice recommended one of the thousands of Beach Boys/Brian Wilson videos they offer, of which I’ve watched many, and that took me to somebody else’s album, which uses part of that particular Pet Sounds session, which is in a YouTube video that’s probably getting attention because Robin Pecknold borrowed Brian Wilson counting “one-two-three-four” for his new Fleet Foxes album, Shore.

In the old days, only ten years ago, I might have quickly ordered the new Fleet Foxes CD. The internet would have succeeded in selling me something. But since CD technology is fast disappearing and I almost never play one except in our 16-year old car, there’s no rush. I can play the whole thing on Spotify and see if I want a copy for the car. 

Was I manipulated? Sure. Were a few more bytes of my data stored away in Google’s innards, only to be mined for heaven knows what purposes? Yeah. But sometimes it’s nice to be a tiny cog in a vast machine, even something to be a little bit thankful for.

Smiles from 1967, 2004, 2011 and even 2002

After releasing Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations” in 1966, Brian Wilson tried to keep it all going with Smile in 1967. Things didn’t work out, so Smile became rock music’s most famous, most well-regarded, unfinished, semi-existing album. Brian and the other Beach Boys went on to lesser things (as did Brian’s lyricist for the project, Van Dyke Parks), while the legend of Smile grew.

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I use the word “legend” because in this case it’s appropriate. The story was told again and again. Unreleased recordings were quietly shared. Speculation abounded among certain Beach Boys fans. Would the group ever finish Smile? What would it be like when we finally got to hear it? What would people have thought in 1967 if Smile had come out before Sergeant Pepper? The Beach Boys and Beatles were having a friendly competition in the mid-60s. We know how that came out.

Brian Wilson, having begun a solo career in the 80s, changed the Smile story in a big way in 2004. Overcoming considerable obstacles, he and his band debuted Smile at a February concert in London. From The Guardian:

So how good, finally, is Smile, the great lost song cycle that Brian Wilson kept the world waiting 37 years to hear? The only possible answer, after Friday night’s world premiere in London, is that it is better than anyone dared hope. Multiple spontaneous ovations were the reward for the former Beach Boy and his musicians, whose pristine performance breathed life into a 45-minute work previously known only through various shattered and dispersed fragments.

Seven months later, Brian Wilson presented us with Brian Wilson Presents Smile. Metacritic, a site that tries to synthesize critical opinion, has it down as the third-best reviewed album of the 21st century:

Well, better 37 years late than never. Originally intended to be the Beach Boys’ 1967 follow-up to their legendary ‘Pet Sounds,’ ‘Smile’ was finally recorded as originally intended in April 2004 by Wilson and his current band, including co-songwriter Van Dyke Parks.

“Originally intended” is a stretch, since nobody, including Mr. Wilson, really knows how he intended to put Smile‘s pieces together in 1967. (Not being able to put the pieces together was a very big part of the problem.)

In 2011, Capitol Records released a big set of Beach Boys recordings from the 60s, The Smile Sessions, also to great acclaim. And that was that.

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Except that while we were waiting those 37 years, a number of us (hundreds of us? thousands?) created our own versions of Smile, using whatever pieces were available (legally and otherwise). I did one in 2002, two years before Brian did. If only he’d asked me for help in 1967!

Mine differs from the typical unofficial arrangement, mainly in two ways. I started with something someone put together from mostly instrumental tracks and called “The Elements”. I think it’s an excellent prelude to what comes later. I also used a version of the song “Wonderful” from the Smiley Smile album (what the Beach Boys released in lieu of Smile), not the original “Wonderful” with a harpsichord that most fans seem to prefer. I like the later one a lot more.

Anyway, here’s my Smile from 2002 in two formats up in the Microsoft cloud (YouTube objected due to copyright):

Audio only (MP3, 55 mb)

Audio plus unsophisticated video that identifies the tracks (MP4, 52 mb)

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(By the way, whether or not you watched any of that ridiculous “debate”, please vote and send the maniac back to private life and almost certain criminal prosecution.)

Take a Visual Break from Reality with the Beach Boys

Someone going by the name Summertime Blooz has a YouTube channel that features “amazing music accompanied by colorful and imaginative slideshows”. That is an accurate description. Actually, it’s putting it mildly.

I count 28 videos on his channel devoted to the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson (there are a few for other artists as well). Here are three with some of Mr. Blooz’s comments.

This is a slideshow video for the Beach Boys’ 1964 classic “The Warmth Of The Sun”. I made this video tribute because I think it is probably the most beautiful song in the Beach Boys catalog (sorry, “God Only Knows”).

Brian Wilson and (the unpleasant) Mike Love wrote it in the wake of the 1963 Kennedy assassination. The graphics truly evoke Los Angeles and Southern California from years ago.

… a video for the Beach Boys’ 1966 song “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” from their album masterpiece Pet Sounds. I think the themes of feeling alienated and not fitting in are universal and timeless. In making this video I gained an even greater appreciation of the intricacies of the record’s production and believe it’s truly one of the finest and most daring productions Brian Wilson ever created.

“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is the climax to Pet Sounds, appearing near the end of what used to be side 2.

… a slideshow set to my edited version of the Beach Boys’ “Wind Chimes”, recorded in 1966 for the legendary, aborted Smile album. All thanks to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys for the awesome music. Please enjoy responsibly.

More than one version of “Wind Chimes” is available. This is the older, longer version. Keep listening when the video fades to black about 3 minutes in.

Visit Summertime Blooz’s YouTube channel for more, including 17 videos devoted to Smile.