The Boys of Summer: The original "Smile" recordings from the mid-1960s will finally see the light of day. (Photo: CA/Redferns)
It's an event that pop music fans have been waiting for since the Summer of Love: Capitol Records is planning to release the Beach Boys' great lost album, "Smile," later this year.
Two longtime Beach Boys associates -- engineer Mark Linett and archivist Alan Boyd -- are co-producing the release, which Capitol has titled "The Smile Sessions."
The project will be released in three versions: a two-CD set, an iTunes LP digital album and a limited-edition boxed set containing four CDs, two vinyl LPs, two vinyl singles and a 60-page hardbound book written by Beach Boys historian Domenic Priore.
"The Smile Sessions" is being released with the support of the band, including Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson. Wilson wasn't immediately available for an interview but he expressed his excitement about the release in a statement released through Capitol.
"I'm thrilled that the Beach Boys' original studio sessions for 'Smile' will be released for the first time, after all these years," Wilson said. "I'm looking forward to this collection of the original recordings and having fans hear the beautiful angelic voices of the boys in a proper studio release."
"The Smile Sessions" doesn't yet have a specific release date, with Capitol saying only that it will arrive later this year. That will inevitably spark skepticism among long-suffering fans who've had their hopes dashed before. When Warner Bros. Records signed the Beach Boys to a record deal in 1970, part of the label's interest in the group was rooted in its hopes of releasing "Smile." Linett, who has engineered Beach Boys reissues for more than two decades, recalls going through the "Smile" tapes as early as 1988. And in 1995, Capitol told Billboard that it was preparing to release a three-CD compilation tentatively titled "The Smile Era" for release in August of that year. But that set never saw the light of day.
"The major thing in the past, I don't think we had support from all the band, and now we do," says Bill Gagnon, GM/senior VP of catalog marketing at EMI Music North America. "All parties are supporting it coming out. Everybody is onboard now."
Also backing the project are the related rights-holders. Capitol owns "The Smile Sessions" master recordings, with publishing rights controlled by Universal Music Group's Rondor Music, the Beach Boys' own Brother Records and, depending on which tracks are included on the final release, Wilson himself.
Since "Smile" was never completed, what exactly will be issued? Linett says the goal is to present "the whole piece as close to as it was envisioned, or as is envisioned, as possible... and obviously with input from Brian and from everybody else."
Linett is a better judge than most, having recorded and mixed the critically acclaimed 2004 version of "Smile" that Wilson recorded with his road band for Nonesuch.
Although a track listing hasn't been finalized, Linett says he expects that an approximation of the original "Smile" album will occupy one CD or three sides of vinyl, with session outtakes and studio chatter occupying the rest of each version of the release.
"When you say 'album,' it presupposes everything was recorded and finished, and that's not the case," he says. "We have gaps where we are missing some vocal parts. But all the music was recorded, which is heartening." All of the vocals were recorded by the Beach Boys, usually at the same time around the same mic, including the lead vocal, Linett says. The music was mostly played by the Wrecking Crew, the legendary group of Los Angeles session musicians that played on numerous Beach Boys hits, although some "Smile" tracks feature Carl Wilson on guitar and Dennis Wilson on drums, Linett says.
Linett says Wilson's 2004 "Smile" album has served as a blueprint for the current project, which will be mixed in mono because that's how Wilson‹who's deaf in his right ear‹intended it. But Linett adds that other selections from the 30 hours of "Smile" session recordings will more than likely be issued in stereo.
"Some of these questions are hard to answer because not only haven't we assembled them yet, this has to be played for Brian and the other members of the group to see what kind of input they have," he says. "Just because Brian did it the way he did it in 2004 [doesn't mean] he won't say, 'Well, let's add "You're Welcome," ' which was the B-side on the 'Heroes and Villians' single."
"The main thing I am getting from everybody, after waiting 40 years to have it officially released, is, 'We want to make sure it is right,' " Linett says.
But is there any doubt surrounding the project this time around? "No," Gagnon says. "It's coming out."