The wave of excitement we’re riding over the upcoming, long-awaited official release of the Beach Boys' adventurous unfinished album, "Smile," is building with the news that fans are getting a modest role in its resurrection.
Mashable reports that Capitol/EMI is asking fans to create videos for two of the ill-fated album's better-known tracks – "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains," which turned up on other records after "Smile" crumbled in 1967. Sure, the promotion, which dangles $10,000 in prizes, is aimed at boosting sales of “The Smile Sessions” set, due out in November. But the idea also appeals to us on a couple other levels.
The gimmick could draw an Internet-reared younger crowd who know the Beach Boys primarily as an old surf-song band. More importantly, it gives fans at least a symbolic part in helping "complete" an album with a tortured four-decade-plus history.
The album originally was planned as a follow up to the groundbreaking "Pet Sounds," which put the Beach Boys’ harmonies into service in a musical chronicling of the insecurities of youth and tenuous joys of love, wrapped in intricate melodies and instrumentation oceans away from "Surfin' Safari."
Brian Wilson hoped to scale new heights of trippiness with the more experimental "Smile," which he ambitiously intended as a “teenage symphony to God.” But divisions in the group over the changing direction of their music, as well as personal turmoil, contributed to the project's shelving. The fragile Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown, the Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and the Beach Boys were never quite the same.
Wilson, who waged a brave return as a performer and creative force after decades of battling demons, eventually recorded a "complete" version of the album, released to acclaim in 2004. But the original recordings, featuring the core group members in their prime, have remained the Holy Grail of Beach Boys fans, bootlegs aside.
There aren't many happy endings in the Beach Boys' story, which includes feuding, stunted musical growth, Wilson’s many woes and the deaths of his talented brothers/bandmates, Dennis and Carl. But the upcoming release of the recordings and the video contest are enough to make fans, well, smile.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.