Brian Wilsonâ€™s SMiLE debuts this week on Billboardâ€™s Top 200 album chart at number thirteen with more than 65,000 units sold, according to Soundscan. The album has been met with overwhelming critical enthusiasmâ€”it has been called Wilsonâ€™s â€œmasterpieceâ€? by Newsweek and received a five-star review from Rolling Stone, among many other accolades. The record is now enjoying commercial success on a scale last seen by Wilson or the Beach Boys almost thirty years ago.
SMiLEâ€™s number thirteen position on the Billboard chart is the highest for a new Brian Wilson/Beach Boysâ€™ studio recording (non-compilation) since 15 Big Ones reached number eight in July 1976, 28 years ago. Previous to that, the last new studio recording to reach the top fifteen was the now-legendary Pet Sounds, which was number ten on the chart in May, 1966, 38 years ago.
An all-new studio recording of SMiLEâ€”often called the most famous unfinished and unreleased album in pop music historyâ€”was released worldwide by Nonesuch Records on September 28, 2004, more than thirty-seven years after its anticipated release date. SMiLE is produced and arranged by Brian Wilson and features the ten-member band that has supported him on tour over the past five years, augmented by an eight-piece string and horn section.
SMiLE, which was written by Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson in collaboration with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, was intended as the follow-up to the bandâ€™s groundbreaking Pet Sounds. Record jackets and booklets had been printed and ads had been taken out heralding the recordâ€™s January 1967 release date. One of the albumâ€™s songs, â€œGood Vibrationsâ€?â€”which Wilson called a â€œpocket symphonyâ€?â€”became the bandâ€™s first million-selling single, topping the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. After Leonard Bernstein heard Wilson perform a solo piano version of â€œSurfâ€™s Upâ€?â€”an impressionistic ballad also intended for SMiLEâ€”he deemed the song â€œan important contribution to 20th century musicâ€? and hailed Wilsonâ€™s gifts as a composer.
But SMiLE never made its initial release date; delays mounted along with the pressure and the project as Wilson had originally envisioned it was finally abandoned. Until now, SMiLE was, as The New York Times says, â€œthe most famous unheard album in pop history.â€? The circumstances surrounding its withdrawal have inspired documentary films, book-length investigations, and at least one novel. Bits and pieces of SMiLE have surfaced on subsequent Beach Boys albums; a global network of song-swapping fans cobbled together their own wishful-thinking versions of this seemingly lost masterpiece.
Then, in November 2003, Wilson and Parks got together and listened to the thirty-seven-year-old tapes, following Wilsonâ€™s announcement of his intention to complete and perform SMiLE in a series of concerts in London. Acting as Wilsonâ€™s and Parksâ€™s musical secretary, Darian Sahanaja (a member of Wilsonâ€™s touring band), began preparing the music for performance. Wilson and Parks created new material to make the concerts possible.
The public premiere of the newly finished SMiLE took place at the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 20, 2004 to overwhelming response. The Los Angeles Times said, â€œWhat we do know now is that Wilson and Parks created a glorious piece of music whose grand ambition is outstripped only by its inherent beauty and cumulative power.â€? In London, The Guardian referred to SMiLEâ€™s â€œgroundbreaking complexity and sophisticationâ€? and wrote that it seemed â€œthe grandest of American symphonies.â€? The Independent summarized the feeling in the hall: â€œWe knew weâ€™d witnessed a miracle of sorts.â€?
Buoyed by this reception, Wilson returned with his stage band to Sunset Sound in Hollywoodâ€”where he had originally cut portions of â€œGood Vibrationsâ€? and â€œHeroes and Villainsâ€?â€”to create a definitive studio recording of SMiLE. The resulting albumâ€”which Nonesuch releases on September 28â€”is the summation of a project that had been gestating for nearly four decades, by an artist who has surmounted years of personal and professional struggle.
Wilson and the band will perform SMiLE on a 23-city North American tour that began September 30 and includes dates at New Yorkâ€™s Carnegie Hall and Los Angelesâ€™s Walt Disney Concert Hall (details below).
Beginning in October, Showtime presents the world premiere of Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SMiLE, a feature-length documentary chronicling the most famous unreleased album in history. Directed by award-winning writer David Leaf and produced by LSL Productions (David Leaf, John Scheinfeld, and Steve Ligerman) in association with Richard Waltzerâ€™s Chautauqua Entertainment, the film features dozens of candid interviews, including an unprecedented one with Wilson himself; exclusive â€œbehind-the-scenesâ€? footage of this past winterâ€™s tour rehearsals; and the excerpts from the first London SMiLE concert. (Check local listings for exact showtimes.)