Smile by Brian Wilson

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    Isaac Halvorson

    Brian Wilson Presents Smile - album cover

    <p>Brian Wilson’s Smile would be a very interesting album to explore. A little history about the album:</p>

    • Brian Wilson was the main songwriter and creative force behind the Beach Boys.
    • Smile was to be the Beach Boys 12th album (immediately following Pet Sounds).
    • During the original recording of Smile in 1966–1967, Brian Wilson began showing signs of mental illness. That — and other factors — led to the collapse of the recording.
    • Brian abandoned most of the recordings made during the original “Smile Sessions”, so the band re-recorded some parts to release Smiley Smile, a less polished and less realized version of the original SMiLE.
    • The recordings from the original “Smile Sessions” were eventually released in 2011 as a box set.
    • In 2004, Brian re-recorded the entirety of his original vision for Smile, and released it as Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
    • Van Dyke Parks — a composer, arranger, record producer, instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, author, and actor — was a collaborator throughout most of the Smile “saga”, and wrote much of the lyrics on the album(s).

    The 2004 version is — in my opinion — one of the most finely recorded pieces of music ever. It is incredibly clear and crisp, and is a real testament to what great production can do for an album. I’m blown away every time I listen to it. Even at the time it was originally recorded in the late 60s, the methods used in production were groundbreaking. This is a landmark work for many reasons.

    There is a lot of history and story just to the creation of the album itself, but there is also a ton to unpack in the lyrics. Some notes on the themes from Wikipedia:

    Wilson touted the album as “a teenage symphony to God”, incorporating a range of music styles including psychedelic, doo-wop, barbershop singing, ragtime, yodeling, early American folk, classical music, and avant-garde explorations into noise and musical acoustics. Its projected singles were “Heroes and Villains”, a Western musical comedy, and “Vega-Tables”, a satire of physical fitness.

    It is generally acknowledged that Wilson and Parks intended Smile to be explicitly American in style and subject, a conscious reaction to the overwhelming British dominance of popular music at the time. It was conceived as a musical journey across America from east to west, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii, traversing some of the great themes of modern American history and culture including the impact of white settlement on native Americans, the influence of the Spanish, the Wild West and the opening up of the country by railroad and highway. Some historical events touched upon range from Manifest destiny, American imperialism, westward expansion, the Great Chicago Fire, and the Industrial Revolution.

    Cole, this message was intended to be a jumping-off point for you if it’s something you’re interested in. There is quite a bit to unpack here, and this is just a start. Regardless of what you pick as the subject of your next season, I’m excited to hear what you create. This season has been such a blessing. I already loved To Pimp a Butterfly, but now I appreciate it on a greater level. Thank you for that.


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