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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys Names ‘One of the Greatest Collaborations [He’s] Ever Done’

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The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson included “Heroes and Villains” as one of his favorite original songs, even calling the Smiley Smile track “one of the greatest collaborations ever done.” Here’s what we know about this song, co-written by Wilson and Van Dyke Parks.

Brian Wilson is a songwriter and founding member of the Beach Boys

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys performs at the Roxy Theater
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys performs at the Roxy Theater | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The original Beach Boys members included brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine.

Sometimes Brian Wilson partnered with other Beach Boys members to write originals for the group. That includes songs for the 1967 release Smiley Smile.

Brian Wilson named ‘Heroes and Villains’ as one of his favorite original songs 

As one of the songwriters for the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson penned tracks like “In My Room,” “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” and “God Only Knows.” Fitting with the Beach Boys theme, Wilson wrote “Surf’s Up” on a piano situated in a sandbox. One of his favorite originals was also written in that sandbox — Smiley Smile’s “Heroes and Villains.”

“‘Heroes and Villains’ was written in the sandbox, too,” Wilson said during an interview with Esquire. “That one’s one of the greatest collaborations ever done. It really was. That was me and Van Dyke again, and it feels like almost a couple of different songs put together.” 

“Do I remember coming up with the idea to put different pieces together? No, I don’t,” he added. “It’s been too long to remember. Today’s technology—Pro Tools—would have been handy, for sure, because that song was recorded several times and the record was pieced together from different takes.”

Now “Heroes and Villains” holds over 15 million Spotify plays, making it one of the most popular tracks from Smiley Smile. “Heroes and Villains” was originally intended as a track on SMiLE, the surf rock group’s unfinished album.

Van Dyke Parks shared his perspective on creating ‘Heroes and Villains’ 

According to Genius, listeners at the time connected this song to the Vietnam War, citing lyrics like “Once at night Catillian squared the fight / And she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down.” Although he was not an official Beach Boys member, Parks detailed his experience writing the Smiley Smile track.

“‘Heroes And Villains’ had nothing to do with Vietnam, but with the Indian thing we were trying to exculpate our guilt, to atone for what we had done to the aborigines of our own place…,” Van Dyke Parks said for Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece. 

“To me, ‘Heroes And Villains’ sounds like a ballad out of the Southwest,” he continued. “That’s what it was intended to be—as good as any of those—and, really, to be a ballad. This Spanish and Indian fascination is a big chapter in Californian history, and that’s what it’s supposed to be—historically reflective, to reflect this place. I think it did it.”

RELATED: The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson Explains How His Music Arrangements Are Different From Paul McCartney

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