Are The Beach Boys the greatest band ever?
I’m answering that question for you. Yes. They are.
Is SMiLE the greatest album ever? Yes. It is. Except maybe Pet Sounds.
And don’t dare mention Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, I don’t like the idea of going to prison. Especially because of that.
What’s beyond doubt is that SMiLE is the greatest ‘album that never was’ in music history. Elvis Costello compared the discovery of the complete Surf’s Up to uncovering an original Mozart yet few could have predicted that such comparisons would be wholly justified. The myth of SMiLE and songs like Surf’s Up were regarded by many as hot air; an acid fuelled mess that formed a microcosm of Brian Wilson’s mental state.
Now, with the release of the restored SMiLE Sessions it’s become abundantly clear that SMiLE was so much more than believed. Good Vibrations, acknowledged by list aggregator AcclaimedMusic as the most acclaimed song of all time, actually becomes par for the course now it’s been restored to it’s rightful place in SMiLE. Surf’s Up even throws down a challenge to be their greatest ever song, one listener called it ‘vocal gold’. Too right, the closing minute of the song is quite simply the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. The rest of it isn’t too shabby either.
The whole album redefines what’s possible with harmonising; the vocal layering becomes nothing short of transcendental at times, the infinitely complex multitude of voices takes vocals to places they’ve been before and it’s all backed up by wonderfully zany instrumentation . It all forms what is almost undoubtedly the greatest group vocal performance in music history(naysayers see Cabin Essence’s whirlwind of vocal wonder). Brian Wilson arrangements are nothing sort of pure brilliance, the like of which has never even been approached, even by The Beach Boys themselves.
Never again did they go to the extremes of off-beatness on show in songs like Vega-Tables, partly because of Brian’s increasing withdrawal from society and partly because of the backlash within the band to the album’s content. It baffles the mind that they could be so passionately disdainful of it. Only, it seems, with Brian’s pained rendition of the album in 2004 did opinion change and the stage be set for the unveiling of his lost opus.
All Brian wanted from SMiLE was to top Sgt.Pepper. It took almost four decades to prove that he had.