A Teenage Symphony To God: Smile

This will be the first and last time I post about Brian Wilson’s Smile record. I do want to continue a successful marriage. 😉

So, since having finally heard Brian Wilson’s Smile project (not to be confused with a different Beach Boys record called Smiley Smile) from 1966 that was never really officially released in it’s original form, I have been quite interested (if not obsessed) with it as a whole.

What first blew me away with Smile was the simple fact that is was at it’s purest element, a concept album. Yeah, I know that’s a loaded word. And sure there have been concept records in the past – Brian wasn’t inventing something new. Frank Zappa has had a few. Guns n’ Roses’ Illusion records, The Who’s Tommy, Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. I could go on and on. My point here is that with the later mentions of concept albums, each piece could be considered a song by itself and would make sense as-is without the record as a whole. With Smile the record was broken up in to three movements. I won’t get in to the details, however. Each song could not be understood nor comprehended with out the surrounding songs in context. That, to me, clearly documents what I believe to be a true concept album. It’s an idea that the whole needs to be intact, in order to be understood. The elements alone are sort-of random and non-sequitor, per se. Of course, it’s just my opinion and other people, I am sure, will disagree about my statements. It’s their right as a music listener. It’s what makes music wonderful and enjoyable to talk about and hear.

It’s hard to understand this without first hearing the record, I know. You can hear most of the Smile sessions if you bought to 4 (or 5) disc box set the Beach Boys put out in the 90s. I don’t really recommend Brian Wilson’s re-recording of it as a start as it’s newly recorded and very polished sounding. Brian strangely hits all the notes when in the past years he struggled to hit them. It’s just not the same with the modern production. Still it’s pretty good, but the ’66 unreleased version is clearly and notably different. Better if you ask me. If you are lucky and just a bit clever, you can do a little digging around and might find a copy laying around somewhere to download. There are plenty of versions of this little record put together by fans as they interpreted the setlist to be. Vigotone and Purple Chick’s versions are the ones I hear are the best.

I only ask that everyone hears this record at some point in their life, regardless of your preconceived notions with the Beach Boys. Come on over. We’ll listen to it together and talk about it. I am serious. I ask you to take me up on it. It’s something to be heard.

In conclusion and on the simplest level possible, it’s a glimmer at the idea that Brian Wilson wanted to write about more than just “surfing, girls and cars” without being held back by certain members of his band. It’s a record to be listened to and it will always hold a special place in my heart, as cheesy as that sounds.

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