During the dog days of summer, all real Americans enjoy a bit of a pep-up by listening to the Beach Boys, the nation’s great rock and roll band. The Beach Boys have definitely been through their ups and downs, but many of their songs have entered the pop culture pantheon, and have well earned the accolades. Led by primary songwriter, producer, and arranger Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys synthesized rock and roll, early American music, folk, and other influences into a sound all their own, as Wilson’s great genius for melody, harmony, and counterpoint made lyrically simple songs such as "California Girls" "God Only Knows," and "Good Vibrations" into works of stunning beauty that were easy to understand and enjoy.
Things went bad for the band in the mid-1960s, as is well known, when Brian began to abuse drugs. Brian had emotional problems that were traceable in part to a poor relationship with his father, and his personal difficulties resulted in utter disaster when he began his drug use. Brian largely withdrew from public life, even spending a long time in bed, where his weight ballooned up to more than 300 pounds.
He still worked intermittently with the band, creating some very good songs during the bad times—compositions such as "Do It Again," "This Whole World," "Add Some Music to Your Day," "Hey Marcella," and "It’s OK," and the Beach Boys Love You album showed that on his good days, Brian still could summon up the old magic. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s and 1990s that he really began to function again, both personally and musically.
When he had his initial breakdown, Brian (it’s hard to call this genial man "Wilson") was hard at work on what he intended as his true masterwork, SMiLE. With lyrics by the undeniably talented hippie wordsmith/songwriter Van Dyke Parks, the album was to be, in Brian’s words, "a teenage symphony to God." After Brian’s breakdown, however, work on the album stopped, even though it had been nearly finished, and the group released the rather disorganized and puzzling replacement Smiley Smile and moved on.
Tantalizing pieces from the original SMiLE lineup, however, appeared occasionally on the band’s subsequent albums, making the unreleased album a great legend of lost popular art: an album of songs such as "Heroes and Villains," "Good Vibrations," "Cabin-Essence," "Vegetables," "Our Prayer," and "Cool, Cool Water" would have to be an astonishing thing, the group’s fans supposed.
But it was almost forty years before we got to hear it—in 2004 in a version credited to Brian Wilson and performed by him and his current-day touring band. And it really was great, as I stated in my review of the recording for Tech Central Station.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what the album would have sounded like as performed by the Beach Boys in their prime, with Brian’s youthful voice—his voice has coarsened over the years because of tobacco use, drug abuse, etc.—and with the vocal performances by the orignal band. The group, after all, had sung together since childhood, and was composed of three brothers, one cousin, and a longtime friend, and as a result their voices blended together beautifully. Given the tremendous vocal harmonies and counterpoints Brian had created for SMiLE, and the fact that some of the songs were originally written to be sung by Brian’s now-deceased brothers Carl and Dennis, it was interesting to conjecture how the album would have sounded with their contributions.
We can’t hear an entire performance of SMiLE by the Beach Boys, but ITunes has created the next best thing: a playlist of the Beach Boys’ performances of SMiLE that have been released on the band’s albums over the years. Several songs were released as tracks on the original vinyl albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and quite a few more were released on the various remasters and reissues during the past few years, and also on the superb Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys boxed set. (The latter, by the way, is a must-have recording.)
You can download the songs from ITunes and turn them into a compilation for your MP3 player and burn it to CD if you wish.
The ITunes page offers a two versions of the compilation. For my own CD of it I used tracks from both suggested versions and added a couple of songs not mentioned in the ITunes lineup, to approximate most closely the lineup on the 2004 version. For example, to add "Gee," which appears on Brian Wilson’s SMiLE but not in the ITunes compilation, I made a file of the corresponding 1:21 segment in "Heroes and Villians (Sections)" from the Good Vibrations boxed set and inserted it after "Our Prayer." You probably won’t want to be so obsessive about it, but it’s an option for any perfectionists out there. The full version of SMiLE is more than 50 minutes long, and the one I put together from the ITunes suggestions is about a half-hour long, but it’s a superb album and gives a strong sense of what SMiLE would have been like as performed by the Beach Boys.
As bonus tracks, I added the best non-SMiLE tracks from Smiley Smile ("Gettin’ Hungry," "With Me Tonight," "Little Pad," and "Whistle In") plus a few of Brian’s other finest songs from the late 1960s ("Good Vibrations—Early Take," "Add Some Music to Your Day," "Cool Cool Water," and "This Whole World"). The result is truly a great Beach Boys album, and it is sure to bring a smile to the listener’s face—just as Brian had always hoped.