The Beach Boys: Smiley Smile/Wild Honey

Smiley Smile

The Beach Boys had poured their hearts into Smile (the aborted project), but Brian Wilson’s feet reached sub-zero. It could have been their greatest album, their masterpiece. Carl Wilson once stated that the general attitude was: ”What if it didn’t turn out to be good?”. Brian Wilson’s pop arranging, producing and vocal skills far exceed those of the Beatles, but he arguably didn’t possess their commercial bravery. So, with, Smile shelved, the band took it easy in Hawaii, and produced a far more modest record that exudes joy more than it does eclecticism, complete with mistakes, studio chat, and celery as percussion. With Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys want to give you simple pleasures, using a wonderful bassy lo-fi warmth in the arrangements and instrumentation, as opposed to the more overtly arty noise of Sergeant Pepper.

Smiley Smile kicks off with one of the classic Beach Boys singles, Heroes and Villains, whose original fate was to be the ‘core’ of Smile, a musique concrète doodad. The production style on Vegetables, Wilson’s ode to greens, is as stripped back as this here ‘tater to the right.

This style is echoed throughout Smiley Smile, most notably on Wind Chimes and Little Pad, whereas Good Vibrations recalls the layered psychedelia of Pet Sounds (its birth lies in those sessions). It tends to be the pure mishmash of composition that leads to its ultimate incoherence, but in the end, the happy vibes almost suppress its issues with clarity. Great songwriting, did I mention?

Best Track: Little Pad

Goof: Fall Breaks and Back to Winter. The Beach Boys going atonal? Can you imagine the Stooges going unplugged?

7 Excitations out of 10

Overly specific categorization: Warm-texture-pop


Wild Honey

Momentarily ditching the pure craziness of Smiley Smile, The Beach Boys proceeded with their next studio album, Wild Honey, which, in style, length, and general sounds, was similar to said previous album, but utilizes a wider, more full-sounding orchestration, as opposed to the minimalist style that comprised Smiley Smile. Arguably a more soul-oriented record than previous (and latter) works, Wild Honey is a massively coherent effort, and the lyrics progress from the sweet, California-surfs-up-youth-pop, to a, more mature kind of love song, with a cover of the (very) early Stevie Wonder track ‘I Was Made to Love Her’, and tracks like Darlin’ and the title tune. The Beachies were never complex lyricists, and it would be no crime to say that the same theme encompasses at least 90 percent of their catalogue. This goes without saying, though.

The same plunky, muffled piano sound is used on the majority of Wild Honey and Smiley Smile, across his piano wires, giving the album an instantly recognisable tone. Aren’t You Glad is the top pop song off this LP, an infectious little number featuring the wonderful ring previously described, the definitive sound of this 60’s, post-Pet Sounds era in their discography. Wild Honey appears too slight and full of whimsy to be called a ‘great work‘, and the somewhat strained, happy mood takes on extra resonance when once considers the turmoil and tension specifically within the Beach Boys at that time. But then again, looking back, the ‘love’ rebellion of hippie culture was almost strained in its attempt to fight the same turmoil and tension that defined late sixties America on a larger scale (Vietnam, J. Edgar Hoover and two dead Kennedies). In other words, releasing an album that reflects (directly or not) the troubled times of the era, an attempt to be ‘timely’, might date it further in the long run. Herge giving Tintin a CND bicycle helmet and bell-bottoms in the 70’s makes him less relevant than if he had stuck with plus-fours. To conclude, oblivious joy in a time of tumult and mixed emotions makes a more refreshing and meaningful comment than Gimme Shelter’s unhinged anger. Which attitude is more confused?

Best Track: Aren’t You Glad

Goof: Only 23 minutes!

9 Oncoming nights out of 10

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