Brian Wilson is a founder of the Beach Boys and one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Those facts are indisputable.
But that doesn’t mean that everything he’s done has had the Midas touch — or even good taste. Anyone with such a large body of work would have their fair share of less-than-stellar examples, or at least, things that are out of place. Think Bob Dylan’s Christian phase or country superstar Garth Brook’s bizarre alter ego, the R&B singer, “Chris Gaines.”
And yet, somehow “former Beach Boy attempts rap” takes the cake. It almost feels like a prompt you’d give to AI, just to see how strange the result would be.
And it happened…sort of.
By the 80s, rap and hip-hop were taking the music world by storm. It stopped being an underground movement, started to grow its share of hits, and even more importantly, became a weight in the cultural landscape.
For better or worse, once a new trend gains momentum, we see a lot of legacy acts trying to catch up. It happened a decade earlier with disco.
Still, rap feels like a completely different beast. It worked for some, like the legendary collaboration between Aerosmith and Run DMC for Walk This Way. It may not have worked, though, for the Beach Boys
This wasn’t the first time these eternal Californian idols were involved in hip-hop. That honor would go to their 1987 collaboration on The Fat Boys’ version of the surf rock classic Wipe Out.
The song was actually a hit (reaching 12 on the Billboard 100) and not only in America (number 2 in the UK, number 3 in Ireland, and a top 20 in Belgium and The Netherlands)
Stories about Brian Wilson’s controlling former psychologist Eugene Landy are legend. When Wilson needed help the most, he found nothing but abuse and bizarre career derailments rooted in greed. So it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the strangest songs by anyone involved in the band was produced by Landy himself, as he sought to capitalize on rap and hip-hop.
Let’s talk about Smart Girls.
Recorded in August of 1990, the song was a weird pastiche of self-references, inside jokes, and samples of previous songs, with a notorious theme of Wilson’s infatuation with smart girls, roasting his past body of work and confessing to a shallow appreciation of women.
It wasn’t part of any official album. Instead, produced by Wilson and Landy, it was released on 1991’s Sweet Insanity, an album ultimately rejected by Sire Records. How was it then available to the public? According to Wilson, the master tapes were stolen, and some songs ended up on numerous bootlegs. The reactions of both critics and the audience were less than favorable, with the rap song being a special point of “WTF?” attention.
However, there are some apologists for Wilson’s wild detour. Author and Musician Jason Hartley wrote in his book The Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time?, “What is important was that Wilson was embracing rap when many older rockers thought that rap wasn’t real music. As ridiculous as ‘Smart Girls’ may seem to you today, at the very least, Brian Wilson was on the right side of history.”
Photo: Brian Wilson (public domain)