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Brian Wilson Resurrects Ambitious Album 'Smile'

Wilson with engineer Mark Linett at Hollywood's Sunset Sound during the recording sessions of 'Smile' in April 2004.
Bob Boilen, NPR
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Wilson with engineer Mark Linett at Hollywood's Sunset Sound during the recording sessions of 'Smile' in April 2004.

Thirty-eight years ago, Brian Wilson wanted to make an album like no other with what was, at the time, a revolutionary recording technique. Bits and pieces were recorded at different times with different musicians, in different studios, then quilted together. Wilson combined this elaborate "modular music" with the evocative lyrics of Van Dyke Parks and described the project as "a teenage symphony to God."

The album, called Smile, was nearly completed, but never released. Fellow Beach Boys found the music too strange to be commercially successful. As his own drug addictions and personal problems began to spiral out of control, Wilson abandoned the project.

Almost four decades later, Wilson re-teamed with Parks to complete the album, which has surfaced throughout the years in fragments, only to further the mystique of an unfinished masterpiece. Recording began in April 2004 at Sunset Studios in Hollywood and NPR's Bob Boilen sat in on some of the sessions. Smile, the album that Wilson made to prove that rock music could be art, will be released on Tuesday.

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In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.