From 1966 through 1967, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had a dream to make his fantastic concept album SMiLE a follow-up to PET SOUNDS . The album incorporated some fantastic and revolutionary new recording technology such as the song “Good Vibrations” which reportedly cost as much as $100,000 in production money to produce. According to Brian Wilson, the album was intended to be a “teenage symphony to God”, and was supposed to be a landmark album back in the day when groups like the Beatles had raised the bar quite a few levels with their awesome SGT. PEPPER masterpiece, another Capitol Records released masterpiece from 1967. Both SGT. PEPPER and SMiLE likely could have been considered the two greatest albums of all time, and despite the huge success of “Good Vibrations” as a number one single, SMiLE just never was released. The song did finally make it on to the album SMILEY SMILE nearly one year after it was released.
The Beach Boys were beset with a wide range of problems while the work on SMiLE drug on for months and months. Mike Love didn’t like the SMiLE project and raised significant opposition to it, creating dissent within the group. And song co-writer Van Dyke Parks quit as he didn’t believe in the project either. Carl Wilson was having a legal battle with the draft board at the time, hoping to avoid military service in Vietnam , and Brian Wilson was beginning to experience worsening mental health problems. Add all of these problems to the groups ongoing legal battle with Capitol Records, to leave the label for a more creatively free contract elsewhere, and the SMiLE project just seem damned from the beginning. SMILEY SMILE was a quickly thrown together project meant to satisfy the contractual obligation of the Beach Boys to Capitol although . SMILEY SMILE didn’t do really well for the act, and only peaked at #41 on the U.S. charts, although in the UK did better, and reached #9 there.
By 1967, Brian Wilson wanted the surf-oriented band to remain relevant with the times, and hoped that the psychedelic-era inspired SMiLE would keep the act current, but the album just never happened. In 2003, Brian Wilson started work on a new digitally recorded version of SMiLE that was released in 2004. And now, there is significant critical acclaim for the SMiLE SESSIONS, a newly released boxset that includes a reconstruction of the original concept album from the original master tapes along with many outtake and studio banter recordings. And the Beach Boys are announcing plans for a new tour in 2012 as well. Some bootleg releases have offered up a construction of SMiLE, but never before have the original tapes sounded this good. This album is a true masterpiece that likely could have kept the Beach Boys a top act. But, the reality was that SMILEY SMILE was the beginning of their decline as top act, with a lesser lever of popularity that point on. SMiLE remains a great what if in musical history.
Maybe, the California sun just never sets on the surf, and Summer is endless after all.