The Beach Boys (1967/2004/2011)

SMILE is not technically revolutionary. But only because it was lost in time. I am very generous with it and recognize its truly unique quality in the musical world, and you should too. You see, technically it was only officially released in 2004, when Brian Wilson made a magnificent solo update of his original compositions. But during its original gestation in 1967, he was focusing on one-upping the Beatles’ ongoing creative and personal transformations and may have actually done so. His project was to create an honest-to-goodness symphony, with extremely complex instrumental parts, an incredibly ornate structure, and very deep, nuanced lyrical themes. It was a bigger undertaking than Sgt. Pepper, and he pulled it off beautifully.

…Well, he would have, if his paranoid-schizophrenic conscience hadn’t told him the finished product wasn’t good enough. Even after completing great versions of all the tracks, he kept recording and rerecording different parts in minute detail, with countless variations, trying to reach some sort of ideal that only he could see. It turned out he was his own biggest critic, as the material he’d already recorded was a timeless, flawless masterpiece. But the world didn’t get to hear the finalized 1967 recordings for another 44 years, as the stress and studio isolation finally got to Brian’s fragile ego, and he had a huge mental breakdown, leaving the Beach Boys stranded and helpless for several years (although, to be fair, his brothers kept the band relatively decent for a while, and he even began to pitch in solid songs after taking a ten-year hiatus to preserve his sanity). But after such anticipation, the legend of SMILE would only grow. Much of the hesitance in its release was due to the running order the final work would have. Finally, in 2011, an exhaustive box set was released, with the official 1967 version of SMILE available at long last. If the universe was fair and it had been released in the 60s, it would have changed the world as much as Sgt. Pepper. As it is, it’s a miracle that these two different versions were released. (Actually, three – instead of the abandoned SMILE, the Beach Boys released Smiley Smile in 1967 as a stopgap. It was an oddball record, consisting of studio outtakes and demos, along with finalized versions of two of pop music’s finest songs, “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes And Villains”.) So, all things considered, SMILE is indeed worthy of the title “revolutionary”. It always was, and always will be. Thank you, Brian. Thank you.

Key track: “Good Vibrations”

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