Brian Wilson Smiles Again

Beach Boy unveils a lost masterpiece

March 12, 2004 12:00 AM ET

Brian Wilson famously intended the Beach Boys' follow-up to Pet Sounds to be "a teenage symphony to God" that would set a new standard for rock music, trump the Beatles and provide a latter-day crystallization of the American dream. In the summer of 1967, unfortunately, the project he titled Smile was aborted, leaving some of its tracks to be scattered across subsequent albums and others to fester in the vaults. Last year, Wilson and Smile's lyricist, Van Dyke Parks, returned to the material, with a view to tying up its myriad loose ends and giving the work a much-belated public premiere.

Among Wilson aficionados, the response was a very feverish anticipation, which became tangible in the run-up to Smile's February 20th world debut in London's wood-paneled Royal Festival Hall. When Parks took his seat with the band, he received the first of several standing ovations -- and though an introductory set taking in a slew of Beach Boys classics ("God Only Knows," "California Girls") was warmly received, it was clear the audience was desperate to hear the concert's main feature.

When Smile arrived after a twenty-minute interval, it didn't disappoint. Wilson wore his customary cat-caught-in-headlights expression, but he and his ten-piece band -- augmented by strings and horns -- had little to fret about. They capably delivered music that was both complex and epic; better still, Wilson's battle-scarred voice held up admirably well. Even the familiar songs had been retooled and polished anew: The 1967 hit "Heroes and Villains" was stretched into a ten-minute musical drama, and the legendary "Good Vibrations" featured unheard musical passages and changed lyrics.

Perhaps most astonishing of all was a long-lost piece titled "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," originally intended as the "fire" part of a drawn-out "Elements Suite." (In tribute to a celebrated Smile-era recording session, the string players wore toy fire helmets.) By way of reminding us of his talent for altogether more straight-ahead music, Wilson closed the show with a run of early Beach Boys tunes such as "I Get Around" and "Fun, Fun, Fun." The crowd frenziedly danced and hollered along -- and then euphorically spilled out into the night.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Wake Up Everybody”

John Legend and the Roots | 2010

A Number One record by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1976 (a McFadden- and Whitehead-penned classic sung by Teddy Pendergrass) inspired the title and lead single from Wake Up!, John Legend's tribute album to message music. The more familiar strains of "Wake Up Everybody" also fit his agenda. "It basically sums up, in a very concise way, all the things we were thinking about when we were putting this record together in that it's about justice, doing the right thing and coming together to make the world a better place," he said. Vocalists Common and Melanie Fiona assist Legend on this mission to connect.

More Song Stories entries »