Smile

By Iannapollo, Robert | ARSC Journal, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Smile


Iannapollo, Robert, ARSC Journal


Smile. By Luis Sanchez. 33 1/3. NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. 130pp. Bibliography, Selected discography. ISBN 978-1-62356-258-8; $14.95.

Donuts. By Jordan Ferguson. 33J/a NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. 136pp. Bibliography, Endnotes; ISBN: 978-1-62358-183-3; $14.95.

33 3/3 is a series dedicated to pocketsize volumes discussing highly regarded rock albums. Begun in 2003, they are closing in on the 100th publication in the series. I have read about ten volumes and there has never appeared to be a "house" style, apart from the fact that the writer is expected to get the message across within approximately 125-150 pages. Consequently, the writing is ranges from self-indulgent autobiographies like Jonathan Lethem's terrible book on the Talking Head's Fear of Music to a thoughtful and sometimes enlightening volume like Richard Henderson's book on Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle. Below are two recent books in the series that are among the better ones.

In the annals of rock history, the most famous unissued album is may be The Beach Boys (or more correctly Brian Wilson's) Smile. Wilson, the mastermind of the band's output from their inception in 1962, had just come off the 1966 double slam of the Pet Sounds album (frequently cited among the top three rock albums of all time) and the "Good Vibrations" single. In a then unspoken, friendly rivalry with the Beatles (who had countered with the Revolver LP and the "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever" single), Wilson felt he was going to up the ante with his next album. Collaborating with composer/lyricist Van Dyke Parks and aided by drug usage (mostly pot and LSD), he began a series of sessions that moved drastically away from the band's bread and butter, fun-in-the-sun music, to a more mature, almost spiritual music laced with whimsy. Wilson was met with miscomprehension from his bandmates and Capitol brass. After working on it for nearly a year, in the spring of 1967, plagued with self-doubt, he finally scrapped the sessions and locked up the tapes. He said he destroyed them and over the years, the recordings acquired a mythos of their own. Occasional leaks from bootleggers and raids by the other band members for material, indicated the Wilson had not destroyed them. In 2004, Wilson was persuaded to attempt an updated version of Smile with his current band, which he did and it turned out to be a resounding success. This led Wilson to revisit the original tapes, which eventually led to the release of the legendary album in 2011 to mostly unanimous rave reviews.

The story has been told several times in the past, most notably in several editions of Dominic Priore's book of primary source material, Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!. If one approaches Luis Sanchez's book with expectations of analysis of the music contained on the album, the reader will be disappointed. Sanchez spends surprisingly little time on the album's music. He does spend considerable time on the Beach Boys'--and particularly Brian Wilson s--musical development that led to Smile. His writing on the subject is particularly astute. It is clear Sanchez has listened extensively to the Beach Boys and has a genuine fondness and musical interest in Wilson's music. What is good about Sanchez's writing is that it does not come off as fan-boy gush, nor is it full of musicological pedantry. He goes into detail, listening to the early surf and car music (1962-1964) and extracurricular productions and delineates what sets them apart and what points the way towards Pet Sounds and Smile. He also details Wilson's growing studio abilities as he takes the reins of production (previously overseen by Capitol in-house producer Nick Venet). Sanchez posits Wilson in the tradition of the great American songwriter and makes a solid case for it. He also focuses on several qualities that were developing in the Beach Boys oeuvre from the obvious --the remarkable harmonies, the move toward more "adult" themes--to the less so: the oddball humor and Wilson's willingness to experiment. …

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