Smile (Brian Wilson Album)

Brian Wilson Presents Smile
Brian Wilson
Released September 28, 2004 (2004-09-28)
Recorded April 13–June 2004, Sunset Sound Recorders
Genre Orchestral pop, psychedelic pop
Length 46:59
Label Nonesuch
Producer Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson chronology

Gettin' In Over My Head
Brian Wilson Presents Smile
What I Really Want for Christmas
Singles from Brian Wilson Presents Smile
  1. "Good Vibrations"/"In Blue Hawaii"
    Released: 2004
  2. "Wonderful"/"Wind Chimes"
    Released: September 20, 2004 (2004-09-20)
  3. "Our Prayer (Freeform Reform mix)"
    Released: 2004

Brian Wilson Presents Smile (also referred to as Smile) is an album by Brian Wilson released on September 28, 2004 on CD and two-disc vinyl LP. Work on what would have been on the Beach Boys' original version of Smile began in 1966, following the release of their album Pet Sounds, based on the engineering methods of their single "Good Vibrations," and in collaboration with songwriter Van Dyke Parks.

Thirty-five years later, Wilson and Parks revisited and completed the project for the purpose of concert performances by Wilson and his touring band. After these live shows gained unexpectedly unanimous critical acclaim, a studio-recorded version was released by Wilson as a solo album. It received similar acclaim, and lead Wilson to earn his first Grammy Award.[1] The album has gone on to be featured in several "greatest albums" related lists.[2]

The archival material from the original Beach Boy sessions was later released as The Smile Sessions in 2011. It featured a reconstruction of the Beach Boys' Smile album that loosely followed the track listing template never before established until the release of Brian Wilson Presents Smile.



Main article: Smile (The Beach Boys album)

The Smile album as it was to be recorded by the Beach Boys had been intended by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks to be something explicitly American in style and subject, being chiefly motivated by the overwhelming British dominance of pop culture at the time.[3][4]

The original failure to complete Smile has been attributed to several factors: internal resistance towards the project, legal battles with Capitol Records, technical difficulties with recording, Carl Wilson's draft battle, and Brian Wilson's escalating drug use, mental health issues, and creative dissatisfaction with the project.


After many years of being asked about possibly completing the album (or even performing any of the songs from it) to mostly negative responses, Wilson began to perform a few songs solo at his home studio. He decided in late 2003 to not only revisit and complete the album from memory, he shocked many of his peers and even his bandmates by deciding to perform it live in concert. The new version of the album and its performance was made whole by the addition of either lost or newly composed lyrics by Parks that filled the gaps left open by the original 1966–67 Beach Boys sessions.[5]

Darian Sahanaja of Wilson's backing band was integral to the album's completion.[6] He has said that he acted as a secretary and facilitator for Wilson's and Park's ideas, and helped test ideas for the duo by sequencing individual song sections using Pro Tools as a digital audio workstation.

Parks was not initially involved in the project. It's said that during rehearsals between Wilson and Sahanaja for the unfinished song "Do You Like Worms?", Wilson was able to recall the track's original melody, but not the lyrics. Confronted with this dilemma, he telephoned Parks for help. Parks soon showed up at Wilson's doorstep, and the two extended their collaborations on several other tracks' arrangements and lyrics. For these new versions, Wilson, Parks, Sahanaja, and woodwind player/string arranger Paul Mertens based their arrangements on the original, unreleased Beach Boys tapes to give it an updated yet non-anachronistic sound.[7]

A live performance of the newly completed version of Smile was performed by Wilson along with his backing band, which included former Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett, members of Wondermints and percussionist Nelson Bragg at the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 20, 2004. Among those in attendance that first night were Paul McCartney and George Martin, producer for the Beatles. Wilson received a five-minute standing ovation, who also invited a tearful Parks onstage. Inspired by the success, Wilson decided to go ahead and record this version of Smile as a fully-fledged studio album.[3] Recording began in April 2004 with his ten-piece touring band, augmented by a ten-piece string section and an acoustic bassist. The basic tracks were recorded at Sunset Sound in four days, with overdubbing and mixing continuing throughout May and June.[7]


The album follows a musical journey across America from east to west, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii, as well as traversing some of the great themes of American history and culture. It seems chronological, moving from early America through the Victorian era and ending with Hawaii, which in terms of American statehood was still a very new state for 1966. In subsequent interviews to promote the album, Brian has concentrated on the happy, humorous qualities of the music, which are evident. Lyricist Parks has said that Brian has a "cartoon consciousness."

Music critic Jim DeRogatis categorized Smile as an album of orchestral pop,[8] which refers to popular music that has been arranged and performed by a symphonic orchestra.[9] Mikael Wood of Slate magazine called it a psychedelic pop album.[10] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune called it a "quirky orchestral-pop song cycle".[11] Wilson himself said that Smile is a pop album.[12]

Smile is presented in the form of three movements. The first section represents early Americana, from Plymouth Rock to the Old West, farmlands, the building of the railroad and new housing; it begins with "Our Prayer" which is coupled with the 1950s doo-wop song "Gee". This segues into "Heroes and Villains", with the lyric "My children were raised, you know they suddenly rise, they started slow long ago, head to toe, healthy, wealthy and wise" tying in with the childhood/fatherhood theme of the second suite.

"Roll Plymouth Rock" partly reprises the "Heroes and Villains" theme and features Hawaiian-sounding nonsense lyrics in a theme that is returned to in the third suite. The easy-going "Barnyard" features band members mimicking farmyard animals. The clanging sound of metal evident on "Cabin Essence" is echoed in "Workshop" in the third suite. Some of the themes of the second section are childhood and fatherhood. Of this section the most obvious are "Song for Children" and "Child Is Father of the Man".

The third movement represents "The Elements" suite. It begins with the partly waltz-like "I'm In Great Shape", which then features an upbeat vocal and gradually grows darker. "I Wanna Be Around" suggests the literal physical repair of a broken heart. "Vega-Tables" epitomizes an interest in health and fitness that Brian had at the time. The song, like several on the album, has a carefree, humorous quality. "Vega-Tables" also represents the 'Earth' theme of "The Elements", which is part of the third suite. "On A Holiday", originally an instrumental, has a reprise of the "Roll Plymouth Rock" lyric and a distinctly jaunty pirate theme with some nursery rhyme-style lyrics. The song segues into "Wind Chimes," the "Air" part of the "Elements". This is followed by the "Fire" element, "Mrs O'Leary's Cow". The song title refers to the suspected cause of the Great Chicago Fire: a cow that knocked over a lantern. The following song, "In Blue Hawaii" (the "Water" element), also makes reference to a cow, "Wholly Holy Cow!"

Smile's final track, "Good Vibrations" is undoubtedly the best known song on the album. However, the Smile version was recorded with the original lyrics penned by Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher, rather than the later lyrics written by Mike Love. It also includes the previously excluded "humm-be-numm" harmony section prior to the final refrain. "Good Vibrations" broadly goes through three distinct phases, as the album does, and makes full use of sounds from an electro-theremin, which until 1967 had previously been used mainly in horror films.

Album release

On September 28, 2004, Brian Wilson released his newly recorded studio version of Brian Wilson Presents Smile. This was followed by two US tours, with its featured stop in New York's Carnegie Hall; a combination of the two shows were broadcast on NPR's Creators at Carnegie series. The concert series also went to Australia and New Zealand, as well Europe. The Showtime cable network released a documentary film entitled Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile in the fall of 2004. A DVD of the concert performance Smile (shot in an L.A. studio) was released in May 2005.

To promote Brian Wilson Wilson Presents Smile Wilson through The Mail on Sunday released Good Vibrations a free compilation which included rerecorded Beach Boys songs. In response to this, Mike Love filed a lawsuit seeking compensation, arguing the free CD had adversely affected demand for the original tracks. The suit was dismissed after the court found there were no triable issues.[13]


Critical reaction

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 97/100[14]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[15]
Robert Christgau A+[16]
Drowned in Sound (10/10)[17]
Pitchfork Media (9.0/10.0)[18]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[19]

Smile received high acclaim from music critics, earning a 97 on Metacritic,[14] making it as of 2013, the joint highest contemporary score for an album excluding reissues and special editions.[20] Rolling Stone gave the album five out of five and said, "Smile is beautiful and funny, goofily grand."[21] Robert Christgau, who was skeptical of the album back in the 1960s, was also impressed: "I considered the legend of Smile hot air back then, this re-creation proves he had plenty more to make of it." He went on to give the album his rare A+ grade.[22] Cokemachineglow writer Scott Reid praised the album for surpassing hype, "Defying most all fan fears, not to mention several laws of logic and nature, Smile has arrived as incredible and ground-breaking a record as any of us could have hoped."[23] Pitchfork Media awarded the album 9.0 out of 10[24] and later named it fifth best album of 2004[2] and the 25th best album released between 2000 and 2004.[25] John Bush of Allmusic commented that Smile was "a remarkably unified, irresistible piece of pop music", yet decreed that it was "no musical watershed on par with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Wilson's masterpiece, Pet Sounds".[26]

Smile also received multiple nominations for the 2004 Grammy Awards, including Best Pop Vocal Album[27] and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (for Mark Linett).[28][29] The album won one Grammy, in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow".[1] In December 2009, Rolling Stone placed Smile at number 88 on their list of the decade's 100 best albums.

Charts and sales

Smile opened at #13 in the US for a chart stay of 17 weeks. It reached #7 in the UK, going gold (100,000).


Three singles were released to promote the album:

  • "Good Vibrations" was released on CD and 7" vinyl prior to the album's release and included live versions of "Our Prayer" and "Good Vibrations" from the live debut of Smile recorded at Royal Festival Hall, in London on February 20, 2004.
  • "Our Prayer" was released in the United Kingdom as a one-sided 10" single on clear vinyl. The track was remixed as the Freeform Reform Version by the London band Freeform.
  • "Wonderful" had a limited release of 5,000 on blue, green, and yellow vinyl backed with "Wind Chimes". The vinyl only release charted at number 29 in the UK singles chart in its first week of release.

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, except where noted. 
Movement one
No. Title Length
1. "Our Prayer / Gee" (Brian Wilson, William Davis/Morris Levy) 2:09
2. "Heroes and Villains"   4:53
3. "Roll Plymouth Rock"   3:48
4. "Barnyard"   0:58
5. "Old Master Painter / You Are My Sunshine" (Gillespie/Davis, Mitchell) 1:55
6. "Cabin Essence"   3:27
Movement two
No. Title Length
7. "Wonderful"   2:07
8. "Song for Children"   2:16
9. "Child Is Father of the Man"   2:18
10. "Surf's Up"   4:07
Movement three
No. Title Length
11. "I'm In Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop" (Wilson/Van Dyke Parks, Johnny Mercer/Sadie Vimmerstedt, Wilson) 1:56
12. "Vega-Tables"   2:19
13. "On a Holiday"   2:36
14. "Wind Chimes"   2:54
15. "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" (Wilson) 2:27
16. "In Blue Hawaii"   3:00
17. "Good Vibrations" (Wilson, Tony Asher and Mike Love) 4:36


Brian Wilson Band
Stockholm Strings 'n' Horns


Further reading

External links

  • Discogs (list of releases)
  • Brian Wilson's official site
  • Van Dyke Parks' official site

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