SMiLE (7/?) The Elements & Other Leftovers

The Elements 

Fire makes me feel scared and stressed out. Apart from sounding like fire engines speeding towards a raging inferno, it also sounds like a perfect representation of dread. It’s an anxiety attack put to music. This goes back to what I said earlier under Veggies–I don’t think the element songs were just going to be the embodiment of the natural elements themselves. I think they would have had a biological and emotional meaning as well. We know from Michael Vosse that fitness and biology were part of the elements. I go into this at length on the thread for the psychedelic sounds bootleg, but my interpretation is that two of the other elements were the Breathing skit and Undersea Chant. They’re the closest (and only) things we have to filling all these requirements. Breathing, besides sounding like “air” without any explanation or context, is also very biological–we need to breathe every minute to stay alive. What better fits Vosse’s fitness criteria and the subject of air than breathing sounds? As for an emotion, it could be endurance or exhaustion.

There’s a single quote from Brian that Air was a piano piece–I think it’s possible the Breathing skit was a working idea for vocalizations he’d have the band do later, perhaps accompanied by this now lost piano instrumentation. The Undersea Chant also conjures images of water without any context or hand holding. As for biology…well, all life came from the sea. So in a way, it’s biological already. During the psychedelic sounds skits, there were also a series of chants where they vocalized the names of different strokes in a rhythmic way (called Side Stroke, fittingly.) We know from Vosse that he was sent to record water sounds, and I think these sounds may have been overlaid onto the aforementioned vocalizations. The mood associated with Water would be serenity and peace.

Besides Veggies, the most likely thing we have for Earth is Workshop. This sounds a lot more happy go lucky and putting yourself back together after a setback or heartbreak (represented by Fire.) Doing the manual labor of building things and working with wood is pretty good fitness as well I’d say.

The other candidates I commonly see for elements–Wind Chimes for Air and Dada for Water–don’t fit any of these requirements. Those do not convey the elements except through forced contextualization and goading. When I hear Fire, Breathing and Undersea Chant I immediately think Fire, Air and Water, respectively. I don’t have that strong immediate association with Dada and Wind Chimes. There’s nothing fitness-y about those either, which Vosse said was an important factor in the elements. I just don’t buy them in this role then, nor the idea of a 4 song “elements suite” as hypothesized by Priore, the earlier bootlegs and some newer fans when it’s clearly labeled as a single track on the tapes, back cover and promotional materials.

How to finish it? We need confirmation for what the other 3 are, obviously. I’ve tried to ask Brian about the validity of using those Psychedelic Sounds pieces every time he does an online Q&A and he’s never answered. I don’t think he will ever shed light on this either, probably because he doesn’t remember and doesn’t feel like talking about it. So, barring that, utilizing my intuition and the only pieces we have from ’66-’67, I use Undersea Chant for Water, Breathing for Air, and either Workshop or I follow up with Veggies (as a separate track) and use that for Earth. It’s the best we can do with what we have and in the absence of an official word to the contrary.

I know many are perfectly content with the Elements suite of BWPS and the boxset sequence…but I’m not. I think the songs clash too much which makes it a really jarring and unsettling listening experience. I don’t see any evidence or convincing argument of plausibility for them as elements either. No offense to anyone, but I think this popular theory emerged due to tradition. People wanted to create an elements based on what was currently available and in the early days of the boots, that meant Dada, Chimes and Veggies. Fair enough. But once the Psychedelic Sounds bootleg was released, I don’t think there was any excuse for true fans to not take the time to listen with an open mind and search for clues. And I think anyone listening to that material without being biased against it (because “oh, its just Brian and his stoner friends goofing off”) would realize we have in there some really important and even amazing material. I’d say a recording of Brian on tape during the height of SMiLE, as well as the word of Vosse and Anderle from just a year or two after the sessions had concluded trumps Dominic Priore’s speculation, or how some bootleggers decided to arrange the tracks, or even BWPS where Brian specifically mentions “adding” a third movement. But that’s just like, my opinion, man.

The Outtakes

You’re Welcome and With Me Tonight are just chants Brian came up with. We see him experimenting with the idea from November ’66 with Psychedelic Sounds all the way through into Smiley Smile. These are just the ones that got professionally recorded between that time. If what Vosse says about Prayer is true and it was meant for the end of the album, not the beginning (as Brian says on tape), then that would make YW a very plausible and fitting candidate for a new “intro to the album.” It makes sense as a “you’re welcome to come along with us on this journey” type of sentiment. With Me Tonight was worked on too late for it to be a real contender for the album, while YW appeared as early as December.

Love To Say Dada aka All Day aka Second Day is just a really cool riff that at one point was going to have “a lot of talking in the pauses.” I doubt Dada was ever really finished, even in 2003 it still sounds somewhat “undercooked” to my ears. It was part of Heroes, then its own thing, then years later was used as a stand in for the water element by bootleggers, and this final development influenced the ’03 solo album sequence. There are theories that the “Second Day” session could even be the Air element, which is a fascinating idea even if I personally don’t believe it has merit. I don’t think there’s anything particularly “watery” about Dada. Unlike Fire and the recorded chants and experiments which seem to be air and water on Psychedelic Sounds, it doesn’t unquestionably transport me into the feeling of that element. I’ll say though that out of both these associations, I consider Air the more plausible one. And even more than that, I consider its Heroes association to be both more fitting. It’s important to note there’s also the anecdote about Brian drinking chocolate milk from a bottle while working on it, and if you think of the title as “baby speak” (Dada like how a baby says Dad) then it has connections to the Innocence/Cycle of Life side of the album as well. This was just one of Brian’s “feels” and he threw it around a few places trying to plug up the holes in the project. It kind of fits in a bunch of places, but doesn’t totally fit anywhere. I don’t know how best it ought to be finished, and indeed I actually kind of like it the way it is now, where it could conceivably fit anywhere. It’s like a stem cell SMiLE track.

Look I think is a great and highly underrated backing track. It’s a bit too repetitive to work as an instrumental, so as it exists now, it kind of brings the album down. (Plus it wasn’t on the tracklist.) There was a vocal session which is now lost, and it would be great to have heard that and got some idea what it’s really about. I’ve heard speculation on SmileySmile that it was an early version of CIFOTM but I’m extremely skeptical of that. With lyrics it could be a great song. When I listen to it, I absolutely feel childhood wonder and angst at the same time. It’s beautiful.

Holidays is a nice instrumental which goes on a little too long if you ask me. When I listen to it, I feel whimsical. There’s nothing that inherently ties it to Wind Chimes, which is where it ended up on BWPS and some boots, but I think it fits there better than anywhere else if it were to be included. I’ve heard speculation on SmileySmile that it’s an early version of Worms, but I find that to be completely baseless. 

Barnyard was part of Heroes and/or IIGS at one point. I agree with a theory I’ve read that IIGS was replaced by In the Cantina and Barnyard was replaced with the Western Theme Bridge (aka Prelude to Fade) in Heroes. There’s no definitive proof of that, just my intuition. I maintain that Barnyard is rendered somewhat irrelevant by Veggies, which is a better piece of music and represents that “American agriculture” theme in a more fun, memorable way.

He Gives Speeches I consider to be an early version of the OMP/Heroes “False Barnyard” fade. The backing track seems very similar to it, and this is why I sometimes like to overlay these lyrics onto that fade. What this means for HGS in general and where it might have fit in, I don’t know. It seems to have been pretty unambiguously scrapped. I think it could work as the insert to Wonderful with some new instrumentation, as the male perspective of that relationship, or it could work on Americana as a glance into US politics or something. Some of the lyrics, like the last line especially, indicate that it could be a baby that’s the subject of the song. I recall hearing several people on SmileySmile saying they like to put HGS and Wonderful together as the male and female perspectives of a relationship.  

Cool Cool Water and Can’t Wait Too Long seem to be the remnants of the album, what Dada and Wind Chimes morphed into. I don’t personally see CCW being the water element so much as trying to go back to the band’s roots (singing about the ocean and stuff) recycling an old melody. Similarly, I don’t see CWTL as some SMiLE idea that never got recorded so much as turning a great riff into a song about women like the old days. The Water Chant however, I do believe was an attempt to salvage some SMiLE material and stay true to the original intent. Out of the three, it’s the only one I fully believe would have made it to the album if it hadn’t been scrapped first. I interpret the Water Chant as Brian finally having the band record some Ocean themed vocalizations like the Undersea Chant he did with his friends almost a full year prior.

Tones and I Don’t Know are in my opinion Carl and Dennis either testing out their own chops in the studio which just so happened to occur around the same time as SMiLE…or they were the brothers’ attempt to help Brian out. Maybe they saw the project was coming undone with great material like Elements and Look being scrapped plus songs like OMP and Worms cannibalized so they thought if someone presented Brian with some new songs he could use, it would plug up the holes and get the project finished.

Teeter Totter Love and the other 2 Jasper Dailey tracks are Brian goofing off and wasting time. These are the only tracks or projects from this era I think that condemnation applies to.

Untitled InstrumentalThree Blind Mice and Little Red Book are not in any way related to SMiLE, but since they showed up on some bootlegs, they occasionally get mistaken for SMiLE tracks.

LOS ANGELES – CIRCA 1968: Band leader Brian Wilson of the rock and roll band “The Beach Boys” chomps variously down on a record, a shoe, other people’s food, a pepper grinder and shares with his dog in this photo session from a restaurant in circa 1968 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Conclusion

I think it’s clear that the December tracklist is very likely to be genuine when you analyze the tracks individually like this. Those twelve (possibly minus IIGS) are a cut above the rest of the material recorded at the time, both musically and conceptually. There’s more beauty in the arrangements and more to think about with the lyrics and little details. I strongly believe the album was intended to be 12 tracks exactly, to correspond with astrology. The signs were printed on the back, which seems important. I don’t necessarily believe every song has a specific astrological sign equivalent…but that said I’ve always thought OMP was about the age of Pisces ending while Surf’s Up was about the dawning of Aquarius (again, read about astrological ages if you get the chance.) 

It’s certainly very unusual when you consider the name of the album and its unassuming cover when, as you see above, the music is mostly sad and deeply reflective in tone rather than upbeat and happy as the packaging would suggest. This was intentional of course, as a “dont judge a book by its cover” scenario, to emphasize that depth can come from anywhere. Some of the track names also have deep meaning hidden behind the silliness or seemingly random spellings, with DYLW and Veggies being the best examples. As I said earlier, these quirky design choices exist to set up the big reveal in Surf’s Up at the end when a children’s song is revealed as the end all be all inside the narrator’s mind. It could also be a purposeful representation of psychedelic experiences where deep meaning is derived from simple patterns or everyday objects (anyone who’s tripped knows what I’m talking about.) It could be that the contrast was supposed to illustrate that our modern society and guiding principles don’t make people happy, and the need to change them. 

All the songs save Wind Chimes and Good Vibrations can tie into the Americana theme as I’ve laid out, however some of them require a more metaphorical/allegorical reading in order to make it work. At the same time, all of the tracks are about the destruction of beautiful, delicate things but some songs do so in a more abstract way (nature, oppressed people) while the others do so more directly (innocent children and women). This division is reinforced in how one set of songs tends to look outward towards big ideas (nationalism, religion) while the other set looks inwards towards individuals and the little things in life. The bridge between the two seems to be The Elements, which has a dual introverted and extroverted meaning: it looks at fitness and biology of an individual person but also works as an examination of the natural world in all its extremes. Because of all these clear divisions (as well as other things, like W/CIFOTM/WC/SU having prominent horns and pianos with VT/HV/CE/DYLW being more bombastic and energized) I feel confident saying certain songs were meant to go together and vice versa. With 3 tracks it’s a little harder though, since Elements fits with either group, GV was written before the album got going and thus doesn’t have these ideas, and we can’t be sure what IIGS even is. Still, while there are clearly 2 distinct groupings going on, there’s enough connections between them as I have laid out that they all go together extremely well as a unified album. I cant be certain of a track order, but I do feel pretty confident that Worms would open the first side and OMP would close it, while either The Elements or GV would open side 2 and SU would close it.

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