Whatever the answer, Pet Sounds was far ahead of its time but sold poorly when it came out in May 1966. “Capitol didn’t know how to market an album like that,” Jardine says. “They had this successful, fixed image of the Beach Boys, and when we gave them Pet Sounds, they weren’t equipped to turn the ship around in time, so it died.”
The band rebounded months later when “Good Vibrations,” released as a stand-alone single, shot to No. 1. A psychotropic hodgepodge of eerie harmonies, galloping cellos and a high-pitched theremin, “Vibrations” sounds as bold and mystical today as it did 45 years ago.
“Good Vibrations” didn’t make it on to Pet Sounds because Wilson was saving it for Smile, an ambitious concept album about America that he called his “teenage symphonies to God.” But Smile is where the Beach Boys story turns sour. Abandoned in May 1967 after months of recording, it became rock’s legendary lost album. Wilson revived the project as a 2004 solo album, and recordings from the ’60s came out in late 2011 as The Smile Sessions. But the original Smile was never finished.
Books about the Beach Boys often blame Mike Love for pulling the plug on the album, an accusation he calls “absolutely untrue.” Though Love admits he didn’t like the bizarre lyrics written by Wilson’s collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, “I had nothing to do with shelving that album,” he insists. “Brian didn’t want to put it out. He’d gotten reclusive and involved in things he shouldn’t have, hallucinogenically.”
Wilson sounds annoyed when asked why Smile went kaput. But he acknowledges that his heavy use of LSD doomed the project and eventually derailed his career.
“Smile didn’t come out because the music was too advanced for the public, and we were on so many drugs we didn’t know what to think,” he says. “That was a real goof that we made. I wish I would have used my brain and thought, ‘Hey! How do I know what this drug will do to my mind?’ ”