And so this is Christmas, or at least the Christmas season. I should be listening to Christmas music, and I have a little. But The Beach Boys recently released Smile, an almost mythical album in rock history, and I have been listening to it. BTW there are two releases, a two-CD edition and a multiple-CD edition with countless outtakes and rare moments. I am writing about the two-CD version, particularly about the Smile album.
In the first edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll (1976), Jim Miller writes: Designed as Brian’s crowning achievement, Smile would supposedly place the Beach Boys right next to the Beatles in the pantheon of arty rock. Intended as a follow-up to Pet Sounds, Smile was never released. There were rumors that Brain Wilson had destroyed many of the tapes, which were obviously false. His notes to the new CD are wonderful.
Some of the Smile songs were released, some in slightly different versions, on subsequent Beach Boys albums. In 2004, Brian Wilson performed Smile live and released a CD of the songs performed by his band. This was an updated version of the original, with some new words and arrangements. And now the original Smile sessions are out.
So as I am listening, I am particularly struck by the song Surf’s Up. I am attaching a link to Brian Wilson’s 2004 performance of the song, and will post the youTube video on my Facebook page. It is a delightful and enchanting song – complex and beautiful. It is an invitation to wonder and to love. Brian Wilson has said “Music is God’s voice,” and listening to this song there is, for me, that quality about it.
Here’s what’s particularly fascinating. I am hearing this song as if for the first time, but I know it can’t be. In college I listened a lot to the Beach Boys, mostly Endless Summer. But that album did not have one really great Beach Boys song, Good Vibrations. So I bought a later compilation that did. I dug it out of the box in the closet where my vinyl records are stored. There it is, side two, “Surf’s Up” – one of the Smile songs released later. I must have heard it then, but it didn’t register. In 2004, I bought Brian Wilson’s Smile. Surf’s Up is there, but again, it did not grab hold of me.
Why now? It’s a bit of a mystery to me why this song has found its way into my heart and soul. I am glad it is there. If music is God’s voice, maybe this experience says something about that voice of God. Maybe we will miss it the first time we hear the story or song, maybe even the second and third and fourth times, but keep listening.
I heard the word – wonderful thing! A children’s song. A children’s song – have you listened as they play? Their song is love and the children know the way.
Might be a Christmas song after all. Surf’s Up!
With Faith and With Feathers,
Brian Wilson: Surf's Up