Smile was primarily the brainchild of songwriter Brian Wilson, who famously referred to the project as a “teenage symphony to God.” Wilson sought to build upon the success of the band’s hit song “Good Vibrations” by creating an album that used the same production techniques and featured a set of thematically linked songs. Wilson adopted several innovative recording practices during his time in the studio, including the separation of instrumental parts and recording the same performances at different studios to capture the distinctive sound quality of each one.
Although Wilson experienced a large measure of early success with the project, many began to express skepticism over the feasibility of such an ambitious recording. Wilson became obsessed with the project and began to exhibit erratic behavior, causing his close friends to become concerned. Upon hearing the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” released in 1967, Wilson was so moved by the song that he had to pull his car over to the side of the road to listen, remarking to his passenger that the Beatles had “got there first.” Wilson officially cancelled the album in 1967 after composer and lyricist Van Dyke Parks quit the project.
Wilson and Parks reopened the Smile project more than 35 years later, completing the album and performing it with Wilson’s touring musicians in 2004. For his performance on the long-awaited concept album, Wilson received his first solo Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.