At some point in my never-ending obsession with all things Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys I came across an amazing download of a playlist that compiled every little bit of HEROES AND VILLAINS that Brian Wilson recorded for the Beach Boys album SMiLE back in 1966-67. While this playlist was most likely a highly illegal download, I gave it a go anyway because of a few simple reasons:
- HEROES AND VILLAINS is one of the best songs ever.
- I love Wilson’s writing style with this song…a few seconds here and there, all connected by a common theme with the ability to listen to the song in any order you would like.
- I love the idea of a randomly generating song that is different every time the listener puts it on.
Over the years it has become one of my most listened to iTunes playlists. If I am in a Brian Wilson mood, there’s nothing better for me than this playlist. I hit shuffle, I turn on repeat all, and I let it go until I have to set music aside. The music only ends when I want it to end. When I listen to this playlist, I am most likely the only person to ever exist to hear HEROES AND VILLAINS in this way. I will most likely be the only person to hear HEROES AND VILLAINS in this way. There is something incredibly beautiful in being part of a moment that only exists once and then never returns.
I’m constantly amazed at Brian Wilson’s creativity not only during the years of 1966-1967, but how so much of that creativity went into this song. There is more energy and creativity in this song than some bands and musicians have in their entire careers. I often think about how all of that energy and creativity must have been such an exhausting and heavy thing for him to carry. It may also explain why Brian’s original SMiLE album concept never saw the light until 2004/2011. Brian gave everything for this music.
I learn about timing and energy from this song:
TIMING: Sometimes the things we create may not be for the audience that is in front of us at the moment. Sometimes the things we create need to be put out into the world to be discovered by someone in the future. They may not have an immediate impact and that’s OK. They will eventually make an impact when they are needed.
ENERGY: I understand that human beings are made up of a finite energy. We can do our best to go and go and go, but at some point we do reach a limit where we cannot do any more in that moment. I understand that this is OK and that this is the natural way of things.
Here’s some neat things for you to know about HEROES AND VILLAINS
Like “Good Vibrations”, “Heroes and Villains” was produced using the same unorthodox method of recording a surplus of interchangeable musical sections at multiple Hollywood recording studios. Only during its final production stages would the song then be reduced and assembled into a coherent structure. This proved difficult for Wilson, who grew increasingly frustrated with the virtually limitless number of possible song edits. Bandmate Al Jardine later expressed dissatisfaction with the final composite, calling it “a pale facsimile” of Wilson’s original vision, and believed that he had “underproduced” the song at the last minute. Jimi Hendrix dismissed the single as a “psychedelic barbershop quartet”.Via Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroes_and_Villains
Despite its early genesis, the recording of the song was a difficult and protracted process. Wilson halted work on the other Smile tracks at the end of 1966 and concentrated on producing a version of “Heroes and Villains” for single release. However, despite holding at least 20 recording sessions for the song over a period of several months and assembling several different edits of the track, he was unable to complete the work to his satisfaction until after the May 1967 announcement that Smile had been shelved. It underwent many changes during its production, and countless discrete pieces were obviated from the final edit. Vocal arrangements were recorded, discarded, and remade throughout its sessions.
The first attempt at tracking “Heroes and Villains” was on May 11, 1966 (2:45 in length), and was deemed unsatisfactory and subsequently taped over; it apparently included “My Only Sunshine” as a section of the song according to one of the session musicians.
In January 1967, the Beach Boys recorded a cappella sections labelled “Do a Lot”, “Mission Pak”, “Bridge to Indians”, “Pickup to 3rd verse”, “Children Were Raised”, and “Whistling Bridge”. Instrumentals entitled “Bag of Tricks”, “Part 1 Tag”, and “All Day” were also recorded, and so was a keyboard/vocal section called “Bicycle Rider”. “Cantina”, recorded between January and February 1967, was an unused section of “Heroes and Villains” that lasts about 30 seconds. It was projected to serve as a bridge between the second verse and the “Children Were Raised” section. The instrumentation features prominent use of a tack piano arranged in the style of old Western saloons. February and March saw the recording of stylistically diverse sections entitled “Fade”, “Organ Waltz/Intro”, “Prelude to Fade”, “Part 2”, “Part 3”, “Part 4”, and the song’s “piano theme”. The backing track for the song’s verses was also remade in February, but was quickly discarded.
After Smile was scrapped, the remainder of the track was worked on throughout June. The month’s sessions involved scaling down sections such as “Prelude” and “Children Were Raised”, into “Barbershop” and “Children Were Raised (2nd Version)”. June’s sessions were largely sourced for the song’s final edit, which included revised vocals and Baldwin organ overdubs. The final edit also sources the verse backing track recorded on October 20, 1966 and the chorus backing track recorded on February 27, 1967.Via Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroes_and_Villains
- As I dig further, I realise that I wrote about this thing as a web based jukebox back in 2012 here. It doesn’t seem to work anymore which is sad.
- I can’t share the MP3s on this site for copyright reasons that are beyond my scope of comprehension. But maybe someday you can come over my house and we can listen to a random 2 hour version of HEROES AND VILLAINS together. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon.
- I took the quoted sections above from Wikipedia. The page on HEROES AND VILLAINS does a really great job at summing up everything that I’ve read in the many Beach Boys books I’ve digested over the years.
- I highly recommend reading Dominic Priore’s LOOK LISTEN VIBRATE SMILE for more in depth stuff around this song and everything else from Brian Wilson’s SMiLE project.