Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Beach Boys - Smiley Smile (1967)


Released September 1967

Recorded at The Beach Boys Studio, Los Angeles

I have listened to this album over and over again, albeit periodically, over a period of 50 years, trying in vain to get its "genius". Each time I feel compelled to give it another go, and I do, listening to it in full, so this is not a simple rant from someone who doesn't like The Beach Boys. It is genuine criticism from someone who loves 85% of The Beach Boys' output.


1. Heroes And Villains
2. Vegetables
3. Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony)
4. She's Goin' Bald
5. Little Pad
6. Good Vibrations
7. With Me Tonight
8. Wind Chimes
9. Gettin' Hungry
10. Wonderful
11. Whistle In

The two clear quality tracks aside, I believe this to be the drug-addled, close to cracking doodles of one man and his nonplussed bandmates who just took some more drugs, drank a little more and went along with it for the ride. I simply refuse to accept that this is a work of genius, as so many people do. Let's look at the album's many offenders - "Heroes And Villains" and "Good Vibrations" apart, (unsurprisingly), the rest of it sounds like The Goons have joined the band in the studio...

"Vegetables" - Instrumentally quite appealing, but otherwise two minutes' of inane, puerile lyrics about vegetables, accompanied by crunching vegetables as a replacement for percussion. Oh yes, very clever. I could have done that at primary school.

"Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Woody Woodpecker Symphony)" - Supposedly reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. Oh yeah? Two minutes of classically influenced music and a slight air of the "Woody Woodpecker" theme every now and again. Give me strength.

"She's Goin' Bald" - The album's nadir. Utter tripe. Bizarre lyrics abut a woman's hair falling out, and then some maniacal laughter followed by Goon-style noises. "Ying-Tong Tiddle-eye Po" indeed. Amongst all the penchant for influence and counter-influence in 1965-67 has nobody acknowledged The Goons' undoubted influence on this meisterwerk? That was my little "joke" to go along with all the hilarity this album is supposedly chock-full of...

"Little Pad" - A shocker of a song about getting a flat. Noisy and goofy. Makes the worst of those surf/car songs sound like "A Day In The Life".

"With Me Tonight" - At last a bit of potential, somewhere. Just. Irritatingly "barbershop" though, but a song in there. Just when it becomes moderately enjoyable - it ends. Sums up this "non-album" in so many ways…

"Wind Chimes" - Nonsense about wind chimes tingling outside his window. Honestly, I could have written that.

"Gettin' Hungry" - The best of the dross. An actual song at least. Would still be the worst cut on a decent album.

"Wonderful" - Similar feelings about this one to "With Me Tonight". A reasonable song foundation fades out into a passage of bizarre nonsense. Then the song returns but by then he has totally lost me.

"Whistle In" - Not even worth bothering about really. A minute or so of musical doodling.Consider that the man who conceived this half-baked dross gave us "Don't Worry Baby, "God Only Knows", "Wouldn't It Be Nice"' "Caroline, No' and "Good Vibrations" and one is in the realms of the totally incomprehensible.

The albums that followed are vast improvements. "Wild Honey" is nowhere near as bad as many would have us believe. Ditto "Friends". "Sunflower", "Surf's Up" and "Holland". As I write I am listening to tracks from "Smiley Smile" interspersed with ones from "Sunflower". The difference is night and day. Not even worthy of comparison.

Sorry everyone - It's not you. It's me. Must be. Everyone seems to rate this tosh. The "Smile Sessions" are even worse. What was it about 1966-68 - everyone seemed to think they had to release some "experimental" or "minimalist" tosh. If it was not stuff like George Harrison's "Piggies", The Beatles' "Revolution 9", Dylan's "Rainy Day Women", The Rolling Stones' "On With The Show", "The Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and "Wild Honey Pie" it was throwaway songs like "Rocky Racoon", "Yellow Submarine" and "Gomper". They were all at it. However, nothing tops The Beach Boys for this offering.

Wind chimes tingling, vegetables, women going bald, getting a little pad. Give us a break guys. I'll just about accept "Gettin' Hungry" in a "possibly something about it demo" sort of way. Just about, and that's pushing it. Come on, it is no work of genius. It's drivel. No more. No less. Time to put "Blonde On Blonde" on…..
D (and that's for "Heroes" and Vibrations")

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