Click On Each Title Below For A Full Page Review of Each Track:
We're not sure what "Heroes and Villains" is about but understand it to be jumbled up on purpose in the mode of twentieth century modern art like Picasso's cubist period. With "Vegetables" the subject is obvious: vegetables. And the words are simple, maybe simple minded. But the presentation is full of sub-texts, deceptively complex.
Naive, clever, hilarious, and hip all at once, the most accessible cut new to Smiley Smile departs from the striving masterpiece of Smile while still supplying a continuity that holds the album together. How did the Beach Boys do it?
Peering back a decade after the release of Smile and 47 years after Smiley Smile we can see that "Vegetables" was extracted from the last third of Smile and then had "Mama Says" (which appears on Wild Honey) extracted from that, leaving behind a song with a more or less common ABAB, bridge, AA structure. Rebuilt and rerecorded so that it flows with a typical musical progression, "Vegetables" disarms and pulls us in with its Magritte-like surreal normality.
Hearing it for the first time, whether today or in 1967, we don't have to know the story of Smile to hear the connections. The bass drone from "Heroes and Villains" returns here as a pulsing beat, and for much of the song's first minute, it's just the Beach Boys singing over that pulse
But that singing signals a break. We have moved away, for the first time in their career, from the Doo Wop/Four Freshmen/Church Choir rock harmonies that soar over the beat or through a ballad, to a swinging staccato phrasing that hops around or implies the beat, closer to, dare I say it, late '50s, early '60s bop vocalese as practiced by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.
When a bebopper improvises a vocal over a standard, it's both homage and comment, familiarity and distance. Here the Beach Boys are commenting on a tune that hasn't even been released, and we get it. They're riffing on the idea of Smile as propounded on the previous track, "Heroes and Villains." Except the Boys aren't riffing new notes over familiar chord changes, they're riffing, so to speak, over the standards of rock presentation, over their own history.
That dance of separation and connection only works in jazz or Smiley Smile with the mix of virtuosity, taste, and musical confidence the Beach Boys exhibit here. If we haven't heard Vegetables before, they sure have, (all those Smile sessions) and they have the vocal chops to understate but bounce along and embellish the melody. This makes the lyrics sound not as simple as they might read on a page, but they aren't being mocked.
13 seconds into the song we begin the sound effects: notes blown on a water jug, pouring, swallowing. And 50 seconds in we get
(according to legend, Paul McCartney) chewing on the back beat. Funny stuff, deployed tastefully, at just the right moment, like, well, the Ike Issacs Trio coming in behind Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, with piano, drums, and bass.
We have left the arena of big themes and sweeping visions for the smaller focus of stoned hippies at home, or at least a vision of stoned hippies at home. Or maybe just a quick peek. Vegetables builds quickly and carefully. No acid trip jam band noodling here.
30 second in we get an added layer of harmony. A minute and 20 seconds in we are at the a capella bridge, and by a minute and a half we are back to a link to Heroes and Villains. "I know that you'll feel better. . ." mirrors the a capella lead with a hummed background that comes two and a half minutes into Heroes and Villains with "I've been in this town so long . . "
We are now out of bop-esque and back to classic sincere Beach Boys mode. But here's the lyric in full: "I know that you'll feel better when you send us in a letter and tell us the name of your favorite vegetable." Absurd and charming. Sung as if it's the line from Surfer Girl, "In my woody I will take you everywhere I go." A comment on their own career, their own stance, and a comment on the emerging late sixties. Not a put-down, not false innocence, maybe a recognition of the complexity of innocence extended over time.
And then the couplet is repeated in a snippet out of the original version on Smile, with some of Smile's signature random background cacophony. Two minutes and eight seconds and we're finished. Returned to Smile, arriving from a different location. In these two minutes the Boys peel away the layers and in the process add some new ones.