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Song IconBeach Boys "Heroes and Villains"

About "Heroes and Villains"

"Heroes and Villains" is a song by the American rock band the Beach Boys from their 1967 album Smiley Smile and their unfinished Smile project. Written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Wilson envisioned the song as an Old West-themed musical comedy that would surpass the recording and artistic achievements of "Good Vibrations". The single was Brother Records' first release and failed to meet critical and commercial expectations, although it was a hit record, peaking at number 12 in the U.S. and number 8 in the UK.

The song was Wilson and Parks' first collaboration. Parks characterized the song as "historically reflective" and a "visual effort" that was meant to match the ballads of Marty Robbins. He said the lyrics were based on the early history of California, including references to the involvement of the Spanish and American Indians. Some accounts suggest that the song developed partly from a Wilson reworking of the standard "You Are My Sunshine". Early versions included sections with lyrics about farm animals ("Barnyard") and physical health ("I'm in Great Shape").

"Heroes and Villains" had the most complex making of any song in the band's history. Recording spanned virtually the entire Smile sessions as Wilson experimented with at least a dozen versions of the track, some of which ranged in length from six to eight minutes. Wilson discarded almost everything that was recorded, with expenses totaling around $40,000 (equivalent to $350,000 in 2022). Most of the final composite was produced in three days at his makeshift home studio. The chorus featured a theme that was cannibalized from another Smile track, "Do You Like Worms?".

Wilson's bandmates and associates later voiced dissatisfaction with the released version, believing that the mix was vastly inferior to his earlier, lengthier edits. Commentators blame the record's failure on the esoteric lyrics, the "muddy" sound quality, and the late timing of the release. It remains one of the lesser-known songs in the Beach Boys' catalog. For Wilson, the single's failure came to serve as a pivotal point in his psychological decline, and he adopted the song title as a term for his auditory hallucinations. In 2004, Wilson remade the song and its related pieces for Brian Wilson Presents Smile. In 2011, The Smile Sessions was released with an entire disc devoted to the song's original recording sessions.

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