Today Paul McCartney’s path intersected with those of two important bands of the era, the Beach Boys and the Mamas & the Papas.

Having flown from Denver to Los Angeles on Sunday, today he spent some time at the house belonging to John and Michelle Phillips, one half of the Mamas & the Papas. Then he visited the studio where Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were working on their ambitious, long-gestating, never-to-be-completed Smile album.

After releasing Pet Sounds — a massively successful and influential album that helped inspire The Beatles to think a little bigger with Sgt. Pepper — in May of 1966, Wilson had set about creating a follow-up that would top it. Says Wikipedia,

In preparation for the writing and recording of the album, Wilson purchased about two thousand dollars’ worth of marijuana and hashish. In addition, Wilson famously installed a hotboxing tent in his home and relocated a grand piano to a sandbox in his living room. Between April and September 1966, Wilson and [Van Dyke] Parks spent many “all night sessions” co-writing a number of songs in the sandbox….

Wilson, already an avid reader of literature, continued to indulge himself in works ranging from the I Ching and Subud philosophy, tracts on astrology, detailed charts of the stars and planets, various topics of mysticism, The Little Prince, the novels of Hermann Hesse, works by Kahlil Gibran, Rod McKuen, and Walter Benton’s This Is My Beloved.

In October 1966 interviews, Wilson stated that the Beach Boys’ next project was to be “a teenage symphony to God.”

Sometime in early 1967, between the drugs, the pressure to create a masterpiece, and his own preexisting psychological challenges, Wilson simply cracked. By the time Paul showed up, they were working on a track called “Vegetables” (a/k/a “Vege-Tables”), which is perhaps indicative of Brian Wilson’s mental state at the time. According to Beach Boy Al Jardine,

I remember waiting for long periods of time between takes to get to the next section or verse. Brian lost track of the session. Paul would come on the talkback and say something like “Good take, Al.”

The session dragged on and somewhere in the course of events, Paul was recorded chewing celery. That was his contribution to the song. They also supposedly fooled around with the folk standard “On Top of Old Smokey,” but no remnants of that are extant.

Originally scheduled for release in January 67, Smile was finally abandoned in May. The artwork had been created, the promotion had started, but Wilson was simply unable to finish the album. This spelled the end of the Beach Boys as a musical force in the 1960s; they probably won’t turn up in this blog again. For a long time Brian Wilson was too preoccupied with staying alive and sane to care much about pop music, but he did survive and — after a long and weird period under the sway of svengali therapist Dr. Eugene Landy — he has returned to being fairly prolific in the 21st century.

When the Smile project was cancelled in 1967, it was reported that the tapes were destroyed, but this did not turn out to be the case; more than six hours’ worth turned up on a box set called The Smile Sessions in 2011. In the interim, a number of the songs were rerecorded for the Beach Boys contractual obligation album Smiley Smile, and in 2004 Wilson and Parks released an entirely new version dubbed Brian Wilson Presents Smile. In the end, though, Smile remains yet one more unfulfilled promise of the Sixties.

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