In 2003, Brian Wilson
decided to tour his legendary 'lost' Beach Boys
, in a reconstructed version put together by himself, his original collaborator Van Dyke Parks
, and his musical director Darian Sahanaja
of The Wondermints
This tour started in London on February 20th, and I had downloaded the resulting concert by the evening of the 21st. I have not yet seen this tour myself (my ticket is for March 6th), and may edit this w/u after seeing it for myself - it's hard to judge musical quality based on MP3s of audience recordings - but for now here's my first impressions of the 'finished' Smile suite, which was performed in three movements.
I'm trying to judge this as a piece of music as it stands, not in relation to the legend or to all the bootlegs (I was never as huge a fan or 'Smile scholar' as most Beach Boys fans. If you want true 'Smile scholarship' reviews, you can do no better than visit the Smile Shop message board at http://comiclist.com/smileshop and read Matt Bielewicz' detailed notes, which also helped me a little in putting this together. However, for those few of you who are Smile geeks and haven't yet heard this, I've posted 'smile-geek' notes in italics after dealing with each song. These will be total gibberish to non Brianistas, and can be safely ignored.
As a whole, this piece is far more impressive than the Smile bootlegs would suggest - it has far more of Van Dyke Parks' fingerprints now than Wilson's, and is reminiscent of nothing so much as Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin. Several reviewers have also compared this to Charles Ives or Aaron Copland, both of whom are far better references than more usual rock and pop artists.
This is only a preliminary judgement, but while I've always been slightly underwhelmed by the Smile tapes, this does seem like a major piece of work, and I can easily imagine it being performed by small orchestral ensembles long after Wilson's death.
Movement 1 - Americana
Prayer is a beautiful Bach-like piece, the introduction to the album. This is a short a capella wordless chorale, which has been in Brian's setlist since 2002.
Smile-geek note - this is the original version as on the box set, not the version with additional overdubs as per 20/20
There follows a short section of Gee by the Crows, into a 'dit dit dit Heroes & Villains' break, a short trombone solo (the horn motif from the song Heroes And Villains) which sounds reminiscent of Rhapsody In Blue (a huge influence on Wilson's work) before we head into Heroes And Villains proper.
Heroes And Villains has always been considered the centrepiece of Smile - a story song set in the old west, influenced equally by Marty Robbins and Phil Spector (the backing is taken almost directly from the version of Save The Last Dance For Me Spector produced for Ike And Tina Turner), this is one of the few Smile songs to have been released in 67 almost intact, and its performance here is perfect, beautiful, heavenly.
Smile geek note - this is as performed on the second 2002 UK tour, with the cantina section put into the song, but without Bicycle Rider lyrics
This then goes into an instrumental version of the verse, before slowing to a short flute break based on Wind Chimes before the next song proper.
Do You Dig Worms? is a song that had appeared legally before, but without its full vocals. Clearly related to Heroes & Villains, this continues the Americana theme with an impressionistic Van Dyke Parks lyric about ocean liners and the Sandwich Isles (chorus 'Rock rock roll Plymouth Rock roll over') and a repeat of the chorus to Heroes & Villains, played ona mechanical sounding harpsichord with the lyrics changed to 'Bicycle rider, just see what you've done to the church of the American Indian'), before going into a Hawaiian section, with nonsense 'Polynesian' syllables and steel guitar.
Smile geek note - this is pretty much as the box set version, except for the new verse lyrics. The vocal melody is nothing special)
Worms ends in a winding-down music box version of the Heroes & Villains theme and a 'whoo whoo' vocal sound, before going into Barnyard.
Barnyard is a silly little two chord ditty with the band doing farmyard impressions.
Smile geek note - this is just the lyric from the Endless Harmony version over the original backing. No 'barnyard Billy'
This goes straight into a cello rendition of the old standard The Old Master Painter, which in turn goes into a minor key version of You Are My Sunshine.
Smile geek note - he sings *are*, not *were*
CabinEssence is the next real full song, and the last one in the first section. Another song about the old west, this one is structurally simillar to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, has chromatic vocal parts that recur later in Fire, and is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. In three sections (Home on the range/Who ran the iron horse/Grand Coulee Railroad), this piece sums up the first movement and brings it to a wonderful close.
Smile-geek note - this is the 20/20 version, but with the addition of the words 'hey mister' before the start of Grand Coulee
Movement 2 - Childhood
This movement starts with Wonderful . Probably Brian Wilson's best song, with impressionistic lyrics by Van Dyke Parks telling the story of a young girl's loss of innocence ('all fall down and lost in the mystery/lost it all to a nonbeliever/and all that's left is a girl who's loved by her mother and father') and redemption, the nursery-rhyme like melody, almost an anagram of the chorus to Heroes & Villains, goes perfectly with the bittersweet lyrics. This is one of the few Smile pieces that always lived up to the hype. Beautiful/
Smile geek note. No Rock with me Henry or hey baba reba, unsurprisingly.
This then goes into a short new section, with a beautiful new melody, and the lyrics 'maybe it's one, maybe it's two, wondering me, wondering who, wonderful you' (or something very like that), before going into a song which used to be known as Look, but now, with lyrics, is called:
Child Is Father Of The Sun starts with a staccato percussion section, before going into another variation of the Heroes & Villains melody. There is a vocal round on this song that will be familliar to anyone who has heard the next song on bootlegs, but over a different backing. Structurally very simillar to Good Vibrations, I can't make out the lyrics of this, but they seem to reference both Wonderful and the next song.
Smile geek note - this has the CIFOTM vocal round, but with man changed to 'sun' (note - not 'son')
Child Is The Father Of The Man follows on seamlessly from this. This song had been heard in altered forms as part of Little Bird on Friends and as the tag to Surf's Up, but this is the first time the *finished* version has been heard.
Smile geek note - new lyrics 'My child it's just enough to believe/Out all the while, get to what you can receive, the change' (or something very simillar), over the slow part.
There is then a short horn part, a variation on the melody to Wind Chimes, before going into:
Surf's Up surprisingly ends the second movement, rather than the whole piece. The best song ever written, this is dealt with well in its own node, but I must just reiterate that there has *never* been a better song written. Perfection.
Smile geek note - done as on the released version, but with European sounding strings in the second half that work *incredibly* well.
The second movement finishes with a reprise of the Child Is Father Of The Man theme, as on the released version of Surf's Up, with the lyrics 'A children's song, have you listened as they play?/Their song is love and the children know the way'.
Movement 3 - The Elements
I'm In Great Shape The opener, is a charming little ditty, with clarinet backiung, that only lasts a few seconds. It then goes into a version of the old Johnny Mercer song I Wanna Be Around before an instrumental section called Friday Night, for which the band 'play' saws, drills and other tools. This transitions rather roughly into Vegetables
Smile geek note - the lyrics to IIGS only include those on EH. The last word is 'agriculture'. So now you know
Vegetables is one of the more famous songs from Smile , and one that hadd a legitimate release. A two chord ditty about the joys of eating healthily, there's not much to say about this one.
Smile-geek note - this is the same as the box set, but without the tag, and Brian sings 'tennis shoe' rather than 'tenny'
Holidays is another fun song, returning to the Hawaiian theme, with lyrics about ukeleles, and a spoken section (spoken by Nick Walusko through a bullhorn). It then suddenly goes into a mournful string part, before merging into Wind Chimes
Smile geek note - lyrics all the way through this one, but I can't make them out. The end has the Smiley tag from Wind Chimes sung over the glockenspiel part from Holidays. The chorus to Worms is repeated here as backing vocals through the verse
Wind Chimes is another light, meaningless song, done unfortunately in its original version here rather than the gorgeous version as done on Smiley Smile. The Elements has so far been far lighter than one would expect from its reputation, but this changes rapidly:
Fire is in two parts ('H&V intro' and 'Mrs O'Leary's Cow') and is a genuinely scary track, sounding like something Tom Waits would write on a bad day when he had a migraine and was annoyed with the world. Cellos going fast up and down chromatic scales, fuzz bass, sirens, wordless backing vocals - you can see why Brian Wilson was scared by this track.
Smile-geek note - this is as we know it, but with the vocals from Fall Breaks And Back To Winter over the top
Water starts off with wordless chants interspersed with the word 'water', with Brian singing 'is it hot as hell in here or is it me?' almost in sprechstime - one of the best 'new' bits of melody and lyric in the set. It then goes into an uptempo track with interlaced lyrics that are difficult to make out, about Hawaii and needing a drink, before going into a short new string section and ending with a short reprise of Prayer
Smile geek note - this is the Water chant we know, from Cool Cool Water, with new VDP lyrics and new melody over the top, followed by Love To Say DaDa with totally new lyrics and vocal melodies.
Good Vibrations finishes the set, in subtly altered form. You all know this song.
Smile geek note - this is done with the Asher lyrics and the hum de ah section