Hardy found 'Smile' well worth the wait
A couple of years ago when Brian Wilson came to the Royal Festival Hall
to perform 'Pet Sounds', it seemed a miracle that he would be able to
both face an audience and perform live. But the announcement that he was
now returning to perform a World Premiere of 'Smile' seemed impossible
to believe. After all, it was the recording of this album which led to,
or certainly contributed to, the personal difficulties which have affected
his life and creativity ever since. The album was never completed and
has become the legendary 'unfinished masterpiece'. Since then, Brian has
been unable to even contemplate listening to the old master tapes. So
what amount of courage would he have needed to perform in public what
he couldn't even finish recording? Would he still have the skills to put
it all together? How much of the original concept would he remember? And
crucially, what effect would it have on Brian if the public heard it and
thought it was a load of old rubbish (or at least reacted in a way any
less than he might have wanted)?
began surprisingly and delightfully, with Brian's superbly talented and
versatile band members gathered around him for an a cappella session.
It was just as if the Beach Boys were sitting around at home, or at the
beach, laughing, joking and suggesting songs to sing for fun. We heard
greats like 'In My Room', 'Surfer Girl' and 'Please Let Me Wonder'. The
first half of the concert finished as the 10-piece band took up their
instruments and played perfectly-honed versions of 'Sloop John B', 'God
Only Knows', 'California Girls' and more, including tracks from Brian's
soon-to-be-released new album.
half began straight away with Smile. I thought it strange that it started
unannounced, but those in the know immediately recognised the beautiful
a cappella 'Our Prayer' introduction and then 'Heroes and Villains'.
Smile is not a collection of individual songs like Pet Sounds, but is
really a symphony made up of three 10-15 minute suites. Although fans
have become familiar with some of the songs from Smile which have subsequently
appeared on Beach Boys albums, it was fascinating waiting to hear how
'Cabinessence', 'Wind Chimes' or 'Surf's Up' would appear and fit within
the context of the complete work. Smile is a constantly-changing musical
panorama of mood, pace and layered complexity. Sometimes it's a cacophony;
with band members creating sound effects as well as constantly changing
their musical instruments to be able to perform the piece live. The final
suite includes the fabled 'Elements' section, during which the additional
string and brass section put on the notorious fireman's helmets to perform
'Fire'. To me, one of the many delights was the finale, when a return
to 'Our Prayer' swooped into the introduction of 'Good Vibrations'. 'Good
Vibrations' and 'Heroes and Villains' (with its theme running through
the much of the complete work) have both received a rearrangement and
So, was Smile
worth the wait? The answer must be "Yes" especially according to
the enthusiastic audience members who gave Brian and his musicians a cheering,
standing ovation for three or four minutes at the end.
Van Dyke Parks (far
Hats on it's
a hot combustible number!
Was there a degree of 'The King's New Clothes'? Dare I say, perhaps
but only very slightly. The problem is that Smile is very difficult to
appreciate in one hearing. I would have far rather listened to it and
lived with it on CD before hearing it in concert. I also have no doubt
that some in the audience must have thought, "What on earth is this
all about?" It's quite easy to understand how other members of the
Beach Boys and staff at Capitol Records reacted with horror, when they
heard it being worked on, late in 1966. All the public was familiar with
at that time were two-and-a -half-minute, simple pop songs.
we don't know whether the Smile we were presented with was the Smile that
Brian originally intended. The running order didn't correspond with either
the track listing on artwork for the back of the original Capitol LP sleeve,
or with the hand-written listing that Brian gave to Capitol which
was different again. But the core material was certainly there and familiar
to fans who have obtained bootleg recordings of the original sessions.
For many reasons it's a real pity that we have had to wait 37 years before
hearing Smile. But those of us fortunate to be old enough to have lived
through the sixties could be best placed to appreciate it. Just stop for
a moment and think about the context of Smile. If it had been completed
and released early in 1967, we would have heard it before 'Sgt Pepper'
and possibly 'Strawberry Fields Forever' up until then, the most
complex pop music made. Smile would have been around years ahead of other
'concept albums', most of which like 'Tommy', 'Days of Future Passed'
or 'Sgt Pepper' consisted of collections of individual songs, rather
than suites. Brian Wilson was only 24 years old when he conceived this
Yes, Smile is a work of genius. I look forward to its now- promised CD
release, but whether this will consist of a combination of the original
masters and new recordings, a completely new recording or 'live' rendition,
we don't yet know.
'Stealing that extra
All smiles: Alan
with Peter Young and Steve Garlick
we must congratulate Brian on having the strength, skills and interest
to finally complete Smile, we must not forget that it wouldn't have
happened without the encouragement of his wife Melinda, who suggested
the idea, and band member Darian Sahanaja who got the original tapes
from the archives. Van Dyke Parks readily responded to Brian's request
to help revisit and finish the project and was in the audience and introduced
to take his place on stage at the Royal Festival Hall.
also happened because of the warm support Brian has constantly received
from London audiences. Brian readily admits that "People in England
appreciate my music more". That's why London was chosen for the
World Premiere. After all this time, I hope Brian smiled. We did.
Click on photo to
Can SMILE too
years after its original anticipated release date, a studio
recording of Brian Wilson's lost musical masterwork 'Smile',
was finally issued on Nonsuch Records on September 28th, 2004.
'Smile' Limited Edition was also released on October 4, 2004,
UK-only limited-edition format, exclusive to Amazon.co.uk, comprises
a white box with 3D shadowbox embedded in the lid. This shadowbox
is a recreation of the artwork from the centre pages of the
album booklet and contains movable figures. The CD is housed
in a custom slipcase. One in four copies will be signed by Brian
Wilson; these will be randomly allocated.
Click on the photo
to pre-order the 'Smile' Limited Edition
releases to make you SMiLE
years after the brilliant SMiLE album was hatched as a creative
thought, you can see the music come to life in a two-disc DVD
package featuring nearly four hours of material, including the
documentary Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson And The Story of SMiLE,
as well as an exclusive performance of SMiLE shot in its entirety
in Los Angeles and nearly two hours of never-before-seen bonus
Smile DVD was released on June 13th 2005. (Click on the sleeve
photo, left, for more info)
Wilson completists can adorn their collection with the book 'Smile.
The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece'. (Click on the
jacket photo, right, for more info)