Click On Each Title Below For A Full Page Review of Each Track:
Originally positioned as the first major movement on Smile, preceded by an intro of the hymn-like Our Prayer and snippet of doo wop classic Gee, Heroes and Villains gets interrupted, expanded and requoted along that album's full length flow.
Cut out of this context and reworked into a stand alone single as Smile was shelved, H&V on release sounded melodic and ambitious but was too hard to follow, too busy, too dense and intense.
Reproduced in this format as Smiley Smile's opening track, Brian Wilson's complex harmonics move into a dissonant counterpoint too quickly for a top 40 pop music fan's ear, unrelieved by the now absent "in the cantina" interlude from Smile. So H&V's cascading, dropping (or drooping) melody lines can feel like a bit of a downer, while the too frequent tempo shifts invite irritation. Not good to dance to. All of which, as we would discover so many years later, broken down and stretched out on Smile can feel like being dropped into something complex and beautiful.
Van Dyke Parks poetical wordplay offers up moments of clarity here for the brain to latch on to, but they don't string together, and isolated on only one cut for three and a half minutes, becomes more frustrating than making no sense at all. We hear that it's the Beach Boys singing for sure, but can't catch a link to the surf/cars/summer celebrations or Pet Sounds introspection. Again, that plays out differently full length on Smile.
As a 45, Heroes and Villains attracted respectable, non-blockbuster sales in the States and UK, but was voted song of the year in France. Maybe it helped if English was not your first language. Just dig the sounds, and catch a random word when you can.
Then there's the production. Mixed both for top 40 radio play and stoned living room stereo sessions, H&V's layered vocals could pile up on a car dashboard radio until you reached overload and heard them as muddled, with no sustained rhythm to pull you all the way through. The opening stanzas match the chug-a-lug rockin' car beat of Fun, Fun, Fun or Shut Down, swing into a swirling caliopi tempo, slow way down moving towards the a capella interlude and return to the car beat. Too much.
Performed live over the decades, the drummer and bass player could mash this together and push it along, while the simplified live vocals mimicked yet clarified those from the studio recordings. Or the a capella interlude could get stretched out in concert for the show's Art Rock segment, giving the audience's ear time to adjust.
The Smile versions segue at the end with a little orchestration and the clip clop horse beat of old Gene Autrey songs, tipping us off to some of Smile's Americana ambitions. But the single and hence Smiley Smile version removes (or mixes down) the ascending bass line at the "heroes and villains, look what you've done done" chorus and conclusion, replacing it with a low pitched drone that only alters with the chord or key changes. As a witty sonic comment this drone appears as early as Pet Sounds, and gets used here the same way, to set up the "I've been in this town so long" segment.
And then overused. Is it an attempt to simplify the sound for the single, to remove the propulsion and turn the song towards a close, preparing us for the rest of Smiley Smile, where its frequent deployment has a different effect? Or is it an attempt to sabotage the song itself, the first sign of Brian Wilson's withdrawal? I find that removing the uplifting bass to emphasize the drone bottom undercuts rather than undergirds H&Vs final fadeout.
Not the huge Good Vibrations follow up it needed to be, but a whole lot of something. Placed inside of Smile, Heroes and Villains would get explained by being expanded. Placed alone at the beginning of Smiley Smile it would get explained by getting unpacked.
The strategy to come is forshadowed two and a half minutes into the song when H&V strips down to the a capella "I've been in this town so long . . ." Just a lead voice with harmony humming backing. Through some trick or advance in recording technique, the voices suddenly sound quiet but closer and clearer.