SMiLE (4/?) My Fan Mixes

I’m going to continue my in-depth dissection of all things SMiLE with a look at my changing understanding of it as the years have gone by, mix by mix. (I’m kinda bummed I didn’t put anything out for the 50th anniversary, but my interests were consumed by politics then.)

SMiLE (the Metroid Mix)

[No Download Available; This One’s Long Since Lost]

When I first discovered SMiLE sometime in spring 2011, I was enthralled by it. At that time, several bootlegs and fan mixes were on YouTube, and I gobbled up everything I could find to download. At that time, I had no thoughts for a sequence. I only wanted to hear as much of the material as possible, preferably at once on every listen. So, while my bootleg collection was great, as was BWPS, I wanted to make a SMiLE album utilizing everything. That’s what led to my first attempt at a “mix.” I use that word in quotes because it was more of an iTunes playlist of my favorite versions of each track from various bootlegs. Since the BWPS sequence was still dominant in most people/mixers opinions at this time, mine naturally followed suit. “Who was I to doubt Brian?” was my mindset.

I had the strange idea that the album had to be 24 tracks long…I really don’t know why. And I thought the elements tracks from BWPS were too significant to put one after the other, so I tried to space them out with some sessions outtakes. Because I didn’t use the actual bootleg titles for the albums in iTunes, what versions I used for each track are lost now. I know the biggest sources were Purple Chick’s SMiLE and Mok’s SMiLE mix. Then there was one–actually the first SMiLE mix I ever heard and downloaded in fact–off YouTube that used the wrong titles for almost every track (to avoid copyright protection??) For example, George Fell was called “Armstrong” and Holidays or IWBA were called “A Trip to Town.”

I don’t have this mix anymore since all my files have been lost or moved over time. It truthfully wasn’t that great anyway. It was an “everything and the kitchen sink” type of conglomeration that I now can’t stand, clocking in at ~75 minutes. I uploaded it track by track on my old old YouTube channel (also called theSuperMetroid) which was quickly deleted for copyright violations thereafter. Oops 

 Here was the tracklist tho if you’re interested. (Also, I misspelled “definitive.”)

SMiLE (the Mujan Remix)

[Listen on YouTube Here]

I did this mix later the same year, after I’d gotten my copy of the boxset to work with. The main reason I made this one was that the superior boxset recordings made my previous effort obsolete. I still kept to the BWPS 3-suite format because it’s all I knew and I’d yet to really analyze the tracks in depth to determine anything better. I still had the attitude that “Brian did it this way, that’s good enough for me.” The only changes I really made were elongating most of the tracks, moving He Gives Speeches to be next to Wonderful, pairing Worms and Holidays together (after I’d heard the rumor they were possibly two versions of the same track), a reprise of Heroes right before the end, and replacing GV with a medley of outtakes as the finale. It ended up clocking in at 67 minutes, which at the time I thought was really cool (and now think is far too long).

Someone else generously compiled all the tracks into a convenient YouTube playlist. For whatever reason, the Veggies rearrangement I did got the most attention at the time, being frequently reposted by a Facebook fan group and I received some nice messages there from people who enjoyed it. All I really did was replace the fade on the boxset with a new fade using the arguments sketch from Psychedelic Sounds (more on that later.) Over time though, the CIFOTM remake overtook it in views, and despite the jarring transition to stereo it’s the cut in this collection that I’m most proud of. I hated what was done to that song on the official boxset reconstruction in particular, so restoring it to that fleshed out bootleg format I first heard was amazing.

I uploaded this mix under a different account, Mujanus, which I’ve since lost the login for and the email it’s tied to is also inaccessible. I’m honestly amazed these videos haven’t been taken down yet. Someone at Capitol or the Beach Boys HQ must like it.

SMiLE: Reflections

[Listen Here]

This was made a year and a half later, in late spring 2013. By this point, I’d grown tired of the 3-suite structure of BWPS/boxset Disc 1 and almost all of the bootlegs. It was fine at first, but over time several noticeable flaws started jumping out to me:

1) The Americana suite is messy. You have Heroes and Worms going side by side which just accentuates the stolen chorus (and as a result, sounds lazy to new listeners.) Snippets passed off as standalone tracks like the 30-second IIGS and Barnyard make the album sound a lot weaker and unfinished than it really is. Combine that with OMP (let’s face it, one of the weaker tracks) coming so soon after all this, and it’s bound to turn off newbies. Under this sequence, the album doesn’t really start to pick up until you get to Cabin Essence. It’s certainly not a very good first impression to new listeners, and makes subsequent visits a lot less appealing even to an uber-fan like myself.

2) The Second suite is great, but should have been the finale. Surf’s Up is the perfect capstone to the album, and having it in the middle kind of diminishes its impact, especially followed up by the upbeat/goofy IIGS and Veggies. It’s a very jarring transition, maybe the worst one I’ve ever heard on a professional album. Look works really well following Wonderful on BWPS, but with the boxset versions the transition can’t work even half as well as it did in the solo album. Realistically, Look (as much as I love it) only slows things down. Finally, CIFOTM (my favorite SMiLE song) is hacked to pieces in service of the flow of this suite, which means some of its best moments have to be needlessly sacrificed.

3) The Third suite is so full of conflicting feelings that it’s not very pleasant to sit through. And after coming thru like 12 or 13 tracks to get to this point, exhaustion is starting to set in even though the music is fantastic. You go from a funny song, to a relaxing song, to a scary-anxious song, to a chilled out song again all in ~10 minutes. It’s emotional whiplash. And somehow, at least to me, hearing GV come at the end of all this seems weird, even anti-climactic. To me at least, that song is begging to be a setlist/side opener, rather than a closer, considering what a well-known upbeat crowd-pleaser it is. It makes sense as the finale in a live setlist, but not in a studio album.

4) The more I learned about the 2003/4 release, the less it seemed like a deliberate attempt to finish the album according to its founding ideas from the 60s. I’m not one of those “Darian’s fanmix”/”Brian’s a vegetable”/”wife and managers” people. But I do think Brian’s a lot less ambitious and more of a go-with-the-flow kinda guy these days. I think Darian played him his own mixesor bootleg collections (which were often based on the popular Dominic Priore interpretation–Americana side, Elements side) Brian liked it enough to go with it, maybe a few changes aside, and they arranged a setlist that would work well as a live show. Stuff that probably would have been cut for time, or thoughtfully spliced into Heroes by a younger Brian (Dada, IIGS, Barnyard, IWBA) couldn’t be cut now as they’d become iconic since appearing on the boots. And older Brian couldn’t think of a more creative way to work them in or didn’t care to, hence their awkward inclusion as weird thirty second speed-bumps everywhere. 

5) The darker and more psychedelic undertones to the music have been ignored if not intentionally washed away. Suddenly the initialism of “LSD” in Love to Say Dada is replaced with a generic title like “In Blue Hawaii.” The mesmerizing Water Chant is ruined with unnecessary lyrics, same with Holidays. The new lyrics for CIFOTM are downright uninspired especially coming between Wonderful and Surf’s Up which are some of the more thoughtful on the whole album. The creepier segments of music, like the Talking Horns and foreboding section of Worms are nowhere to be found. There’s just a certain aesthetic missing and it feels like all the trippy vibes have been sanded down in order to not be controversial.    

6) Making the album anew for a different time and different Brian is all well and good, but for me personally, I prefer to listen to a SMiLE that’s made with the intentions (as best they can be determined) and medium (2-sided vinyl, where 3 suites is sloppy or impossible) of 1966-7. That’s just my opinion on the matter. Statements like “we added a third movement” (when asked what was different from the 60s plans) felt like more than enough reason to believe this was a completely different project. Annoying little details, like the deadpan delivery of “you’re under arrest,” fake harpsichord, butchered bass notes in CIFOTM and sacrificed fades (which are the best parts of some tracks) make me believe Brian wasn’t trying to get it “right” and didn’t care about making an accurate completion of the material. Any statements of his to the contrary felt like marketing to drum up interest for the CD release. I know some fans will take exception with me for saying all this, but that’s how I feel and why I feel this way. The man’s changed, and so has his approach to making music, end of story.

So anyway, with all that in mind, I started working on a “2-suite” SMiLE. I just grouped the tracks as they made sense to me. The Americana stuff is obvious, as is the second suite of BWPS. What I always had the biggest problem with was the Third Suite, so I broke that up. Veggies is more humorous and fun like Heroes, while Mrs O’Leary’s Cow is a reference to American history and it represents the same destruction of nature found in other Americana tracks. Meanwhile Dada and Wind Chimes were more somber and understated like the Cycle of Life tracks so they remained on that side. I noticed while doing this that all the tracks on Side 2 (save Holidays and Dada) had the same instrumentation, with pianos and horns as the most prominent instruments. I also noticed that the songs on the first side were about larger forces (nature, nations, organized religion) and entities while the second side tracks were about intimate, individual experiences.

While this initial attempt was a little rough around the edges, it laid the foundation for how I would perceive SMiLE from then on. All that said, I have to admit looking back that my favorite thing about this particular mix is the cover art I came up with. I still wasn’t a huge fan of the Frank Holmes drawing at this time, and plus I wanted something that would stand out. I wanted to demonstrate the time it took to finish the album and the pain and isolation felt in that process. I wanted this amazing work of art to be taken seriously, something akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or White Album hence the black and white collage art style.  

Side One Our Prayer/Gee Heroes and Villains Cabin Essence Do You Like Worms? Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Vega-Tables Heroes and Villains (Reprise) 
Side Two You’re Welcome/Whispering Winds Wind Chimes Child is Father of the Man  Wonderful Look (I Ran) Cool, Cool Water Second Day Surf’s Up 

Aquarian SMiLE

[Listen Here]

So after becoming pretty much set on a 2-sided structure, I wanted to perfect that format. I listened to the boxset sessions discs many, many times over that spring semester and with each piece thinking “is there a way this could be worked in?” It was my big pet project for the spring and early summer of 2014, I probably put more time into this than any other mix I’ve done so far. The idea was to work in as much material as possible without going over 50 minutes, trying to “overlay” sections on top of each other as opposed to just having 20+ tracks. The working title for this mix was “SMiLE Reflections: The Indulgence Cut” but eventually I thought it was so different it warranted its own name. This was around the time when I first heard about the Age of Aquarius, so I went with Aquarian SMiLE.

Some of the edits of this mix now make me cringe (CIFOTM horns in Wonderful, for example) but it’s also where I did a lot of cool things like the new train-whistle fade to Heroes and cross-fade of Veggies with “the-Heroes” chant and the He Gives Speeches lyrics over OMP’s fade. I really loved using You’re Welcome as an intro to Heroes and Prayer as an intro to Holidays, as well as using the Talking Horns “wailing sounds” as part of the outro to Surf’s Up. I tried to challenge a lot of the preconceived “facts” about what the album should sound like (which I considered by this time to be anachronistic Priore-feedback loop) and made the music feel new again. The idea was even though most listeners probably wouldn’t like every change I’d made, they’d like at least one enough to incorporate it into their own future mixes.

I have some problems with it now, like the 48 minute runtime feels a bit long, but I’m proud of it all the same. As far as SMiLE mixes go, what I consider my greatest achievement was seeing Warnaky, the blog where I’d found many of my mixes and boots, call it his favorite version of SMiLE.

I started using Psychedelic Sounds here, but it was a lot more subdued compared with what would come. I’d gotten the idea of working these strange spoken word bits in after hearing Frank Zappa’s We’re Only In It For the Money for the first time. That was a huge “aha!” moment for me. I just kept feeling: “goddamnit, that’s what SMiLE was supposed to be!” And Brian actually had comedy sketches recorded that were in the vein of what Zappa had on his album. It made perfect sense. Why not?

The tracklist was mostly the same from Reflections, (just flip You’re Welcome and Prayer) and with every track beefed up with more overdubs. I replaced songs that at the time I didn’t like or were never finished (OMP, Elements, IIGS) with stuff I preferred (Look, standalone Mrs O’Leary’s Cow, Second Day). For the cover, I wanted to illustrate how I’d broken SMiLE back into modular pieces again and rearranged them in a new way.

Dumb Angel (Olorin Edition)

[Listen Here]

After going as off-the-wall as possible with Aquarian, trying every crazy idea I’d heard or could think of, I wanted to scale back. With Olorin I wanted to go by what I thought the album was most likely to have been around Nov 66~Jan 67, which is where I believe the album was a fully formed conceptual whole in Brian’s mind and just had yet to be committed to tape. I still believed that included a 2-suite structure, but now I wanted to only use the 12 tracks on the original back cover. What’s more, I set out to go with a shorter running time (~43 minutes, but that 5 minutes makes a big difference).

The most striking thing which sets this mix apart however, is the extensive use, some might say overuse, of Psychedelic Sounds. Around this time I had begun to reexamine that crucial bootleg and became convinced of its significance. (I’ll say more on why that is in a future installment). I will admit that in hindsight, I probably went too far, but it was worth a try anyway.

When I made this mix, I wasn’t totally sure where the four tracks that didn’t neatly fall into the core Americana or Cycle of Life setlists would go. I put IIGS and OMP with Americana because that’s the way it was always done on boots and the boxset sequence. So that left GV and Elements for the Cycle of Life suite. This was the first time I tried to recreate The Elements as Brian intended–a single cross-fading track–and I used Fire, Workshop, Water Chant and Breathing in that order. For my attempt at IIGS, I tried to work out a theory of mine that it was a fitness track about daily routines, using Mama Says as a chorus and Barnyard to fade. I was never happy with the results, or how it ruined Veggies since I had to steal its chorus. I used it anyway for historical authenticity.

I stole an idea I’d seen in one of those SurferMoon essays (more on those in a later installment) about having a “Side 1” and “Side A” instead of the more conventional Sides 1 and 2. It at least seemed more in keeping with the adhoc childish spirit of the album anyway. This way the first track can either be Worms or GV, and the last can either be Surf’s Up (Vosse’s testimony) or OMP (which Brian called “the Big Finale” on the tapes.) I opted to put Side A first, because in every other mix the Americana stuff ALWAYS comes first. I wanted to mix it up, and this way Prayer ends Surfs Up (Vosse’s testimony) while also introducing Worms. At the time, I considered it the best of both worlds.

I had never intended this at the time, but after this mix was done I analyzed SMiLE according to numerology (this, also, will be expanded on later) and found that these two groupings are the only ones (to my knowledge) that add up to the same number for both sides. Take that for whatever it’s worth. 

For the cover, I used the classic Frank Holmes SMiLE shop with the colors inverted and flipped upside down. I wanted to illustrate how I was returning to SMiLE’s roots (using the shop) but still radically new and different. This is also why I didn’t name this mix “SMiLE” and opted instead to resurrect the Dumb Angel name. I honestly don’t even know why I named it after Gandalf’s alternate name in Quenya. I just needed a cool name and I was on a Tolkien kick at the time. This was made in December of 2014, and coincidentally at a very hard time in my life. Working on it at the end of a horrible semester was a way for me to feel normal again and try to move on. In hindsight, that may have influenced the project and why this one, at least to me, sounds a lot less happy or inviting than the others–plus all the Smiles on the cover are now upside down.

Side 1: Good Vibrations, The Elements [Fire/Water Chant/Workshop/Breathing], Wind Chimes, Wonderful, Child is Father of the Man, Surf’s Up, (Prayer) 
Side A: Do You Dig Worms? I’m in Great Shape, Vega-Tables, Heroes and Villains, Cabin Essence, My Only Sunshine

Dumb Angel [Romestamo Cut]

[Listen Here]

For this mix, I wanted to scale back on what even I eventually found to be intrusive use of Psychedelic Sounds in the last one. I wanted to put more emphasis on what sounded good and flowed well and less on being “what 60s-era Brian would do.” I largely kept the same playing order but this time with three significant changes. The frankensteined IIGS experiment is gone, OMP and Elements have switched sides, and Veggies now closes the Americana tracks. I decided Veggies, as the only other track sharing a corresponding skit (like Surf’s Up with George Fell) was probably meant to close the first side. I’d been convinced by some forum posters that Veggies was also probably the original plan for Earth, so the Elements on this mix goes: Fire, Undersea Chant, Breathing (including the Laugh) and then Veggies comes on as Earth.

The reason why OMP was placed before Surf’s Up was due to my reexamination of the track. By this point I’d come to see OMP not as an arbitrary pairing of two old standards but an indirect way to express loss of faith. I saw it as a rejection of organized religion and traditional ideas of god and morality. I interpreted it as the end of Pisces set to music, while Surf’s Up was the coming of Aquarius. The more I considered this, the more I became convinced this was in fact the whole purpose of the album as a whole–ushering in the new Aquarian Age. I still firmly believe this theme was central to SMiLE, but in hindsight that’s no reason to believe the two tracks had to be back to back on the sequence. If anything, it’s probably more likely one ended the first side while the other ended the second.

I’m still really happy with this mix to this day. Out of all that I’ve made, it’s the one I’ve listened to the most by far. It clocks in at about 45 minutes on the dot, which is as long as could plausibly be. Besides OMP’s placement, the only thing I’d change today is excising the Ice Cream Man skit, Smog excerpt and maybe Taxi Cabber (as much as I love to include it.) I had no other names in mind so I kept going with the Tolkien motif, this time after one of the Blue Wizards. (I find them and their unknown adventures to be one of the most alluring aspects of Tolkien’s universe, and one of my favorite literary mysteries to coincide with SMiLE’s musical mystery. Since Romestamo (aka Pallando) is a Blue Wizard, I went with a Blue SMiLE Shop as the cover.

Side 1 (Prayer), Do You Dig Worms, Heroes and Villains, Cabin Essence (Taxi Cabber), The Elements, Vega-Tables 
Side A Good Vibrations, Wind Chimes, Wonderful (Ice Cream Man), Child is Father of the Man, My Only Sunshine, Surf’s Up (George Fell Into His French Horn)

Voynich SMiLE

[Future Project I Hope to Finish Soon]

The next time I make a mix, which won’t be for many months at least, I plan to follow this outline, to fix those lingering issues I have with Romestamo.

[1. Heroes and Villains] (H&V Intro)/Verse 1/Cantina-Under Arrest/Children Were Raised/3 Score & 5/”Lala” Verse/Stand-a-fore/Western Bridge Theme/Slow Children were raised/Slow Verse (ends abruptly into…)

[2. Old Master Painter] Ends with Fade, maybe put HGS over the fade? (They fit, and it’s fun.) While not quite the Barnyard suite Vosse described (since there’s no “Barnyard”) it would be four distinct sections of music back to back if you include Heroes. 

[3. Do You Dig Worms?]  The previous song referencing God will make a good lead into coming over to America for religious freedom while hypocritically denying it to the Indians. Also, if OMP represents losing faith in traditional interpretations of the Judeo-Christian God as I believe it does, this track represents looking back on everything the narrator knows in a new, less rose-tinted perspective. 

[4. Cabin Essence] Continuing both the retrospective on American history but with a bleaker set of goggles on. Now the Americans aren’t just abusing the prior occupants, but Mother Nature itself. 

[5. Elements] Fire/Undersea Skit/Breathing Skit (including the laughter.) I see this as musical symbol representing a spiritual rebirth. Fire is the old humanity of the Pisces age destroying the environment. Water is being born again (where did life come from?), Air is reemerging from the water onto land, and the laughter is developing a new spirituality. Brian himself considered laughter a spiritual experience, which is where the name “SMiLE” comes from. 

[6. Vega-Tables] The Earth section of the elements (it’s either this or Workshop.) This bookmarks the suite with the funny tracks, and represents finding a new way since the old one didn’t work. Our old society was violent and cruel, its religion left much to be desired, its inhabitants were hypocritical, greedy and destroyed the environment. The new society will be at peace with the environment and guided by the stars (Vega).  
This Side ends with the Veggie Argument which, in this context is meant to be ironic. This old man is yelling at a teenager to get off his land…but it’s not really his land to begin with since his ancestors stole it.

[7. Wonderful] Start with the xylophone take of “I’m in Great Shape” on the boxset sessions as an unlisted intro to Wonderful. I always thought Wonderful began too abruptly, and IIGS sounds really nice with it in my opinion. By itself, Great Shape is too short and unfinished to be it’s own song. However, since it’s used on the tracklist, I like to pay homage to the “feel” somewhere on the album, and in my opinion this is where it sounds best. I’d like to experiment with smash-cutting Holidays onto the end of Wonderful as a makeshift fade.

[8. Wind Chimes] The last song was about retreating into one’s shell a bit for awhile, before coming out again. I see this track as exploring the same concept.  

[9. Child is Father of the Man] I like how similar WC’s fade and Child’s piano intro are. This track could be taken as either meeting the right partner (after the first love in Wonderful didn’t work out) and having a baby. Or alternatively, it could be ruminating on that past trauma and how that abusive or at least unfulfilling romance changed the person you are in the future. The child fathers the man, so to speak. 

[10. Surf’s Up] Bookended by George Fell as a lead-in, and Prayer as a finale. Using the “Talking Horns” section where the horns sound like they’re wailing in anguish in the final fadeout. 

In this way, the album is about a young person dealing with trauma, overcoming it and leading a better life going forward. It mirrors the growth and message of Side 1, but represented through an intimate journey of an individual as opposed to America and the world at large. Side 1 is about nationalism and monotheism because those are the core values of the Age of Pisces. Side 2 is about an individual’s journey because Aquarius is said to return power and expression to the individual. Surf’s Up with its crumbling institutions (“columnated ruins domino”) references this development. By ending on “a children’s song” it calls back to the first track–Heroes and Villains (“my children were raised”) and by referencing paints (“canvas the town and brush the backdrop”) it calls back to OMP and the idea of replacing outdated religious values with ones more in tune with our modern world.

According to contemporary interviews from Brian, SMiLE would have been 10 or 12 tracks. So you can consider this the ending if you want to, or go on to the optional final song…

[11. Good Vibrations] It’s a great song but to my ears it always sounds out of place on this album. It just doesn’t fit the instrumental motif of pianos and horns that Side 2 has, nor the themes. That said, it would stick out like an even bigger sore thumb on Side 1. So, if you put it here you can listen if you want or just cut the album early if you’d rather not.  

Rough working idea for the cover, with my own artwork inspired by Frank Holmes’ original design.

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2 Comments

  1. It is good to see you are doing more writing. I am not as passionate about music as you are so I did not read this in depth. But I am sure it must be as good as your other writing. Just glad to see you are writing!

    Like

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