Honey is Sweeter Than a Smile by Peter Reum
After the Beach Boys shelved Lei'd in Hawaii, the pressure for new Beach Boy music increased manyfold. The trend in popular music to create increasingly ornate albums with elaborate production became pretentious and unlistenable for many listeners, bands, and even record companies .
Following the Gettin' Hungry single, which was a modest hit in some countries, but did not chart in America, Brian seemed to have some energy to write new songs with Mike Love, fulfilling a promise he had made to Mike before beginning work on Pet Sounds with Tony Asher. In essence, Brian decided to record Smile with Van Dyke Parks, and did not write with Mike Love as he had told Mike he would.
Mike was disappointed that Brian did not record songs written by him with Brian on the album following Pet Sounds (Smile) as he had understood the agreement he made with Brian when the Pet Sounds album was being recorded. Mike was not happy with the wordplay Van Dyke Parks had written for Smile songs, and expressed his frustration to Brian and the other Beach Boys. He asked Van Dyke Parks what certain parts of Smile's lyrics meant. Van Dyke, already unhappy with Smile, left the Sessions permanently in April 1967. Brian held a few sessions in early May, and then gave his attention to the Heroes and Villains single as released.
After Smiley Smile's reception in the summer and early fall of 1967, the abandonment of the Lei'd In Hawaii album, and Capitol's proposal to release Smile as a 10 track album, The Beach Boys realized that they were having a slow down in demand for domestic record sales of their lps and singles. The Beach Boys kept their approach to Wild Honey straight forward and the album reflected a desire to dial back the elaborate productions of the past and to record tunes that were soulful and funky (for 1967).
Carl and Brian both understood the roots of Rhythm and Blues, the basic boogie woogie piano that Brian refers to in numerous interviews throughout the years--hence the track 'Boogie Woodie' from the Surfer Girl album. Carl, Brian, Dennis, and Mike had been singing rhythm and blues from the radio airwaves since the days at Mount Vernon and Fairway. There was Johnny Otis on the airwaves in LA. The production values in the released Wild Honey album reflected a desire to showcase another new major lead vocalist in the group...Carl Wilson. His prominence on the released Wild Honey is a bow to the need to let Brian take a rest.
In an attempt to help fans realize why Wild Honey was recorded the way it was, Stephen Korthoff (Brian's cousin) and Arny Geller wrote a warm and accurate assessment of Wild Honey that appeared on the album's back cover that is still true 50 years after it was released:
Honey, of the wild variety, on a shelf in Brian’s kitchen, was not only an aide to all of the Beach Boys’ health but the source of inspiration for the record, “Wild Honey.”
Soon after the R&B-flavored “Wild Honey,” came eight other new songs, and a Beach Boys version of “I Was Made To Love Her.”
We think this is a great album. We love to listen to it. We might just be biased because we work for the Beach Boys.
Please see what you think.
– STEVE and ARNY
As for Brian Wilson, the unmedicated mental health concerns he had were not very obvious to his family and the Beach Boys. For this reason, Carl was quoted as saying "Brian was still too spacey to produce an album." Brian recorded some tracks for the early version of Wild Honey, identified as being on the Brother Records label with the catalog number 9003. His production chops were still amazing, and he showed that ability on then unfinished tracks such as I Love to Say Dada and Can't Wait Too Long (also known as Been 'Way Too Long). The preliminary track list as submitted to Capitol Records named 11 songs.
It is quite possible that the solo version of Surfs Up, which turned up as not identified on a master tape and then was released on the 2011 Smile release, was another track cut in the early days of Brian's beginning of production of the Brother Records 9003 version of Wild Honey which was incomplete. The new Capitol double cd set Sunshine Tomorrow includes the tracks from Brother 9003, and gives listeners an idea of when Brian ceased producing and Carl Wilson steeped into the production role.
Sometime between Brian's early attempts to produce the album, and Carl's stepping in to finish it, the album's focus took on a snappy Stax sound that baffled critics and long time fans. To quote David Leaf's excellent liner notes from the1990 combined Smiley Smile/Wild Honey cd:
"It seems that almost everybody…the public, the critics, the record industry and maybe even the Beach Boys themselves…was baffled by Smiley Smile. Shortly after it was released, the group returned to Brian’s house to record Wild Honey, the record that marked the birth of the second era of great Beach Boys music. For Wild Honey, given Brian’s disinterest in making a studio statement, the Beach Boys consciously decided to make a “simple” record."
For the touring group, Brian's more complex music, such as Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations, was a major headache to perform live with just the touring group of 5 members. The group gave Brian that feedback during the latter days of the Smile Sessions, and it may have been a factor in his shelving that project.
Sometime between Brian's early attempts to produce the album, and Carl's stepping in to finish it, Wild Honey's focus took on a snappy Stax sound that baffled critics and long time fans. Brother 9003, the first "Wild Honey,' had some quite personal music of Brian's begun and then left behind. Wild Honey became an album different than perhaps what Brian originally conceived.
The original track lineup for Brother 9003, was submitted by Brian and Carl. Wild Honey became an album different than perhaps what Brian originally conceived. Brother 9003, the first "Wild Honey,' had some quite personal music of Brian's begun and then left behind. In my travels, I turned several Capitol memoranda which revealed that 9003, the great lost Wild Honey album begun by Brian, had the following track lineup: Wild Honey, Here Comes The Night, Let The Wind Blow, I Was Made To Love Her, The Letter, Darlin', A Thing Or Two, Aren't You Glad, Cool, Cool Water, Game Of Love, Lonely Days, Honey Get Home. Wild Honey became an album different than perhaps what Brian originally conceived.
It is apparent that this aborted album, Brother 9003, was for the most part, an album about love and being in the cycle of a relationship. Consider that Wild Honey is a discussion of a woman who is viscerally attractive....a woman who turns you on. This feeling is also expressed in A Thing Or Two, Here Comes the Night, and I Was Made to Love Her. The invitation into a true sexual and emotional relationship may be expressed by The Game of Love. Love in full bloom, perhaps marriage, is addressed in Darlin' and Aren't You Glad. They are both expressions of feelings of beneficence, that is, the rewards of being in a reciprocal loving relationship. While the relationship is in bloom, all is well and balanced. When things begin to crack, perhaps Lonely Days and Honey Get Home are expressions of the feeling of fear of loss of the intimacy, both emotional and sexual, which can be gone in a struggling, on-the-rocks relationship. The Letter potentially expresses the confrontational moment when one partner in the relationship expresses the feeling that the relationship is broken, and the other person rushes to his partner's side to try to salvage what is lost. Finally, Let the Wind Blow is that moment when the partner who didn't sense his partner's unhappiness pleads with fate to save the relationship.
It is no wonder that Cool Cool Water was shelved....it had no topical relationship to the rest of the songs on the original album's theme. Thus, the released Wild Honey bears more resemblance to an album of 11 songs, not necessarily connected by an overriding theme. The “new songs’ consisting of Country Air, I’d Love Just Once to See You, How She Boogalooed It, and Mama Says (from Smile) changed the feel of the overall album to being more humorous, placing less focus on the relationship theme, and replacement of Cool Cool Water with a song focused on Country Air.
"It was Wild Honey’s lack of artistic pretension that bewildered the growing serious role of rock critic as well as the rapidly shrinking legions of Beach Boys fans. For a year, they had patiently waited for Smile. Smiley Smile had hardly mollified them, and many of those who decided to give the Beach Boys another chance were only further alienated by Wild Honey. Among other reasons, for Wild Honey, given Brian’s disinterest in making a studio statement, the Beach Boys consciously decided to make a “simple” record.
Seminal rock critic Paul Williams, who, like many fanatical Brian Wilson supporters, at first wasn’t crazy about Wild Honey, put his reaction in proper perspective in this excerpt from his classic 1969 book, Outlaw Blues: “We expected more (from Brian) than we would expect from any other composer alive, because the tracks we’d heard from Smile were just that good. Smiley Smile was…a confusion…and Wild Honey is just another Beach Boys record, which is only to say that it’s not Smile and it was necessary for us to forget Smile before we could appreciate what came later…I love Wild Honey because it is new and fresh and raw and beautiful and the first step in the direction of even greater things than what was once to be. I celebrate Wild Honey as a work of joy, and one more gift of music from probably the most creative musician alive.”
Unfortunately for the Beach Boys, Paul Williams was in the minority. Bruce Johnston had a humorous but insightful quote regarding rock critics' opinions of the musical approach to production of late Sixties Beach Boys' records: "We can't really keep our approach we have been taking musically if the only people who love it are 5 guys at Crawdaddy Magazine." As far as most rock critics were concerned, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, released within months of each other, confirmed that the Beach Boys were musical lightweights. To the “hipster” crowd, the group had become passe. Yet, it’s a fact that in 1968, after Wild Honey had already come out, Bob Dylan released John Wesley Harding and the Beatles cut “simpler” records like “Lady Madonna.” And much of that year’s White Album was very basically produced. While there’s no evidence that either Dylan or the Beatles were following Brian’s lead, they certainly were all heading down the same path. Brian was the first to pull back from the production “race,” and to most of the Beach Boys long-time fans, or the recent converts who had been blown away by Pet Sounds, “Good Vibrations” and Sgt. Pepper, that wasn’t acceptable. They expected more “high” art from Brian because very few producers could “play” the studio with the virtuosity of a Brian Wilson.
However, as Brian was relinquishing his role as a cutting edge artist, Wild Honey could only reflect the new and baffling simplicity of his home based approach to music and life. Much of the late Sixties production work was done by converting Brian and Marilyn's living room into a home studio. The only problem was that the Brother Records mixing console traveled with the touring group whenever they were on the road, leaving Brian without an essential tool of his converting his raw songs into coherent and enjoyable productions. However, Brian did manage to somehow turn that low key approach into a new art form (best exemplified on Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends, and on the first Paul McCartney solo album). It is hard to discuss live versus recorded performance without considering the psychology of musical experience. As with Smile, there will be those who argue that Wild Honey as a complete multisensory live experience would transcend any passive listening experience to these songs, even with headphones. For long-time Beach Boys fans like myself, hearing the entire Wild Honey album live would be a more complete experience….if Brian was present. To quote David Leaf again:
"More than anything, maybe the essential truth is that the Beach Boys really didn’t set out to produce either Smiley Smile or Wild Honey as major artistic efforts. Smiley Smile was a scramble, a struggle to piece together musical fragments to make songs. And Wild Honey was a new beginning…the Beach Boys rediscovering the joy of just making good, solid R&B based rock music. The piano lines in Wild Honey are, in their own way, as inventive as Brian’s more textured records…Brian happily going back to his roots, the boogie woogie piano that he had loved as a teen."
In 2017, Wild Honey sounds like nothing more than a band that, having lost their hip musical identity by using the environment sonically to be the ultimate studio instrument, instead, looking for its old identity as a rock group, trying to bury the resentments. The Beach Boys, for the first time since 1965, played on most of the instrumental tracks on the album. While the primitive feel of Wild Honey is part of its charm, that same lack of production is the reason it didn’t initially wear as well as the group’s mid-60’s albums. From a 2017 perspective, Wild Honey is a Beach Boys record that is looked back upon very fondly. Even though Wild Honey may not be rock music “high art,” it’s an album that has steadily grown in reputation as one of the Beach Boys' musical "jewels" that were released from the post Smile to the Holland album.
In thinking in a retrospective manner, there’s a lot of great music on Wild Honey, which meant that when hardcore Beach Boys fans, who had listened to Smiley Smile muttering "wtf!" to themselves, first heard Wild Honey, they at least saw that The Beach Boys were innovating again .” Is Wild Honey’s recent critical re-appraisal deserved? As a production transition album, Wild Honey often is thought to be slight, with good songs that were under-produced. Taken on its own merit, Wild Honey offers a new Beach Boy experience, as did every Beach Boys album up through Beach Boys Love You. That is, it is the same group, but there are new and exciting twists, turns, and blind curves that make each new Beach Boys album that one hears for the first time a revelation. That is like the joy of exhilaration that comes when you see your first Georgia O’Keefe painting in person, or discover a novel that takes you to a new world like Dune or the Harry Potter series. In my own perspective in looking Wild Honey 50 years later in 2017 - It has become my favorite "all-weather lp.
Here are two perspectives from group members:
Bruce Johnston: “I loved Wild Honey because I thought it was getting us back on the track again. It was probably the funkiest Beach Boys album, very little production, but a lot of music without any complications. I just remember we wanted to be a band again. The whole (Smile) thing had wiped everyone out, and we wanted to play together again.”
Carl Wilson offered another angle: “Wild Honey was music for Brian to cool out by.”
Billboard Chart Performance:
Wild Honey single: Recorded September 26-27, 1967
Charted at #22 in USA Charts
Flip Side: Wind Chimes (on Smiley Smile album)
Lead vocal by Carl Wilson
Netherlands Wild Honey/Then I Kissed Her Single Picture Cover
Please note the Smile Booklet Photos!
Darlin' single: Recorded October 27, 1967
Original Melody appeared on 1964 Thinkin' Bout You Baby Single in June 1964
Charted at #19 in USA Charts
Flip Side: Here Today (on Pet Sounds)
Lead vocal by Carl Wilson
USA Beach Boys Darlin'/HereToday Single Picture Cover
Beach Boys-USA Wild Honey Album-Released December 18,1967
Recorded September to November 1967Charted at #24 USA Album Charts
USA Wild Honey Album Front Cover
USA Wild Honey Album Back Cover
Artwork for the Beach Boys Sunshine Tomorrow Vault Release
1 Wild Honey (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
2 Aren't You Glad (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
3 I Was Made To Love Her (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
4 Country Air (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
5 A Thing Or Two (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
6 Darlin' (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
7 I'd Love Just Once To See You (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
8 Here Comes The Night (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
9 Let The Wind Blow (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
10 How She Boogalooed It (Stereo Mix / Remastered 2017)
11 Mama Says
12 Lonely Days (Alternate Version)
13 Cool, Cool, Water (Alternate Version)
14 Time To Get Alone (Alternate Version)
15 Can't Wait Too Long (Alternate Version)
16 I'd Love Just Once To See You (Alternate Version)
17 I Was Made To Love Her (Vocal Insert Session)
18 I Was Made To Love Her (Long Version)
19 Hide Go Seek (Backing Track Master Take - Instrumental)
20 Honey Get Home (Backing Track Master Take - Instrumental)
21 Wild Honey (Session Highlights Instrumental)
22 Aren't You Glad (Session Highlights Instrumental)
23 A Thing Or Two (Track And Backing Vocals)
24 Darlin' (Session Highlights Instrumental)
25 Let The Wind Blow (Session Highlights Instrumental)
26 Wild Honey (Live In Detroit / 1967)
27 Country Air (Live In Detroit / 1967)
28 Darlin' (Live In Pittsburgh / 1967)
29 How She Boogalooed It (Live In Detroit / 1967)
30 Aren't You Glad (Live / 1970)
31 Mama Says (Session Highlights)
1 Heroes And Villains (Single Version Backing Track)
2 Vegetables (Long Version)
3 Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Alternate Mix)
4 Wind Chimes (Alternate Tag Section)
5 Wonderful (Backing Track / Instrumental)
6 With Me Tonight (Alternate Version With Session Intro)
7 Little Pad (Backing Track / Instrumental)
8 All Day All Night (Whistle In) (Alternate Version 1)
9 All Day All Night (Whistle In) (Alternate Version 2)
10 Untitled (Redwood) (Instrumental)
11 Fred Vail Intro (Live / 1967)
12 The Letter (Alternate Mono Mix - Live / 1967)
13 You're So Good To Me (Live / 1967)
14 Help Me, Rhonda (Mono Mix / Live / 1967)
15 California Girls (Mono Mix / Live / 1967)
16 Surfer Girl (Mono Mix / Live / 1967)
17 Sloop John B (Live / 1967)
18 With A Little Help From My Friends (Mono Mix / Live / 1967)
19 Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring (Mono Mix / Live / 1967)
20 God Only Knows (Mono Mix / Live / 1967)
21 Good Vibrations (Live / 1967)
22 Game Of Love (Outtake / Live / 1967)
23 The Letter (Alternate Stereo Mix - Live / 1967)
24 With A Little Help From My Friends (Stereo Mix / Live / 1967)
25 Hawthorne Boulevard (Instrumental / Live in Honolulu / 1967)
26 Surfin' (Live In Honolulu / 1967)
27 Gettin' Hungry (Live In Honolulu / 1967)
28 Hawaii (Rehearsal Take / Live in Honolulu / 1967)
29 Heroes And Villains (Rehearsal Take / Live In Honolulu /
30 California Girls (Live In Washington, D.C. / 1967)
31 Graduation Day (Live In Washington, D.C. / 1967)
32 I Get Around (Live In Boston / 1967)
33 Surf's Up (1967 Version)
34 Surfer Girl (1967 A Cappella Mix)
Text Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - All Rights Reserved