Smiley Smile

Smiley Smile is the 12th studio album by American rock band the Beach Boys, released on September 18, 1967. It reached number 9 on UK record charts, but sold poorly in the US, peaking at number 41—the band's lowest chart placement to that point. Critics and fans generally received the album and its lead single, "Heroes and Villains", with confusion and disappointment. "Good Vibrations" and "Gettin' Hungry" were also released as singles, but the former was issued a year earlier, while the latter was not credited to the band.

Smiley Smile
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 18, 1967 (1967-09-18)
RecordedFebruary 17, 1966 (1966-02-17) – July 14, 1967 (1967-07-14)
StudioBeach Boys, Wally Heider, Western, Columbia, and Sunset Sound, Los Angeles
ProducerThe Beach Boys
The Beach Boys chronology
Best of the Beach Boys Vol. 2
Smiley Smile
Wild Honey
Singles from Smiley Smile
  1. "Heroes and Villains"
    Released: July 24, 1967

Conceived as a simplified version of their then-forthcoming album Smile, Smiley Smile contrasts significantly with its stripped-down approach and lo-fi production. Following principal songwriter Brian Wilson's declaration that most of the original Smile tapes would be abandoned, the majority of recording sessions lasted for only six weeks at his makeshift home studio using what was predominantly radio broadcasting equipment, a detuned piano, electronic bass, melodica, found objects for percussion, and a Baldwin theater organ. The unconventional recording process juxtaposed an experimental party-like atmosphere with short pieces of music edited together in a disjointed manner, combining the engineering methods of "Good Vibrations" with the loose feeling of Beach Boys' Party! (1965).

From late 1966 to mid-1967, Smile was repeatedly delayed while the Beach Boys were subject to a considerable level of media hype that proclaimed Wilson as a "genius". After settling payment disputes with Capitol Records, Smiley Smile was distributed in collaboration with Brother Records, the band's new self-owned record company. The album's production was unusually credited to "the Beach Boys", marking the point where Wilson began ceding his leadership of the group. Smile was left unfinished as the band immediately moved onto the recording of the albums Lei'd in Hawaii (unreleased) and Wild Honey (December 1967).

Smiley Smile has since become a critical and cult favorite in the Beach Boys' catalog, influencing the development of ambient music and bedroom pop. It is often cited for having positive effects on listeners experiencing an LSD comedown, and it was used by at least one drug clinic to help relieve users from bad trips. In 1974, it was ranked number 64 in NME's list of the greatest albums of all time. Some session highlights from the album are featured on the compilations The Smile Sessions (2011) and 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow (2017).


Original Smile sessions (1966–1967)

According to Van Dyke Parks, Smile was partly intended to reclaim popular music from the influence of British acts like the Beatles (pictured in 1964).[7]

The Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds, issued on May 16, 1966, was massively influential upon its release, containing lush and sophisticated orchestral arrangements that raised the band's prestige to the top level of rock innovators.[8] Early reviews for the album in the US ranged from negative to tentatively positive,[9] but the reception from music journalists in the UK was very favorable.[10] The group had recently employed the Beatles' former press officer Derek Taylor as their publicist.[11] Bothered by the popular view of the Beach Boys as outdated surfers, leader and songwriter Brian Wilson requested that Taylor establish a new image for the band as fashionable counterculture icons, and so a media campaign with the tagline "Brian Wilson is a genius" was initiated and promulgated by Taylor.[12]

In October 1966, the group followed up Pet Sounds with "Good Vibrations", a laboriously produced single that achieved major international success. By then, an album titled Smile had been conceived as an extension of that song's recording approach, with Wilson composing music in collaboration with lyricist Van Dyke Parks.[13] Wilson envisioned Smile as an outlet for all of his intellectual occupations,[14] such as his fascination with spirituality and its relationship to humor and laughter.[15] He told Melody Maker: "Our new album will be better than Pet Sounds. It will be as much an improvement over Sounds as that was over [our 1965 album] Summer Days."[16] By the end of the year, NME conducted an annual reader's poll that placed the Beach Boys as the world's top vocal group, ahead of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.[17]

Litigation and collapse (February–June 1967)

Bel Air, Los Angeles, where Brian Wilson relocated to in April 1967 and set up a home studio.[18]

Business partner David Anderle attempted to form Brother Records, an independent label, with the intention of giving "entirely new concepts to the recording industry, and to give the Beach Boys total creative and promotional control over their product."[19] A February 1967 lawsuit seeking $255,000 (equivalent to $1.98 million in 2020) was launched against Capitol Records over neglected royalty payments. Within the lawsuit, there was also an attempt to terminate the band's contract with Capitol before its November 1969 expiration.[20] In April 1967, Wilson and his wife put their Beverly Hills home up for sale and took residence at a newly-purchased mansion in Bel Air. Wilson also set to work on constructing a personal home studio.[18]

Parks permanently withdrew from the project in April, with Anderle following suit weeks later.[21] Between mid-April and early May, Wilson took a four-week break from studio recording.[22] On April 26, Carl Wilson was arrested for refusing his draft into the US Army and later released on bail. On April 28, in an effort to promote the group's upcoming UK tour, EMI issued the single "Then I Kissed Her" to the chagrin of the band, who did not approve the release.[23] On May 6, a week after stating that Smile was to be released "any moment", Taylor announced in Disc & Music Echo that the album had been "scrapped" by Wilson.[24] However, Taylor's assertion of the album's cancellation at that point was likely to be spurious.[25][nb 1] The Beach Boys were still under pressure and a contractual obligation to deliver an album to Capitol.[27] For most of May, the touring group embarked on a run of shows in Europe while Brian resumed scheduling recording sessions at professional studios, some of which were cancelled on short notice.[28]

Brian just said, "I can't do this. We're going to make a homespun version of it instead. We're just going to take it easy. I'll get in the pool and sing. Or let's go in the gym and do our parts." That was Smiley Smile

—Carl Wilson[29]

Throughout 1967, Wilson's public image was reduced to that of an "eccentric" figure as a multitude of revolutionary rock albums were released to an anxious and maturing youth market.[25][nb 2] For a time, the Beach Boys had been the Beatles' chief rivals,[30][31] and Wilson was concerned that if Smile followed in the wake of another critically successful release by the Beatles, then his album would be received with unjust comparisons. His race was effectively lost when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 1967).[32][nb 3] By June, Wilson declared to his bandmates that most of the material recorded for Smile would be abandoned.[28] In an interview conducted in January 1968, he intimated that he had run out of ideas "in a conventional sense" and had been "about ready to die". He said: "I decided not to try any more, and not try and do such great things."[36]

Style and content

Modular approach and recording atmosphere

Since the recording of "Good Vibrations" in 1966, Wilson had established a new method of operation. Instead of working on whole songs with clear large-scale syntactical structures, Wilson limited himself to recording short interchangeable fragments (or "modules"). Through the method of tape splicing, each fragment could then be assembled into a linear sequence, allowing any number of larger structures and divergent moods to be produced at a later time. Smiley Smile continued this approach.[38] The album also continued Brian's exploration of "party tracks"—a form of music which includes the sounds of people shouting and making noises, as if at a party.[39][nb 4] Brian had enacted this approach with Beach Boys' Party! in 1965,[39] thereby mixing that record's style with the modular composition method he devised for "Good Vibrations".[40]

Most of Smiley Smile was recorded at Brian's improvised home studio from June 3 to July 14, 1967.[41][nb 5] The core instrumentation consisted of organ, honky-tonk piano, and electronic bass[43] played by the Beach Boys themselves, rather than the session musicians employed in much of their previous work.[44] Brian became obsessed with a three-tiered Baldwin organ during the album's recording, resulting in a more minimalist approach to the new arrangements.[37] The organ gave the album its central timbre.[45] Most of the piano was played by Brian, and most of the bass was played by Carl.[46]

It was the first album for which production was credited to the entire group, instead of Brian alone.[47] Dennis Wilson explained: "He wanted it that way. He said 'It's produced by the Beach Boys.'"[48][nb 6] When asked if Brian was "still the producer of Smiley Smile", Carl answered, "Most definitely."[50] He described Smiley Smile as an improvised, low-effort affair that was "more like a 'jam' album."[51] Brian acknowledged: "We had done about six months work on another thing, but we jumped and ended up doing the entire thing here at the house with an entirely different mood and approach than what we originally started out with."[52] When questioned on why the band took the approach they did, he stated, "We just had a particular atmosphere that we were working in that inspired the particular kind of things that were on the album."[52] He said that he did not "have any paranoia feelings" recording the album: "[W]e had so much fun. The Smiley Smile era was so great, it was unbelievable. Personally, spiritually, everything, it was great."[36]

In his book about psychedelic music, author Jim DeRogatis referred to Smiley Smile as a work of the "ultimate psychedelic rock library".[4] Conversely, Stylus Magazine's Edwin Faust wrote in 2003 that the album "embraces the listener with a drugged out sincerity; a feat never accomplished by the more pretentious and heavy-handed psychedelia of that era. It is for this reason Smiley Smile flows so well with the more experimental pop of today".[54] According to music theorist Daniel Harrison, Smiley Smile is not a work of rock music as the term was understood in 1967, and that portions of the album "can be thought of as a kind of protomiminal rock music".[55] He continues:

Smiley Smile can almost be considered a work of art music in the Western classical tradition, and its innovations in the musical language of rock can be compared to those that introduced atonal and other nontraditional techniques into that classical tradition. The spirit of experimentation is just as palpable in Smiley Smile as it is in, say, Schoenberg's op. 11 piano pieces. Yet there is also a spirit of tentativeness in Smiley Smile. We must remember that it was essentially a Plan B—that is, the album issued instead of Smile.[56]

Academic Larry Starr said that the album's "unexpected juxtapositions of textures and formal elements" give the effect of an "inadequately edited home movie rather than that of well-articulated musical conceptions".[57] Similarly, music journalist Richard Williams wrote, "It contains fragments – mostly vocal, with minimal instrumental accompaniment – which have all the epigrammatic, enigmatic power of Japanese haiku. 'Wonderful' and 'Little Pad' contain passages written in the conditional tense (i.e. the songs move easily between reality and fantasy), a technique evolved by Godard in the cinema and which only Wilson, as far as I know, has picked up in pop [as of 1971]."[58]

Music journalist Domenic Priore notes that when the Beach Boys were taken out of professional studios, "the discipline of the clock, rates and overtime disappeared".[59][nb 7] In 1976, Mike Love, recalling how "She's Goin' Bald" was a song about fellatio, commented: "We were stoned out of our heads. We were laughing our asses off when we recorded that stuff."[60][nb 8] Dennis remembered the album as "the most fun thing we ever did."[62] Bruce Johnston did not participate in most of these sessions.[51] He later called the work "very spacy" and "weird", but "so subtle and so damn innovative."[63]

Differences from Smile

Carl Wilson famously compared Smiley Smile to "a bunt instead of a grand slam".[64][65] From the vast sum of material Brian had recorded for Smile, only portions of the backing track for "Heroes and Villains" (recorded October 1966) and the coda for "Vegetables" (recorded April 1967) were used for Smiley Smile.[45] Comparing Brian's original Smile mixes with the Smiley Smile version of "Heroes and Villains", Al Jardine called it "a pale facsimile ... Brian re-invented the song for this record ... He purposefully under-produced the song."[66] "Good Vibrations", which was recorded sporadically from February to September 1966, appears with no differences from the original single.[45] Brian reportedly objected to the placement of "Good Vibrations" on Smiley Smile, but for the first time, he was outvoted by his bandmates, who insisted on its inclusion.[67]

"Wind Chimes", "Wonderful", and most parts of "Vegetables" were completely rerecorded with scaled-down arrangements.[66] "Vegetables" was reworked as a kind of campfire song,[45] "Wonderful" traded its harpsichord and trumpet for a haphazardly-played organ, high-pitched backing vocals, and a doo-wop sing-along section.[68] The predominate marimbas in "Wind Chimes" were replaced by organ and dissonant noise.[69] Other tracks only extracted minor elements, such as a melody line, from other Smile pieces. "She's Goin' Bald" borrows the verse melody from a Smile fragment known as "He Gives Speeches",[66] "With Me Tonight" is a variation on "Vegetables",[70] and "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (W. Woodpecker Symphony)" lifts a recurring melodic hook from "Fire".[71][nb 9]

David Anderle thought that "what Brian tried to do with Smiley Smile is he tried to salvage as much of Smile as he could and at the same time immediately go into his [long-discussed] humor album."[73] According to a contemporary Hullabaloo article, "The title, suggested by [Wilson's cousin] Barry Turnbull, reflects the album's happy concept, it is taken from the Indian aphorism, 'The smile that you send out returns to you.'"[74] The cover artwork featured a new illustration of Frank Holmes' Smile Shoppe, this time located in the middle of an overgrown jungle.[75]

Smiley Smile was produced without any direct involvement from Van Dyke Parks.[76] The only songs that appeared to have no connection to the original Smile album were "Little Pad" and "Gettin' Hungry".[64] In addition, while the Beatles' Paul McCartney was present at an April 1967 session for "Vegetables", the recording where he allegedly provides celery biting sounds was not used on Smiley Smile.[77]

Technical aspects

Smiley Smile was recorded with an eight-track tape machine, with all the different musical sections spread out across numerous reels of tape. In other words, intros, verses, choruses, and endings were each allocated their own reel.[78] The Beach Boys recorded using what was predominantly radio broadcasting equipment, which lacked many of the technical elements and effects found in an established studio.[78] The studio set up at Brian's house was, in its mid-1967 incarnation for Smiley Smile, in its infancy. Due to the sporadic nature at which Brian decided to produce the record at his home, there was little time to fully outfit the Bel Air residence as a properly-equipped recording studio.[78]

Tracks were typically constructed around a performance of Wilson playing piano that was usually mixed out of the final recording. This process was equivalent to the use of click tracks a decade before they were common.[79] Some recording accidents were used to their advantage, such as in "With Me Tonight", which contains an informal link between the verse and chorus by way of a voice saying "good", as in "good take", spoken by the band's friend Arny Geller from the control room.[52][53] Tape manipulation was another prominent feature, with varispeed being applied to a few vocals.[53] On "She's Goin' Bald", a new device called the Eltro Information Rate Changer was used to raise the pitch of the group's vocals without affecting the tempo.[80]

The home set-up was moved between different areas as the sessions progressed.[81] This led to unconventional ways of achieving particular sounds at the home, such as a replacement for what would be achieved by an echo chamber. The album's engineer Jim Lockert recalled how "Brian's swimming pool had a leak in it and was empty, so we put a microphone in the bottom of this damn near Olympic-size pool and the guys laid down inside the pool and sang so the sound would go down the wall of the concrete pool into the microphone – and that was part of the vocals on one of those songs."[78][nb 10] Some vocals were also tracked in the shower.[78] Lockert spoke about the album's final mixing session at Wally Heider Studios:

We went into Wally Heider's Studio Three one night at five o'clock, we mixed the intro of each song as we went to a two track, then we mixed the first verse ... They didn’t want to make copies of it to put it together. So we'd do the first verse and mix it down and then we'd wipe off the vocals on it and then go in and sing all the harmony parts and lead parts for the second verse and record it onto the tape. ... We mixed each piece of this down as we went along ... so that the song was almost together by the time we were through. ... When we came out the next morning at six o'clock, the album was mixed down, cut together, and was complete. One of the guys from Wally Heider was my second engineer and he said, “Well, I never believed in miracles but I saw one tonight.” That’s the way they did it. It wasn’t my idea. They mixed it chorus and verse, chorus and verse and intro, and all the levels had to match.[78]


The Beach Boys were initially involved in the conception of the Monterey Pop Festival, which was held in June 1967.[82] At the last minute, the band announced that they could not appear at the festival for reasons pertaining to Carl's military draft and their commitments to finish "Heroes and Villains" for Capitol.[81] Derek Taylor, who had terminated his employment with the group to focus on the festival's organization, remembered that dropping out of the program "undoubtedly set the band in a very bad light. They were certainly heavily criticized at the time for it. It seemed rather like an admission of defeat."[83] Biographer David Leaf explained: "Monterey was a gathering place for the 'far out' sounds of the 'new' rock ... and it is thought that this non-appearance was what really turned the 'underground' tide against them."[66] Detractors referred to the band as the "Bleach Boys" and "the California Hypes" as the media focus shifted from Los Angeles to the happenings in San Francisco.[84]

The group at Zuma Beach in Malibu, July 1967

The Capitol lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, with the Beach Boys receiving the royalties owed in exchange for Brother Records to distribute through Capitol Records, along with a guarantee that the band produce at least one million dollars profit.[85] An official announcement of the resolution was made on July 18.[86] Capitol A&R director Karl Engemann began circulating a memo, dated July 25,[87] in which Smiley Smile was referred to as a stopgap for Smile. The memo also discussed conversations between him and Wilson pertaining to the release of a 10-track Smile album, which would not have included the songs "Heroes and Villains" or "Vegetables".[86][88][nb 11] In July, two singles were issued on the Brother imprint: "Heroes and Villains" and "Gettin' Hungry".[87][nb 12] The former peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.[90] The latter was not credited to the Beach Boys, but instead to Brian Wilson and Mike Love.[67]

Smile was never delivered; instead, the group played two shows at an auditorium in Honolulu, which were filmed and recorded with the intention of releasing a live album, Lei'd in Hawaii. On stage, the band performed "Heroes and Villains" and "Gettin' Hungry", and rearranged their past hits in the style of Smiley Smile.[91] Priore writes that the engagement was effectively the band's "attempt to make up" for cancelling their gig at Monterey.[92] Bruce Johnston, who was absent for most of the Smiley Smile recording sessions, did not accompany the group, although Brian did.[93] In early August, Johnston told the British press that he had heard Smiley Smile, and when asked about Smile, said that the album would be released "within the next two months."[94]

On September 18, 1967, Smiley Smile was released in the US.[62] The LP peaked at number 41 on the Billboard charts,[47] making it their worst-selling album to that date.[75][nb 13] It spent most of its 21-week chart time bubbling under 100 and 197.[90] When released in the UK in November, it performed better, reaching number 9 of the UK Albums Chart.[96] During their annual Thanksgiving tour of the US, the band did not perform any of the tracks on Smiley Smile except "Good Vibrations".[97] In a December interview, Mike Love acknowledged that Smiley Smile had "baffled and mystified" the public and that the band "had this feeling that we were going too far, losing touch I guess." He promised that their next album would bring the group "back more into reality".[98]

Contemporary reviews

In the description of journalist Nick Kent, Smiley Smile "appeared like the single most underwhelming musical statement of the sixties".[99] It was a "major disappointment" for fans, many of whom had expected a work similar to Pet Sounds and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.[100] According to writer Scott Schinder, the LP was released to "general incomprehension. While Smile may have divided the Beach Boys' fans had it been released, Smiley Smile merely baffled them."[47] Anderle said that whatever new fans the group had brought with Pet Sounds were "immediately lost with the release of 'Heroes of Villains,' then with the album [Smiley Smile]."[101] Biographer Keith Badman writes that the music press responded by "effectively blacklisting the band, refusing to review their latest records, or reviewing them long after they have been released."[62]

"Undoubtedly the worst album ever released by The Beach Boys", Melody Maker wrote. "Prestige has been seriously damaged."[62] A review in Hit Parader praised the album for "probably [having] more a cappella harmony than on any album since the fall of the singing-group era in the late 1950s", but that they "still like Pet Sounds better".[102][nb 14] NME wrote of the album: "By the standards which this group has set itself, it's more than a grade disappointing."[105] Hi Fidelity said: "... they are making the psychedelic route ... perhaps in the unforgettable city of Fresno. Until they reach the San Francisco Bay Bridge or return to the shores of Malibu ... their work can only receive partial approval."[106]

More favorably, Record Mirror's Wesley Laine predicted that Smiley Smile would "probably go to the top of the LP charts". He felt that it contained better songs "on the whole" than Pet Sounds, as well as "extremely clever and insiduous ... production and arrangements [that] fall into the current psychedelic bag without being blatantly acidy."[107] The Milwaukee Sentinel praised the LP as "probably the most valuable contribution to rock since the Beatles Revolver" and for being unlike anything the Beatles had done.[106] Cheetah gave the album a rave review, observing that "the mood is rather childlike (not childish)—the kind of innocence that shows on the album cover, with its Rousseau-like animals and forest, and the smoke from the cabin chimney spelling out the title. ... The expression that emerges from this music is very strange: it's a very personal mood."[27][nb 15] New York Times journalist Richard Goldstein rued that "the album is a memorable, if disjointed experience, and a truly religious one as well. One must decide for oneself what the sermon is worth listening for."[108][nb 16]

Controversy involving whether the band was to be taken as a serious rock group followed them into the next year.[110] On December 14, 1967, Rolling Stone editor and co-founder Jann Wenner printed an influential article that denounced Wilson's "genius" label, which he called a "promotional shuck", and the Beach Boys themselves, which he called "one prominent example of a group that has gotten hung up on trying to catch The Beatles". He wrote that "for some reason, [Smiley Smile] just doesn't make it ... [the songs] just don't move you. Other than displaying Brian Wilson's virtuosity for production, they are pointless."[111] In February 1968, a Rolling Stone reviewer referred to the album as a "disaster" and an "abortive attempt to match the talents of Lennon and McCartney."[112]


Aftermath and archival releases

The Beach Boys performing "Heroes and Villains" at Central Park, 1971

Smiley Smile became the first in a three-part series of lo-fi Beach Boys albums (preceding Wild Honey and Friends)[2] and the first in a seven-year string of under-performing Beach Boys albums (ending with the 1974 compilation Endless Summer).[113] The Smile era is generally viewed as the ending of the Beach Boys' most artistically creative period,[114] and the point after which Brian began relinquishing his hold as the group's creative leader.[115][nb 17] Much of the group's subsequent recordings from 1967 to 1970 followed similar experimental traditions as Smiley Smile – namely, through sparse instrumentation, a more relaxed ensemble, and a seeming inattention to production quality.[116] Carl took Brian's place as the most musically dominant member, and Brian would not be credited as producer for another Beach Boys album until 1976's 15 Big Ones.[117]

Commenting on the album in retrospect, Bruce Johnston said it was "a thousand times better than the [original Smile] ... It's just the most underrated album in the whole catalog for me."[118] Dennis Wilson said, "It was not as ambitious as Pet Sounds was. But ... I listened to it in a jungle in Africa and it sounded great."[62] Conversely, Al Jardine felt that "there are some pretty cool songs on that album but I didn't like rehashing some of the Smile songs. That didn't work for me."[37] Mike Love wrote, "Some of the songs we recorded could barely be called songs. They were chants, spacey fragments, weird sound effects. Every group produces at least one bad album ... I don’t think Brian wanted to be associated with it either."[119]

Smile material continued to trickle out in later releases, often as filler songs to offset Brian's unwillingness to contribute.[120] "Cool, Cool Water", an outtake from Smiley Smile and Wild Honey sessions, was partially rerecorded and issued as the closing track for Sunflower (1970).[121][nb 18] When The Smile Sessions box set was released in 2011, co-producer Mark Linett acknowledged that "there's things that some people think – should Smiley Smile sessions be there – [with tracks such as] 'Can't Wait Too Long', we get into a very fuzzy area".[123][nb 19] In 2017, additional session highlights from the album were released on the rarities compilation 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow.[125] The compilation was followed several months later with two more digital-exclusive releases: 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow 2: The Studio Sessions and 1967 – Live Sunshine.[126]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[128]
MusicHound Rock4.5/5[129]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[130]

Smiley Smile has since become a cult and critical favorite in the Beach Boys' catalog.[113] In biographer Peter Ames Carlin's estimation, "the album's reputation improved with hindsight", particularly after the release of "stripped-down warts-and-all albums" by other artists, including Bob Dylan (John Wesley Harding, 1967) and the Beatles (The White Album, 1968).[69] Writing in 1971, Melody Maker's Richard Williams referred to Smiley Smile as "The Great Undiscovered Pop Album", one that had been "either ignored or dismissed by the reviewers."[58] Its prevailing negative response mellowed after the record was reissued in 1974[113] – the same year that NME writers ranked it as the 62nd greatest album of all time.[131] According to Matjas-Mecca, following the mid–1970s, the album "began to acquire a fan base that heard magic in Brian's lo-fi production [and] is now considered an important work in Brian's catalog. In a world that embraces lo-fi art, the album is considered a masterpiece."[113]

Reviewing the album for AllMusic, Richie Unterberger called it a "rather nifty, if rather slight, effort that's plenty weird".[100] Spencer Owen of Pitchfork deemed it "a near-masterpiece. Without any awareness of Smile's existence, this album could have been a contemporary classic ... and although the album isn't anywhere close to the sonic revolution that Sgt. Pepper had already brought, Wilson's innovative production and arrangements still bring out the best in every single track."[30] Blender's Douglas Wolk called it "the Boys' psychedelic album — joltingly spare, druggy and funny, with the most gorgeous harmonies of their career."[127] Harrison compared Wilson's work favorably to that of classical composers such as Schoenberg.[56]

Less favorably, Kent maintained that the album "undersold the worth" of Smile with "dumb pot-head skits, so-called healing chants and even some weird 'loony tunes' items straight out of a cut-rate Walt Disney soundtrack".[99] The Guardian's Geoffrey Cannon viewed Parks' lyrics as "pretentious", believing that Parks "messed Brian up" during Smiley Smile.[132] Paste's Bryan Rolli ranked it at number 2 in a list of the "10 Most Disappointing Follow-Up Albums", calling it a "disjointed collection of minimalist recordings and a capella bits that are not so much songs as fragments of a shattered psyche".[133] In the 2004 edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, the reviewer described Smiley Smile as "inconsistent" and said that, given the context of its release in September 1967, "the album was like a strange throwback – it highlighted how out of touch these suburban California surfers had become with the psychedelic times."[134]

In the 2000s, Smiley Smile began to be included in lists of "must-hear" albums compiled by various publications.[113] In 2000, it was ranked number 415 in Colin Larkin's book of the All Time Top 1000 Albums.[135] In a 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau and David Fricke named it one of the 40 essential albums of 1967; Christgau declared: "Towering it's not; some kind of hit it is."[136] In 2017, it was ranked number 118 on Pitchfork's list of greatest albums of the 1960s, where it was described as having "developed a small cult of its own, attracting those drawn to its stripped-down, highly spontaneous, and deeply stoned vibe."[6]

Influence and medicinal use

Smiley Smile anticipated lo-fi pop acts such as Animal Collective

In 2000, Smiley Smile was one of 100 albums featured in the book The Ambient Century as a chapter in the development of ambient music.[137] Pitchfork contributor Mark Richardson wrote that the record "basically invented the kind of lo-fi bedroom pop that would later propel Sebadoh, Animal Collective, and other characters."[6] Dedicated tribute albums include Smiling Pets (1998)[138] and Portland Sings The Beach Boys "Smiley Smile" (2013).[139]

Pete Townshend of the Who is a known admirer of the record, as is Robbie Robertson of the Band.[66] XTC's Andy Partridge considered it one of "the most influential records for me"[140] and it was a direct inspiration for his song "Season Cycle" (Skylarking, 1986).[141] In an interview with Time, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith stated that his "island" music picks include Smiley Smile, "Just for the melodic fuck all."[142] Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka, who composed music for the Japanese role-playing video game series EarthBound, cited Smiley Smile among influences on the games' soundtracks.[143] In 2017, the New York Observer's Ron Hart wrote that Smiley Smile sonically foreshadowed the work of Harry Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Stereolab, the High Llamas, the Olivia Tremor Control, and Father John Misty.[144]

In later years, Smiley Smile became celebrated as one of the finest chill-out albums, and one that is suited for listening during an LSD comedown.[99] At least one drug treatment center played the LP for patients to help relieve their use of drugs.[145] Carl Wilson told the NME in 1970: "In Fort Worth, Texas, there is a drug clinic which takes people off the streets and helps them get over bad LSD trips. They don't use any traditional medical treatment whatsoever. All they do is play the patient our Smiley Smile album and apparently this acts as a soothing remedy which relaxes them and helps them to recover completely from their trip."[146]

Track listing

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead vocal(s)Length
1."Heroes and Villains"Brian Wilson, Van Dyke ParksBrian Wilson3:37
2."Vegetables"Wilson, Parksgroup2:07
3."Fall Breaks and Back to Winter (W. Woodpecker Symphony)"Wilsoninstrumental2:15
4."She's Goin' Bald"Wilson, Mike Love, ParksMike Love2:15
5."Little Pad"WilsonCarl Wilson and B. Wilson2:30
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead vocal(s)Length
1."Good Vibrations"Wilson, LoveC. Wilson with Love3:37
2."With Me Tonight"WilsonC. Wilson2:17
3."Wind Chimes"Wilsongroup2:36
4."Gettin' Hungry"Wilson, LoveB. Wilson and Love2:27
5."Wonderful"Wilson, ParksC. Wilson2:21
6."Whistle In"WilsonC. Wilson with Love1:04
Total length:27:36
Smiley Smile / Wild Honey 1990/2001 CD reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Lead vocal(s)Length
23."Heroes and Villains" (alternate take)Wilson, ParksB. Wilson3:00
24."Good Vibrations" (various sessions)Wilsoninstrumental6:57
25."Good Vibrations" (early take)WilsonC. Wilson with B. Wilson3:03
26."You're Welcome"Wilsongroup1:11
27."Their Hearts Were Full of Spring"Bobby Troupgroup2:33
28."Can't Wait Too Long"WilsonB. Wilson with C. Wilson5:34

Lead vocals per 1990 CD liner notes by David Leaf.[66] On its original release, Van Dyke Parks was not credited for "Wonderful".[147]


Per David Leaf:[66]

The Beach Boys

  • Al Jardine
  • Mike Love
  • Brian Wilson
  • Carl Wilson
  • Dennis Wilson
  • Bruce Johnston
Additional musicians and production staff
  • The Beach Boys – producers
  • Chuck Britz – engineer
  • Jim Lockert – engineer


Chart (1967)
  • Peak
  • position
UK Albums (OCC)[148] 9
US Billboard 200[149] 41


  1. It is unlikely that Brian was aware of Taylor's announcement.[25] In a June 1967 issue of Hit Parader, Dennis reported that the group were still recording Smile and that the album was "50% done".[26]
  2. From February to May 1967, this included Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced, and the Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground and Nico.[25] In the weeks following Smiley Smile's release, "three distinct, but equally important albums" also came out: Cream's Disraeli Gears, the Who's The Who Sell Out, and the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed.[25]
  3. In retrospect, rock critic Paul Williams wrote that Anderle's idea to form Brother Records was reasonable, "but the time it takes to put this type of thing through the courts was not conducive to the production race that was important during this period of radical change in pop."[33] A similar fate befell the Rolling Stones when they released Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was viewed as a pretentious, poorly conceived attempt to outdo the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's.[34] When asked in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview whether Smile would have topped the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, Wilson replied: "No. It wouldn't have come close. Sgt. Pepper would have kicked our ass."[35]
  4. The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women#12 and 35" (1966) were similar examples of party tracks.[39]
  5. The group held a few of the early sessions at Hollywood Sound Recorders and Western Studios. After June 11, they remained at the home studio.[42]
  6. In 1976, Brian denied that it was a conscious decision for the group to become more democratic.[49]
  7. He also writes that a number of session musicians have reported that the Beach Boys were "not a distraction" for Brian while at the established studios, and that when the move occurred, they begun "shov[ing] their weight around".[59]
  8. Later, as he remembered the album's recording for his 2016 memoir, he wrote that "these were not pleasant memories for any of us."[61]
  9. The new "Wind Chimes" coda also shares the same melody as the ending of "Holidays", a Smile instrumental,[72] while "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" recycles the music quotation of Woody Woodpecker's laugh heard in "Surf's Up".[66]
  10. Dennis mentioned that it was "Heroes and Villains" that was recorded in a swimming pool.[27]
  11. Music historian Andrew Doe speculates that the memo may have reflected Brian "being his usual agreeable self and telling people what they wanted to hear ... or a simple misunderstanding."[87]
  12. Their respective B-sides were "You're Welcome" and "Devoted to You", both non-album tracks. The latter had been released on Beach Boys' Party! two years earlier.[89]
  13. Their 1962 debut Surfin' Safari reached 32.[95]
  14. The column entry was juxtaposed with a review for Pink Floyd's debut LP Piper at the Gates of Dawn.[103][87] After Piper, co-founder and songwriter Syd Barrett resigned from the band's live performances and was known as "Pink Floyd's Brian Wilson" only to suffer a mental breakdown in the middle of their second album and leave the band completely.[104]
  15. The same review bemoaned the absence of "Surf's Up", writing that the song is "better than anything that is on the album and would have provided the same emotional catharsis as that 'A Day in the Life' provides for Sgt. Pepper."[103]
  16. Goldstein later suggested that his editor removed comparisons Goldstein had made between the album and Fauré's Requiem. When Goldstein found the opportunity to ask Wilson about the Fauré connection, accordingly, "He [Brian] looked like I had pulled a knife on him. 'I never heard of that guy,' he muttered."[109]
  17. According to session drummer Hal Blaine: "I think the main period of hit-making ended when they put that studio in the home, because the other guys were around 'making decisions' and getting in the way."[59]
  18. "Cool, Cool Water" evolved from the Smile instrumental "Love to Say Dada".[122]
  19. "Can't Wait Too Long" is an unfinished song recorded between late 1967 and mid 1968. It was included as a bonus track in the 1990 reissue of Smiley Smile and Wild Honey. It may have evolved from a short vocal riff, "I Believe in Miracles", another outtake from Smiley Smile that frequently appears on bootlegs, where it is often paired with "Can't Wait Too Long".[124]



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