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Credit: Kyono

Music

Exploring Brian Wilson’s appalling rap song

@TomTaylorFO

Nobody said that great music was about consistency, but every now and again you come across a legendary artist doling out something so inexplicably appalling that it manages to test your grip on reality, in such a way that a David Lynch directed Jean-Paul Sartre biopic could only dream of achieving.

Granted, every artist has the occasional misstep, for instance, I am still yet to find anyone who extols a defence for Lou Reed’s collaboration with Metallica who actually listens to it regularly, and there is no doubt that even the near-unrivalled David Bowie waxed and waned throughout his career. And yet, these are merely artistic misfires that you can at least get your head around; you could even argue they exhibit the creative daring that all great artists need, or perhaps you can take a more platitude laden path and say that it shows even our heroes are fallible. 

However, when it comes to aural defecations of the bewildering magnitude of Brian Wilson’s ode to intelligent women with ‘Smart Girls’ there is no logical explanation for its existence. Bear in mind, before you listen to this track and leaf through the rest of its assessment and analysis below, that this effort not only comes from a musical great who undoubtedly changed the world with pioneering stereo-sound techniques and superb songwriting but that it has also been approved by countless people in his musical circle. 

Granted, the track was a release from his ‘unofficial’ album Sweet Insanity, which was produced by Wilson’s former psychologists Eugene Landy and Matt Dike, but why did it have to see the light of day? It would seem that Wilson simply wanted to express his love for intelligent women and disavow his previous Beach Boys efforts that he now deemed superficial. The former Beach Boy would later comment: “Yeah, we were just having a good time. Yeah, it was fun. We were just kidding.”

As it happens, the year was 1991 and hip hop was no longer the new thing on the block, it had mutated into a ubiquitous mainstream beast. Rather than simply throw down a cheesy few bars for a hip middle eight, Wilson decided he go full-on four-minute avant-garde rap montage. Hellfire, it’s certainly something to behold, but by the end, you’re actually dreaming of some banal tonic. 

The author and musician Jason Hartley would later comment: “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.” It is hard to be certain whether Hartley has actually heard the track. Not only was rap already becoming a charting mainstay, but you can champion something without trying your hand at it and ‘Smart Girls’ is proof that appreciation may well have been better than appropriation. 

Over the course of the song, his infatuation with intelligent women proves unabating. He rattles off lines such as, “Wouldn’t it be nice if PhD’s were stroking me with hypothesises?” and “Sexy ladies with high IQ’s,” in a manic maelstrom of horniness on a higher plane. It is a piece of musical madness that will forever evade any sensible reconciliation and yet you may well find yourself going back to it over the years, perhaps just to check it definitely exists, or perhaps because Wilson has an ear like no other songwriter.