February 20, 2004: Brian Wilson premieres Smile at London's Royal Festival Hall
The most famous lost album in rock & roll, Smile was the audacious symphony of Beach Boys lead songwriter Brian Wilson and also the effective end of the band's golden age. Recorded in 1966-1967, with some of the most avant-garde technology and ideas of the Sixties, it was scrapped before it could be completed; two intended tracks from it, "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains," were released as hit singles, but the conceptual album was halted by Wilson's increasing mental problems and some of the other band members' displeasure with the experimental direction.
In the early 2000s, Brian Wilson and his erudite Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks reunited to complete the album. Along with Wilson's personal backing band, they debuted the long-awaited final product at London's Royal Festival Hall, and the premiere earned rave reviews; the audience's standing ovation lasted nearly five minutes (including cheers from attendees Paul McCartney and George Martin). Inspired, Wilson rerecorded the material and released it as a solo album, Brian Wilson Presents Smile, which won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow"). The original Sixties Smile sessions were released in 2011 and this year, the surviving members of the classic 1960s Beach Boys lineup will take to the road on a lengthy 50th anniversary tour.
Interestingly, Wilson's Royal Festival Hall premiere of Smile synced up perfectly with another Beach Boys milestone; forty years earlier, to the day, the Beach Boys recorded one of their loveliest and most enduring hits, "Don't Worry Baby."
February 24, 2004: After EMI blocks the release of The Grey Album, DJ Danger Mouse releases the album as a free download for one day
Danger Mouse is hot to trot nowadays – as one half of Gnarls Barkley, he's released the successful alt-soul albums St. Elsewhere and The Odd Couple, and as an in-demand producer, he's helmed projects by everyone from Beck to the Gorillaz. But thanks to one record label, the world almost missed his career-making work, The Grey Album.
One of the earliest projects by Danger Mouse (a/k/a Brian Burton), The Grey Album was a brilliant mash-up of a capella takes of Jay-Z's The Black Album mixed over beats worked from samples of the Beatles' "White Album." In a lesser producer's hands, the idea would have been a gimmick; in Danger Mouse's, it leant new emotional significance to each artist involved and created a complete, inspired album. However, EMI Records didn't agree; they attempted to block Danger Mouse's intended limited release of 3,000 copies, even though both Jay-Z and Paul McCartney had no problem with their music being used in the project.
Frustrated and maintaining that his samples were worked in fair use, Danger Mouse struck back with "Grey Tuesday" in February 2004. He partnered with the internet activist group Downhill Battle to release copies of the Grey Album online in widespread distribution, but only for one day. It was a defiant cause that approximately 170 websites took up with him, and over 100,000 copies were downloaded that day.
"Grey Tuesday" and its success propelled The Grey Album into cult infamy. Critics followed soon, anointing it with scores of year-end honors, and artists rushed to create their own discordant pop mashes. Soon, mash-ups were mainstream.
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