Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 22: The Beach Boys - SMiLE

Here's a mea culpa for my woeful inactivity over the past few weeks -- what can I say, I've got stuff going on.

For almost 40 years, the Beach Boys' SMiLE was the Holy Grail of bootlegs -- the great lost album of the rock era, and the work that both confirmed Brian Wilson's absolute genius as a singer, composer and arranger, and propelled him into the mental illness that would cripple him for the next three decades. It was analyzed, dissected, annotated and theorized to death, and hailed as both an unfinished classic -- better even than Pet Sounds -- and an artistic failure that didn't deserve to be completed in the first place. Of course, Brian finally recorded and released an updated and truly triumphant solo version of the record in 2004. So by now, most likely, you've heard SMiLE. What you may not have heard, however, is SMiLE sung by the Beach Boys circa 1966, which is something altogether different -- and, let's face it, what God and Brian (if, at the time, they weren't occasionally one and the same) originally intended.

There are literally dozens of versions of SMiLE: high profile bootlegs (by labels such as Vigotone and Purple Chick), collections of the fragments that have seen official release (most notably in the Good Vibrations boxset), scholarly reconstructions and frequently terrific fan mixes (seek out the ones by Wrightfan, who just loosed his seventh attempt at a definitive SMiLE on the bootleg trading community, and a mysterious fellow who calls himself D.J. Mic Luv) abound.

This particular version -- the so-called "Millennium Edition" released in Japan on the Dumb Angel label -- isn't the best, or even one of my favorites (to use the take of "Our Prayer" -- one of the most sublimely beautiful harmony exercises in pop music history -- that degenerates into laughter is sacrilege in my book), but it is among the most difficult to get ahold of. And, if nothing else, this version closes with a truly gorgeous edit of "Surf's Up," among the most perfect pop songs ever written, complete with a purely instrumental pass through the first two verses that serves as an overture, the "Woody Woodpecker" horn punctuations, Van Dyke Parks' brilliant lyrical wordplay ("canvas the town and brush the backdrop," "the music hall / a costly bow / the music all is lost for now"), and that classic, haunting vocal from Brian. If I could only hear ten songs again for the rest of my life, "Surf's Up" would be one of them.

THE BEACH BOYS - SMiLE (Millennium Edition)

Artwork (these are PSD files - download and open/print with a photo viewing program):
Front cover
Inside cover
Back insert

01 Our Prayer
02 Heroes and Villains (Barnyard Suite)
03 Child Is Father Of The Man
04 Wonderful
05 With Me Tonight
06 Do You Like Worms?
07 The Old Master Painter
08 Cabinessence
09 Good Vibrations
10 Vega-tables
11 Wind Chimes
12 The Elemental Suite (Look > Holidays > Mrs. O'Leary's Cow > Cool, Cool Water > Friday Night > Good Vibrations closing bit)
13 Vega-tables (reprise)
14 Surf's Up