Our Prayer The best piece of evidence that The Beach Boys were and always will be the best vocal group in pop music. Without any instruments and with a lyric consisting of just oh's, ah's and hmm's, this is as heavenly as music will ever get.
Gee A short rendition of the 1953 doo-wop classic by The Crows, combined with an even shorter 'Heroes and Villains' prelude. I don't really see the point of this little fragment.
Heroes and Villains A pretty spectaculair psychedelic western adventure, and the "theme song" of the album. Despite consisting of no less than nine (!) different sections it's surprisingly catchy and accessible.
Do You Like Worms Possibly the weirdest song on the whole album. Combines lazy group vocals with Hawaiian chants, harpsichord and a ghostly 'Heroes and Villains' section that keeps returning.
I'm in Great Shape Another short fragment, clocking in at less than half a minute. No vocals were ever recorded, so a raw demo vocal was flown in. It sounds too rough and unnatural.
Barnyard A funny little song, also less than a minute long. Love the funny Donald Duck-voice in the animal sounds. Again, the raw demo vocal should have been left off.
The Old Master Painter Yet another very short and very strange piece of music. This is a mini-medley of a cello rendition of the evergreen 'The Old Master Painter', a very melancholic version of 'You Are My Sunshine' and yet another short 'Heroes and Villains' reprise. If you've got a conservative taste in music and not much tolerance for a bit of madness, you probably have stopped listening right about now.
Cabin Essence Finally another "real", full song. 'Cabin Essence' is one of the highlights of the album, pure genius. Consists of three very different sections: the very laid-back and peaceful 'Home on the Range' section (which has a great campfire-ish feel with the banjo, dobro and harmonica), the 'Who Ran the Iron Horse' section (which comes chugging by like a psychedelic steam locomotive) and the mysterious and dreamy 'Grand Coolie' tag. Listen closely to the second chorus for a remarkable surprise: you can hear Dennis Wilson softly sing an entirely different lyric throughout. This song features some of Van Dyke Parks's best lyrics ever. His words often seemed to make very little sense, but nobody can paint more magical atmospheres and mental images with words.
Wonderful Beautiful harpsichord-driven ballad with so many key changes that in theory, this song shouldn't work. But somehow it does. And how.
Look A very upbeat, bouncy tune that combines elements from both the preceding and the following track, making it more of a link between the two than a song in it's own right.
Child is Father of the Man A somewhat mysterious (and frustratringly incomplete) prelude to 'Surf's Up'. Also not much of a song in it's own right, but just like 'Look' it serves a purpose. 'Look' and 'Child...' link 'Wonderful' and 'Surf's Up', two of the greatest songs on the album, together by gradually "morphing" from one to the other. Together these four tracks form easily the most impressive part of the album.
Surf's Up 'God Only Knows' is the most beautiful song ever made by The Beach Boys (or really by anyone, for that matter), but the magical and majestic 'Surf's Up' comes pretty darn close. Probably Van Dyke Parks's very best lyrics. 'Surf's Up' was released in 1971 on the album with the same name, the version on 'The Smile Sessions' is different. Carl's 1971 lead vocal on the first section has been replaced, for historical reasons, by a 1966 demo vocal from Brian.
I Wanna Be Around/Workshop Another weird little medley, which for some reason links a piece of mellow lounge jazz with a hectic and noisy workshop sounds.
Vega-Tables A relatively sparse backing track, incredibly weird lyrics, raw vegetables being chewed for percussive effect, great and highly creative group vocals and overall an incredibly catchy tune.
Holidays One of the most bouncy and cheerful pieces on the album. The eerie vocal tag is a nice, unexpected touch.
Wind Chimes A strange yet breathtakingly beautiful ode to wind chimes, with Carl Wilson's breathy voice serving as the wind and the marimba as the melodic wind chimes.
The Elements: Fire A very dark and threatening sounding piece of music. Listen to this on high volume and you might understand why this song scared the sh*t out of it's own creator once it was finished.
Love to Say Dada After Brian managed to make a song sound like fire, he also made a song sound like water.
Good Vibrations An extended version of the classic #1 hit single, with an added section and some "new" overdubs. This might be like rewriting history, but since the added "hum de hum" section also appeared on Brian's 2004 version of 'Smile', it doesn't even sound all that unnatural.