Disc 2: 1965-1966 Hang On to Your Ego
1. “Sloop John B” (Traditional arr. Brian Wilson)
2. “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” (Carl White/Al Frazier/Sonny Harris/Turner Wilson Jr.)
3. “The Little Girl I Once Knew” (Brian Wilson)
4. “Three Blind Mice” (Brian Wilson)
5. “You Still Believe in Me” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher)
6. “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” (Brian Wilson)
7. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love)
8. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher)
9. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher)
10. “God Only Knows” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher)
11. “Good Vibrations” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love)
12. “Heroes and Villains” (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks)
13. “Wonderful” (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks)
14. “Cabinessence” (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks)
15. “Our Prayer” (Brian Wilson)
16. “Do You Like Worms” (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks)
17. “Good Vibrations (Live)” (Brian Wilson/Mike Love)
18. “Surf’s Up” (Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks)
Al Jardine was a big folk music fan. And he’d been lobbying Brian Wilson for months to record a cover of the Kingston Trio’s “Sloop John B,” itself derived from a traditional West Indies folk song. With the dual successes of the Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) album and the “California Girls” single, Brian had assured the Beach Boys’ position in the increasingly competitive and experimental pop world. But it was imperative that he remain at the vanguard, if he was going to be able to compete with the Beatles, whose fame had shown no signs of waning. On top of that, there were new bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Byrds and the Who, also competing for rock and roll supremacy.
It was at this moment that Brian decided to take the decisive step that had been gradually brewing in the Beach Boys’ music, moving away from rock and roll music and into a new, ethereal place that was entirely his own creation. And when he assembled his session regulars to cut the instrumental track for “Sloop John B,” (1) he emerged with his most sublimely complex arrangement yet, with arpeggiated chiming guitars mathematically interlocking with the highly active bass line, freed from root notes and dancing all over the place in a style that would soon prove very influential on Paul McCartney. Satisfied with his arrangement, he sat on it for a few months while the Beach Boys toured and Brian contemplated beating Phil Spector at his own orchestral pop game.
But Capitol was again pressuring for a new album from the Beach Boys to close 1965. And although Brian had not settled on a direction yet for what was to become Pet Sounds, he knew that his next major protect was going to be something entirely new. In the meantime, he gathered the Beach Boys for a few days of highly informal sessions for the Beach Boys Party! album. The album was all covers, besides a medley track that spoofed their earlier hits “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around.” And the gimmick premise was that on top of these loose and rowdy sessions would be overdubbed the contrived sounds of a ‘party.’ The album would then be marketed as a window into the Beach Boys’ downtime. Although Beach Boys Party! is no great shakes, particularly in the context of what else Brian was creating at the time, it contains some exciting performances. “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” (2) in particular, originally done by the Rivingtons, features a wild vocal from Brian in an unusually gritty style for him, possibly in emulation of John Lennon. The track is pure chaos and all the more fun for it.
By the time Beach Boys Party! was rush-released by Capitol (soon to become a top ten hit), Brian had written and recorded “The Little Girl I Once Knew” (3) which he had determined would be their next single. Similar to how “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” elaborated on the musical questions raised by “I Get Around,” “The Little Girl I Once Knew” is a continuation of “California Girls’” idiom. The music (again featuring the Wrecking Crew) is more busy and elaborate than ever, and Brian sings a beautiful lead, again augmented by Bruce Johnston in the call-and-response chorus, and by Mike in the brief spoken interludes that transition into a whole two bars of silence, incredibly gutsy and commercial suicide due to DJs’ distaste for “dead air.” Although it sold reasonably well, it was unable to break the top ten, in part due to Capitol’s near-simultaneous issuing of “Barbara Ann,” off the Party! album as a single. “Barbara Ann,” dirt simple and not even written by Brian (although undeniably fun), was a smash hit. “The Little Girl I Once Knew” practically disappeared. It was not the last time Capitol would undermine Brian’s creative will.
Before that though, during “The Little Girl I Once Knew” sessions, Brian assembled his session regulars again to record some moody instrumentals he was experimenting with. One of them, called “Three Blind Mice” (4) is featured here. Little is known about the track, but it carries an undeniably grandiose and brooding feel. It strongly predicts the direction Brian would be taking the following year with the Smile sessions. He recorded a few more instrumental tracks, mostly messing around, including a song he had written called “In My Childhood” that he was lyrically unsatisfied with. That too was left unfinished for the time being as he gathered the band to record vocals to “Sloop John B.” After an exhaustive trying-out session, the lead was finally shared by Brian and Mike in the classic Beach Boys formula. Al contributes strong harmonies, and the acapella break is another of Brian’s greatest innovations. It was undeniably one of the most beautiful Beach Boys cuts yet, with even a subversive reference to a “trip” thrown in to appease the heads.
In early December, the Beatles’ new album Rubber Soul was released. They too were making the drug-induced transition into experimental and textural spiritual music. When Brian heard it, he was incredibly moved (even threatened) by its beauty and sheer cohesiveness, and immediately vowed to record the greatest rock album of all time. This was the direction he had been seeking. And in that he had been spending more and more of his time at home with members of the L.A. counter-culture, it was imperative that he keep hip. For that reason (alongside the Beach Boys’ constant touring commitments), Brian opted to write the next album mostly without Mike, instead bringing in a young lyricist and acquaintance named Tony Asher in January 1966 to interpret his sentiments and translate them into poetry.
By this time Brian was beginning to display the eccentricity that would soon become legendary. Tony recalls showing up at Brian’s Hollywood mansion each day and having to patiently wait for hours for Brian to get out of bed and rouse himself into a working mode. But the music began to course out of them powerfully. First, Tony wrote new lyrics for “In My Childhood” which was re-titled “You Still Believe in Me” (5) and affixed with a new, yearning and wonderfully dexterous melody. The arrangement is pristine in its luminosity, as tightly arranged as chamber music. When the band returned for vocals, the lead would be sung by Brian backed by an amazingly lush choral arrangement. But for now, they toured the Far East while Brian worked at home.
“Let’s Go Away for Awhile” (6) was recorded next, a lovely instrumental that was surely Brian’s most evocative work yet. And indeed the following year, he recognized it in an interview as his most artistically successful piece. Its form consists of two sections, the first foreboding and anticipatory and the second increasingly relaxed and elated. The track elaborated on the immersive tones of “Three Blind Mice,” featuring slide guitar, saxophones, a vast violin session and two basses, one electric and one acoustic. This was a trademark of Brian’s arranging style at the time. Apparently lyrics were written, but the track worked so well as an instrumental that it was left that way.
Next followed work on another Brian and Tony song called “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (7) that consolidated the sounds of Phil Spector and Motown with a dose of “California Girls” rhythm and shot them into the heavens with one of Brian’s greatest melodies and lead vocals. He hit a sweet spot, mixing the energies of “California Girls” and “Help Me Rhonda,” and stripping them of any of the macho posturing that characterized those hits, instead expressing pure optimism and its inevitable flipside, disappointment and sorrow. The arrangement was grandiose and baroque, featuring prominent accordions and dramatic variations in dynamic, with tempo changes, crescendos and swells. Mike would go on to sing the bridge and ultimately sue for lyrical credit for his adlib of “Good night, baby, sleep tight, baby” at the end. Whether or not the lawsuit was warranted is another matter. Nevertheless, the song had “hit” written all over it and was earmarked as a single.
The work Brian was doing in this period is regarded by many as the apex of his art. He was reaching into his soul, provoked by the Beatles’ consistently stellar output and Phil Spector’s increasingly grandiose productions, to completely channel the voice of a sensitive teenager. His compositions had become very complex, full of inverted chords and stunningly gorgeous melodies that rise and fall like columns of angels. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” (8) is the most dramatic ballad on the album and one of a few songs that featured Brian alone on vocals. The melody has the feel of an old midnight jazz standard, but the lyrics and Brian’s high, impossibly pure falsetto inject it with a jarringly honest teenage vulnerability. Although Tony Asher wrote the album’s lyrics, he was essentially interpreting and organizing Brian’s emotions. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (9) is perhaps the most intense and ornate track on the album, and the most revealing disclosure of Brian’s growing sense of alienation within his band and family. “It’s about a guy who was crying out because he thought he was too advanced,” he later explained, “and that he’d eventually have to leave people behind.” Over a stomping background track (Brian had a growing interest in off-beat percussion) laden with watery harpsichord and hard saloon piano, he overdubs almost all of the voices in a counterpoint of surging intensity. It’s sequenced near the end of side 2, functioning as the emotional crescendo of the record. It may be Brian Wilson’s greatest production.
When the Beach Boys returned to Los Angeles from their world tour, they reacted to Brian’s new achingly personal work in a mixed way. While Carl, Bruce and to some extend Dennis recognized and appreciated the genius work Brian was doing, Mike in particular had objections. Smarting over being shut out of the writing process for the album, he complained about what he perceived as the uncommerciality of Brian’s personal disclosures, his Pet Sounds, which Mike disparagingly referred to as “Brian’s ego music.” To be sure, there was an encroaching sense of resentment in the band towards Brian’s increasingly publicized role as puppet-master (he even had a solo single on the charts simultaneous to the release of “Sloop John B”), and a sense of disorientation when faced with the increasingly complex lyrics (one song, “Hang On to Your Ego,” was re-written as “I Know There’s an Answer” because originally it was clearly about LSD). Capitol Records and Murry Wilson also had objections to Brian’s experimentation. The disputes led to a handshake agreement between Brian and Mike that Brian could get his kicks and finish the album the way he wanted to, and then they’d go back to the way they did things before.
And so the Beach Boys threw themselves into recording the vocal tracks for the album. It’s on Pet Sounds that they become angels. Where originally Brian was clearly the falsetto singer over a bunch of tenors and altos, he had by now coaxed all of them gradually up the ladder until their voices could form impossibly high chords in soaring harmony, while Mike held the bottom end with his meditative, breathy bass notes. Dennis, long considered the least serious musician in the group, had become integral to the blend. It’s his earthy, slightly flat singing that gives the blend its character, its integral buzz. And Brian was becoming very close with his two brothers, appreciating Dennis more than before and also praying with Carl before recording sessions.
“God Only Knows” (10) was one of the last songs recorded for the album, and probably its most famous. It’s an astoundingly beautiful song, a response to the indecisive worries of last year’s “In the Back of My Mind” with serenity and deathless love. The instrumental track was his haziest, most tightly aligned production yet, featuring then-astounding 23 musicians. The Pet Sounds sessions were his most ornate productions ever, as he worked by throwing everything in but the kitchen sink. Soon he would start to pare things down. For now, after attempting the lead himself, Brian gave it to Carl who sang it with a beauty that would establish him as one of the best singers in the band. The tag to the song was originally a gigantic smorgasbord of voices chirping syncopated harmony. Brian had the good sense to strip it down to just Carl’s lead, Bruce’s counterpoint (his dulcet but sharp tone was proving invaluable to the new blend itself) and Brian’s lovely backing falsetto. It would eventually be released as a double-sided single with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
Upon completing the mix-down of Pet Sounds, Brian brought it home and played it for his wife while they lay in bed and cried together. That jarringly sentimental anecdote is illustrative of his emotional attachment to the music he had created. He knew it was his best work yet, but he was facing resistance from the record label, his father (who still maintained a power over Brian’s life) and some of his band. The music was complex and spiritual, and even if that joyous “Sloop John B” single was used to close the first side, there was the threat of their fans not responding well at all. Brian wanted to push the Beach Boys beyond the teen set, and he was an innovator in that regard; albums were still in the process of becoming a self-contained art form, and Pet Sounds looked ahead to all that would follow as the psychedelic era transformed rock and roll into high art.
Pet Sounds was released in May 1966. Capitol, suspicious of it, declined to promote it as heavily as the Beach Boys’ earlier releases. Less than two months later, they released a Best of the Beach Boys compilation. The implication was clear: the Beach Boys were finished, and it was time to capitalize on their past hits. While nothing could have been farther from the truth, that compilation hurt the sales of Pet Sounds, which failed to go gold and only barely cracked the top ten, although “God Only Knows” and in particular “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” were hits.
The relative commercial failure of Pet Sounds hurt Brian and seemed to validate Mike and Capitol’s claims that Brian was straying too far out of the box for the comfort of the record buying public. But Brian was continuing his progressive alignment with the L.A. hip cognoscenti, befriending a young man named David Anderle (dubbed the “hippest man in L.A.”), who became the Beach Boys’ manager and one of Brian’s biggest supporters and boosters in this period. Through David was the link to the in-crowd; if Brian wanted to spend an evening with Thomas Pynchon, it could be arranged on short notice. David also helped Brian form Brother Records, a new record label imprint to avoid the controversy with Capitol and realize Brian’s fantasies. Brian’s new friends recognized and appreciated his mercurial genius, and eagerly kept his mind going on hash joints and LSD.
While the Beach Boys continued their domestic touring schedule, Brian was in a number of Los Angeles studios working on “Good Vibrations,” (11) a track that had been begun during the Pet Sounds sessions, but had taken on a life of its own. Beginning as a simple, bouncy R&B number, it had transformed over time, gaining sections and sections more than it initially began with. Maybe Brian didn’t want to risk repeating the commercial failure of Pet Sounds. Or maybe the drugs had immersed him so much in the music that anything less than perfection was out of the question. But the sessions for “Good Vibrations” spanned five months and took up 90 hours of recording tape, as Brian experimented with increasingly exotic instruments like the Theremin. Simultaneously he was scaling the music back, boiling it down to its most exotic bare essentials. Where he had been using bass as intensely active counterpoint, he was now bringing it right into the center as the weight that held the whole track together. And it was getting pretty funky too.
While the Beach Boys were on tour, Brian played the strange, finished instrumental track for Carl over the phone. It consisted of material recorded at different sessions, in different studios, becoming a panoramic exploration of sound condensed into 3:39. As their new publicist Derek Taylor (poached from the Beatles) said, it was a “pocket symphony.” When the Beach Boys returned, Mike was drafted to write lyrics for the song, seemingly honoring the handshake agreement that had been reached during the Pet Sounds sessions. And he rose to the occasion with one of his best set of lyrics ever, and his most famous and distinctive bass vocals in the chorus. The vocal sessions themselves spanned a whole three days, as Brian, working with the sensitivity of a dog’s ear, made them re-do tiny little sections over and over again.
All that obsessive work paid off though. “Good Vibrations” is stunning in its complexity and perfection. Carl’s lead vocal was airy and beautiful, and the group chorale in the chorus was their strongest ever with blink-and-you-miss-them interlocking parts. Mike and Brian sang lead on the bridge. Overall, when the mix-down was completed, the band felt that they would either have the biggest hit of their careers, or they were completely finished. And it proved to be the former, becoming their third number 1 single and their only single to sell a million copies. This was the balance that had been needed, especially as far as Mike was concerned. Brian was still free to pursue his far-out musical discoveries, but tethered to the earth with a simple, relatable boy-girl lyric courtesy of Mike.
But something different was happening, something that was not part of the plan. In the Beach Boys’ absence, Brian had befriended a young, highly verbose and articulate musician named Van Dyke Parks. Soon they began to collaborate, on a project initially dubbed Dumb Angel (in honor of Dennis) and soon to be called Smile. Over the summer, Brian had gone on a trip to Big Sur, dropped acid and faced nature head on. That experience was transformative and informed Smile. Van Dyke, meanwhile, was writing densely poetic and allusive lyrics about the American experience. Fueled by marijuana and amphetamines, the two kept vampiric hours, working through the wee hours of the night and emerging with at least an album’s worth of songs. Having completed the master of “Good Vibrations” by splicing together sections from different sections, Brian intended on working in this modular way for all of Smile.
“Heroes and Villains” (12) was the first fruit of their collaboration, a kaleidoscopic Old West tale that was to incorporate Brian’s most daring psychedelic production tricks yet. It was immediately earmarked as the Beach Boys’ next single. Written at a piano that Brian had recently had built into a sandbox in his home, it began its existence as a three-part country story, culminating in a barnyard section. But the song evolved constantly, gaining and shedding sections regularly throughout the sessions. In all, Brian spent thirteen months toggling with the song, far outstripping the obsessive work he had put into “Good Vibrations.” Presented here is an early mix from the Smile sessions, featuring Brian’s enthusiastic lead (with Mike singing the “Cantina” bridge), a stunningly complex acapella section and some mind-boggling electronic effects. This version was never released, and “Heroes and Villains” never had the omnipotent appeal of “Good Vibrations.” Nevertheless it is a beautiful recording that finds Brian beginning to push the boundaries of the style he had perfected with Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations.”
Again as the Beach Boys toured, Brian directed orchestral recording sessions at home. This time he was recording only in small sections at a time. He called this style a “modular” way of working. If it had elevated “Good Vibrations” to its perfection, why shouldn’t it make a whole album, finally answering the Beatles challenge once and for all? By this time, the Beatles had released Revolver, one of the most overt full-length psychedelic statements yet and another big influence on Brian, who understood that the Beatles were after the same kind of spiritual music as he was.
That spirituality is inherent in the work he was doing in that period. Increasingly fascinated by astrology, numerology and other systems of divination, he was venturing musically into a place of delirium and abandon. Smile, even, was titled such because Brian believed that when someone is laughing they are most open to religious experience. Recorded in October 1966, “Wonderful” (13) is the Smile track most similar to what Brian was doing on Pet Sounds. It’s also the only Smile song that is even remotely about romantic love, and in this case from a removed, narrating perspective. And although it bears the trickling harpsichord and descending bass lines that dominated Pet Sounds, it finds Brian stripping things down. That everything but the kitchen sink production approach is getting streamlined; I hear only four or five instruments on the track. Even structurally it’s less complex, simply a circular motif that repeats four times before coming to a fade. Brian handles the lead and the group does brief backing vocals. It’s a pristine track.
Brian and Van Dyke were hatching more concepts for Smile every day. It was going to be a psychedelic re-telling of American history. It was going to feature a suite called “The Elements,” inspired by Brian’s acid trip in Big Sur. At one point there was going to be a whole comedy album attached. At another, a compilation of field recordings and nature sounds. All these esoteric projects would be released on the Brother Records banner label. “Cabinessence” (14) was another suite-like composition in three sections, another Old West story, and this time about the relative calm of settler’s expansion disrupted by the invention of the train. The end finds a Chinese coulee worker working on the railroad, looking overhead and seeing a crow fly over a cornfield. This song has the clear influence of Revolver on its droning, Eastern textures. The first section is rustic, led by piano and banjo with a subdued Carl lead. The chorus bursts into being with a synchronized full group chorale over heavy bass and cello performing a dazzling chromatic run. The second time through, Dennis sings a counterpoint lyric about a truck driver. The final section sees the banjo replaced by the bouzouki, a traditional Greek instrument, thick fuzz bass and Mike solemnly repeating two lines while the group harmonizes behind him. It’s certainly one of the most awesomely majestic Smile songs.
So far most of the work had been done with the Beach Boys away. When they returned for a few days in October, Brian led them through an acapella piece he had written to open the album called “Our Prayer.” (15) It’s an extension of the dreamy vocal world of the previous year’s “And Your Dream Comes True,” but this time completely wordless and tracing chord progressions as complex as Bach’s. Tapes of the session find a scattered-sounding Brian asking (perhaps facetiously) whether the band feels the acid yet. Whether or not he convinced them to turn on with him, that psychedelic feeling is manifest in the music. It’s gorgeous and soft like a pillow, but daunting and scary too. Soon the music would begin to consume Brian.
With the Beach Boys again on tour, Brian surrounded himself with more and more intellectual cohorts and sycophants; his coterie swelled to include 25 people or more. Tales of his eccentricity were growing more widespread: he had a Moroccan tent installed in his home to conduct meetings and smoke hash in. But with Derek Taylor writing his press releases, the pop world was becoming increasingly turned on to Brian’s genius. With the recent release of the “Good Vibrations” single, Brian’s dreams seemed on the verge of coming true, and everyone who saw him in the studio directing the Wrecking Crew would speak of it in hushed, reverent tones, certain they had witnessed a master at work. One contemporaneous press release depicts the scene as Brian single-handedly records the massively overdubbed watery piano outro to “Wind Chimes,” while a rival producer asks “Just how does he do it?”
“Do You Like Worms” (16) is the song where Brian’s darkness and growing paranoia (his emotional sensitivity, latterly diagnosed as bipolar disorder, was beginning to exhibit psychotic symptoms due to his prodigious speed intake) begin to encroach on the Smile music. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece, again with multiple contrasting sections. And similarly to many of Brian’s other songs from the period, it is dominated by a thick electric bass played by the session musician Carol Kaye. But in this song there are hardly any lyrics besides a chorus of “Rock, rock, roll, Plymouth Rock, roll over” and a nonsense “Hawaiian” chant. Besides that, there are long sections of music without any vocals at all, and it is unknown whether or not the song was considered finished. Certainly while all the other Smile songs up to that point make an effort to draw the listener in and convey Brian’s idea in a direct, musical way, “Do You Like Worms” just sort of lies there and stares at you while scratching itself. It is singularly haunting.
The evening of the instrumental session for “Do You Like Worms,” Brian led his gang through some contrived and chaotic arguments recorded in the studio for the purpose of comedy. The tapes exist and portray a very dark and paranoid scene. Whether or not the agitation is genuine is unknown, as Brian was becoming more and more legendary for his gift of the “put on.” A couple of days later, Brian flew to Michigan where the Beach Boys were on tour to rehearse them for the live debut of “Good Vibrations” (16). He counseled them well, even training Mike to play the Theremin line on a simplified version of the instrument called a Tannerin. It’s a good performance, and the Beach Boys sing like angels (although Bruce’s falsetto is no substitute for Brian’s) but it illustrates the growing problem in translating Brian’s increasingly complex and orchestrated music for the stage. Simply put, they couldn’t really, forced to duplicate that cutting cello on electric guitar, all those maddeningly complex percussion lines simplified to Dennis’ best attempts at rhythmic syncopation. Clearly what Brian realized on that visit to Michigan is that when the Beach Boys returned from tour, and vocal sessions were to begin in earnest, he would face considerably more resistance than he had hoped. On the flight back, he had the pilot radio instructions to his wife Marilyn to gather the entire Smile crew together at the airport. There he posed them all against a wall and had them photographed together for posterity. He sensed that the dream was about to overturn.
For the time being though, the paths of Brian and his family/band remained divergent. He returned to Los Angeles to continue directing instrumental sessions, while the Beach Boys embarked on their second major European tour. In England they were shocked to be greeted with adulation comparable to the Beatles’ first American reception. Pet Sounds, although having sort of fizzled out in America, had been wildly successful in the UK and would prove to be the defining influence on the Beatles’ upcoming explorations. Brian, meanwhile, his confidence eroded, was recording reels of surreal, druggy comedy skits and arguments, and at one point an odd minor-key version of the classic “You Are My Sunshine” re-written for the past tense and ultimately given to Dennis to sing.
When the Beach Boys returned to finish the album in late November 1966, it was a shit-storm. Although Carl, Bruce and Dennis were (as ever) supportive of Brian in his experimentation, Al Jardine was upset and disoriented and Mike positively livid at the betrayal of the compromise they had reached during Pet Sounds. Indeed, since writing the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ first million-seller, Mike hadn’t been asked to contribute a single lyric to the new music. Still, Brian led them through the paces of recording vocals. In the band’s defense, Brian (increasingly wired on amphetamines and obsessively working in the modular style) was having them record wordless vocal chants in tiny little sections, without any explanation of where they would go or how the whole thing would fit together.
When it got to recording the vocals to “Cabinessence,” Mike put his foot down. He wouldn’t sing his lyric in the tag, “Over and over, the crow cries uncover the corn field” until someone explained to him just exactly what it was supposed to be about. Brian, fearing confrontation, dodged the question and instead invited Van Dyke Parks over to the studio to defend his own work. When Van Dyke refused to stoop, Mike gleefully proclaimed that the lyricist didn’t even understand his own writing! Offended, and weary of the increasingly toxic atmosphere, Van Dyke quit the project and didn’t return for two months, leaving a discouraged Brian to pull it all together himself. The band finished the vocals for “Cabinessence,” and sung them beautifully, but a switch had turned.
With the industry hype of Brian’s compositional and production genius spreading like wildfire, a CBS documentary called Inside Pop (made with Leonard Bernstein’s involvement) came to film him leading the band in the studio. They captured a slow-moving and inscrutable backing vocal session, with a stoned Brian haltingly leading a begrudging band through yet weirder scat vocal experiments. The energy was extremely negative, and the session was far too boring to make for good TV. And so after the band had left, Brian briefly retreated to his car to smoke a joint and decide what to do.
What he decided was to allow the cameras to film him recording a solo piano rendition of ”Surf’s Up,” (18) another song he had written with Van Dyke and probably the crown jewel of Smile, at least compositionally. Again in three sections, although an apocalyptic backing track had been recorded for the first segment, he chose to reduce it to piano and voice. The song, ironically titled, was written in response to Dennis crying and recounting how the new “hip” audience had laughed at the band and their outdated striped uniforms. This struck a sentimental chord in Brian and Van Dyke, and they together wrote this breathtakingly beautiful song, both in defense of an American idiom and in realization and acceptance of the eventual collapse and decay of all things. Footage of Brian singing “Surf’s Up” at the piano ended up in Inside Pop. The recording shows us a master at work, in absolute control of his voice, his chords and his piano playing. 1966 was drawing to a close and Smile, originally projected for a Christmas release, was nowhere near finished. Van Dyke had abandoned the project and the Beach Boys and Capitol were even more resistant to it than they had been to Pet Sounds. David Anderle kept pressuring Brian to go solo, release it as a solo album, but the Beach Boys were his blood. For now, Brian stood alone and chained.