The Beach Boys, Smile (1967/2011)

Of all the Great Lost Albums (The Who's Lifehouse, Neil Young's Chrome Dreams), the Beach Boys' Smile has always loomed largest.  In the wake of the critical success but commercial disappointment of 1966's Pet Sounds, and weighed down by drugs and mental illness (and competition with a creatively peaking Beatles), Brian Wilson labored for months on end trying to compile a vast, experimental concept album.  And while the sessions yielded many great songs (including the "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains" singles, which were to serve as thematic anchors for the album), a final completed album never arrived.  Eventually the band released the inferior Smiley Smile, cribbed together from various new stand-alone songs and some tracks salvaged from the Smile sessions.

For the next few years, assorted tunes from the recording sessions would appear, either in their original versions or re-recorded, on various Beach Boys albums.  And a whole slew of previously unreleased Smile tracks showed up on 1993's Good Vibrations box set.  Finally, after Brian Wilson issued a newly recorded version of Smile as a 2004 solo album (which was surprisingly good, though the modern recording technology gave it a far more contemporary feel than the original recordings), a collection of original Beach Boys recordings was finally released in 2011 as The Smile Sessions (in both single-disc and multi-disc options).

Now, is Smile, however presented, as good as Pet Sounds?  No, of course not, because, duh, Pet Sounds.  Few albums could rise to that level.  But it's also a fascinating work of psychedelia that can hold its own alongside Sgt. Pepper, with the band's trademark harmonies wrapped around all manner of lyrical and musical weirdness, and it's an indispensable album for fans of late 60s psychedelic pop.

Like most fans, I'd compiled my own version of Smile, culled from various Beach Boys albums and compilations, so by the time the band finally issued an official version of the album, I preferred to stick with the selections and sequencing that sounded best to me; and while purists may prefer mono, I'm strictly a stereo guy, so my version was based in part on the availability of stereo versions.  Here's how my version of Smile ended up:


Here's a video for "Cabinessence":



And sure, why not, here's a live take of "Good Vibrations" (without Brian):



 

Buy the 2-CD deluxe edition on Amazon.

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