Review #399: Brian Wilson Presents Smile, Brian Wilson

Karla Clifton
2 min readJun 8, 2023

#399: Brian Wilson Presents Smile, Brian Wilson

When RS asked me to “Close [my] eyes [and] imagine how it might’ve changed the world in 1968,” I stumbled upon on of my musical blind spots.

So here’s the story: the Beach Boys released the monumental Pet Sounds. Smile was meant to be their follow-up. Songwriter Brian was excited about it, calling it his “teenage symphony to God.” But after getting overruled by their record label, Smile was shelved and Smiley Smile was released in its place. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix to my mom hated it. Brian Wilson retreated from the Beach Boys and the world.

Then in 2004, Wilson was talked into releasing Brian Wilson Presents Smile, a rerecording of his original intention for the project.

This record is haunted. (See: the whole thing, but especially the old-timey songs: “Heroes and Villains,” “Roll Plymouth Rock,” “I’m in Great Shape / I Wanna Be Around / Workshop,” “On a Holiday,” “Wind Chimes.”) Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been mainlining horror movies lately, or maybe its this record’s proximity to Billie Eilish, but each song felt creepily … self-aware. Almost like it was written in 1968 and then had years and years to think about itself.

This is one of those records that shows off some variety. There are bits and pieces that feel very Beach Boys. (See: choral showcases “Our Prayer / Gee,” “Cabin Essence,” “Surf’s Up,” “In Blue Hawaii.”) “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” shreds to Kurt Cobain guitar. Then he marries a children’s song to an old violin in “Old Master Painter/ You Are My Sunshine.”

Biggest surprise: learning that “Good Vibrations” was a standalone, album-less single that they added to Smiley Smile after the fact.

Conclusion: I can’t close my eyes and pretend it’s 1968 again. I would be fascinated to listen to the bootleg demo of the original Smile. I also submit that Smiley Smile, a significant failure, also deserves a place on the list. Aren’t significant failures successes in their own right?

Songs That Would Fit Into Disney Channel Soundtracks: “Barnyard,” “Song for Children,” “Child Is the Father of the Man” and “Vege-Tables.”

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