Since my article which broke down the versions of The Rolling Stones Exile on Mainstreet was so popular, I thought it would be cool to do one for another essential release campaign– this time for the legendary Beach Boys SMiLE which is getting a massive box set treatment as well as a standard CD and vinyl release tentatively slated for November 1st if you believe Amazon.com.
When news broke earlier this year that Capitol and the remaining members of the Beach Boys gave the long-awaited green light to dig into the Capitol Vaults to finally release the great lost SMiLE album from the original sessions, all of the Beach Boys aficionados, vinyl freaks and collectors started heating up the various boards on the internet. My favorite navel-gazing crowd of record collectors is the Kevin Hoffman Boards, which has already spawned seven very active threads on the topic with experts and Smile-ologists chiming in with track speculation and session history dating back to the missed release in 1967. A good place to start is the Wikipedia article on the topic. However, a quick synopsis for the uninformed:
Brian Wilson stepped into the role as leader of the Beach Boys around the time of the brilliant and revolutionary Pet Sounds. Tired of touring, Brian wanted to focus more on studio efforts. The often-told story goes that Paul McCartney hearing preliminary tracks from Pet Sounds was motivated to create Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. So influential was Pet Sounds, that Brian wanted to up the ante and create an even more involved creation.
So, work began on the follow-up– originally to be called Dumb Angel— in early 1966. Wilson brought in the best session people in L.A. at the time– the Wrecking Crew– and also elicited help from his friend Van Dyke Parks to assist with the writing. The album was centered around some basic concepts– the elements– which allowed the two of them to try to craft a very American epic. Between April and September of 1966 many hours of writing and recording happened for the album, but by November of 1966 it was clear that the stresses from depression, drug abuse, and maybe the prospects of trying to achieve such a lofty goal– a “symphony to God” caused the project to end somewhat abruptly in early 1967 over disagreements over the direction of the album. A kind of salvaging of the album work appeared in the very stripped-down Smiley Smile release that September.
And, that might have been the last anyone ever heard about the album– just a footnote in an impressive career. However, leaked recordings from the sessions started appearing in the late 1980’s as a result of Capitol’s interest in remastering and reissuing the catalog. That, plus the inclusion of Smile sessions in the 1993 Good Vibrations box set sparked an avalanche of interest resulting in more session tapes showing up on the Sea of Tunes bootlegs in astonishing quality which resulted in the cottage industry of attempts by fans in creating the “definitive” SMiLE based on speculation and history gathered. The most famous of these– the “Purple Chick Presents” series was one that most fans stand behind (at least the ones I know do). The advent of easy digital editing by consumer computer hardware made this a relatively easy task compared to the work that would have had to be done to the original tapes. And, when Wilson himself decided it was time to finally release SMiLE in 2004, he did it as a completely new recording based on what he and Van Dyke Parks recalled about the compositions and likely even listening to fan reconstructions, actually. Everyone was excited for the release, and it gave a kind of “definitive” version of the track listing. The Purple Chick made a new version based on this “Brian Wilson Presents” version. I wasn’t as excited about this release as most fans were because it really didn’t sound like the original Beach Boys. Wilson’s voice has changed over the years, and the Wondermints who were the backing band on it weren’t the Beach Boys.
In February of this year the announcement was made by The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson and Capitol across many outlets that they were going to release a massive box set of SMiLE. Titled The Smile Sessions, it would have as accurate a reconstruction of what Smile should have been as would be achievable from the tapes they had. It’s important to remember that Smile was never finished. Lots of studio backing tracks were recorded as well as a lot of vocal takes from the Boys, but many of them were never assembled– so there were lots of studio trickery needed to make things line up. The first releases from these sessions were a Record Store Day “Good Vibrations” single in the form of a 78 RPM record. The next release was a bonus clear yellow 7″ that was included in the UK magazine Mojo of “Cabin Essence” and “Wonderful” in a special “Mojo 60’s” magazine with interviews from the members of the band. Lots of chatter ensued– it wasn’t clear how fans could get copies of this issue– although stores like Barnes & Noble carried Mojo, they didn’t tend to carry the special issues. I spent a lot of time calling around trying to figure out if stores were carrying it. In the end, I ended up getting three issues– one from Parasol Records in Champaign, IL, and two copies from Prairie Lights in Iowa City (one of these was for a friend who is as big a Smile fan as I am).
After much speculation from the many experts and critics on the internet boards, a likely mock up of the box set showed up. This is the picture at the top of the article, followed quickly by entries on Amazon’s website for preordering the three versions of the release– a massive box set and two “album” releases (CD and LP). The original release was likely slated to only be one LP, but there was enough completed sketches that it easily fills out two LPs, plus, Wilson himself did not limit himself to the 45-minute barrier for his 2004 version, so that becomes the template. In fact, it really becomes a three-sided release for the CD and LP versions with the fourth side being “bonus” material in the form of some stereo versions and session chatter.
The definitive version of SMiLE has always been a MONO one. Wilson had hearing loss in one ear and thus stereo production was never a priority for him. So, we are presented SMiLE in mono, the way it was meant to be.
Here are the details on the big Smile Sessions Box which includes 2 LP’s, and 5 CD’s of music, 2 7″ singles, a hardcover book, a poster and a reproduction of the photo booklet that was supposed to be in the original release. (From Amazon.com) As of 8/28 it is at $149 (up from $110 on Friday?)
- 5 CDs / 2LPs / 2 7″ singles
- Three-dimensional shadow box lid featuring the original artwork of Frank Holmes.
- The Box Set measures 13″ x 13″ x 2.5″
- 60 page case bound book features liner notes by:
– Brian Wilson
– Mike Love
– Al Jardine
– Bruce Johnston
– Frank Holmes
– Peter Reum
– Tom Nolan
– Dominic Priore
– Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford
– Diane Rovell
– Dean Torrence
– Mark Volman
– Michael Vosse
– David Anderle
– Danny Hutton
Frank Holmes drawings
More than 60 previously unreleased photos
Box also contains:
6 panel folder holding 5 CDs and singles. Features photos of original session tape boxes.
7″ vinyl singles
“Heroes and Villians” in sleeve art
Vega-Tables” in sleeve art
Gatefold 2 LPs
Features full tracklisting of proposed unfinished album +
Stereo mixes and session highlights (not available on CDs)
12″ x 12″ booklet created for original release features:
Photos by Guy Webster
Drawings by Frank Holmes
24″ x 36″ poster of Frank Holmes cover art
Track Listing for the Full Box Set (from Amazon.com)
Track Listing for the “Basic” SMiLE Vinyl ($18.57 as of 8/27 (from Amazon.com)
The CD edition is a little more expansive having a special box and will include more content on 2 CD’s. Priced at $24.5 on 8/27, it has the following content (from Amazon.com):
So, Capitol has done a good job of giving a variety of releases to suit any level of fandom or commitment. As we get more information about the release, I will update this article.