Few Americans know that the Smile album was actually released in Mexico in 1967! In December of 1966, Brian Wilson departed on a course in rock and roll history that few would ever travel, and even fewer knew of. I'm talking of the Mexico only release of "Smile for me Flaco", Brian's psychedelic-mariachi masterpiece. It is the ONLY known recording of this musical hybrid, dubbed MARIACHEDELIC. Brian was once again a trendsetter, with this album pre-dating Paul Simon's ethnic rock album, Graceland, by at least a few decades.
Recently, Tomas Jiminez, the grandson of mariachi legend Flaco Jiminez, found a copy of this rare record while browsing his grandfather's record collection. Tomas, who is fond of American rock and roll, begged his grandfather to tell the story. Besides the actual Mexican Smile album, Flaco showed Tomas a few more relics from this little known area of rock history. In his collection of memorabilia was a memo from Capitol Records Mexico to all retail outlets, announcing the album. Also, a promotional poster from the album dating from 1967. Most importantly, was Flaco's handwritten synopsis of Smile. It seems that Flaco wrote down meticulous notes from Brian's quotes on the Mexican Smile album as they were working on it. Since Flaco was Brian's partner on this project, in effect his Mexican Van Dyke Parks, we wanted to be able to translate the story of the songs to the mariachi musicians who were doing overdubs. Since they didn't speak english, Flaco had to translate, giving us a very special glimpse into the Mexican Smile album.
Tomas interviewed Flaco Jiminez and taped the conversation, giving us a very special view of what went on in Mexico in the final days of 1966. It was originally in Spanish, and Tomas has gratefully translated it to English. It seems that Brian translated many of the original Smile themes to his 'Spanish Smile'. For example, "Do You Like Worms" is a musical journey through the history of Mexico, not America. Some characters have remained, becoming larger roles in the story, such as the beautiful dancer, Marguaritte. The American character of 'Barnyard Billy' is now 'Ranch hand William'.
So, sit back, have a margarita and listen to the fascinating tale of the mysterious, missing, Mexican Smile album.
Right: Rare promo poster of the Mexican Smile album
Interview with Flaco Jiminez, translated by Tomas Jiminez, January 2001.
TOMAS: How did you come to work with Brian Wilson on the Mexican Smile album?
FLACO JIMINEZ: I got a telegram from Mr. Wilson asking if I wanted to work on an album with him. It seems that the other members of the Beach Boys did not like his new songs. Plus, there was a lawsuit with Capitol records in America. He said his new songs were really unique and that he wanted to blend Mexican mariachi with them. I was already a hit in Mexico with my music, but I was fascinated by this new psychedelic music he kept talking about. Oh, and it was Senior Parks who recommended me to Brian?
TOMAS: Van Dyke Parks?
FLACO JIMINEZ: Yes, he had heard of my music.
TOMAS: When did you two start working together?
FLACO JIMINEZ: I think it was December of 1966 that I received his telegram. He flew over around mid-December to start work on the new album in my studios in Monterrey, Mexico.
TOMAS: So, you helped him with lyrics as well as lining up mariachi session players for the overdubs?
FLACO JIMINEZ: In two weeks we had it done. One week for the lyrics and one week for the actual sessions. We simply used mariachi players that had worked on my albums. The basic tracks were really almost finished. We just overdubbed the mariachi music to them.
TOMAS: Did he already have the story line?
FLACO JIMINEZ: Correct. His story was, how do you say, "too American"? So we worked on the lyrics for about a week, transferring the story to Mexico. He already had the character of Marguaritte, so we just expanded on her role in the tale.
TOMAS: Why did Brian decide to release a different version of Smile in Mexico?
FLACO JIMINEZ: Like I said, the problems with the other members of the Beach Boys and the lawsuit with Capitol in America. For years, Capitol records in Mexico had released its own versions of Beatles albums with different covers and song selections. Brian was so excited about his new songs, it just broke his heart that they couldn't be heard immediately! So, to use a record label term, it was a 'test market'.
Left: The cover of the Mexican Smile album. Note the similarities to the American version and the dancing Marguaritte.
TOMAS: So the album actually came out in Mexico? How many copies were printed?
FLACO JIMINEZ: The Mexican Capitol factories printed 10,000 copies of the album. But, as the copies were being transported via boat, the boat was hijacked by Mexican drug lords, who had mistaken the boat for a drug shipment boat. They were halfway to Columbia when they realized their mistake and dumped the entire contents into the jungles off the shore. By this time, the country had been plastered with promotional posters! So, you can imagine my disappointment when the album was not re-pressed.
TOMAS: Why wasn't the album re-pressed after all the copies were stolen?
FLACO JIMINEZ: Well, Capitol of Mexico did not have the money like Capitol of the United States. That was a lot of money in those days. So, they decided to cut their losses. Luckily, I got an advance copy of the album, which turned out to be the only one that survives today. As for the original albums in the jungle…they are still there, probably still in their original crates. But the jungle has probably covered them by now, so it would be very hard to find.
TOMAS: What about the artwork for the album? How did that come about?
FLACO JIMINEZ: Brian changed the title to "Smile for me Flaco" in a sort of tribute to me. As for the new cover, we knew of a local artist from the market, the same one sung about in the song "Black Velvet Painter". We showed him the original cover from America and he modified it to a Mexican theme. If you notice, Marguaritte is dancing on the cover! We used a picture of the session mariachi players on the back of the album. They even included the 12-page booklet from America since it was only pictures, very little English.
TOMAS: Having the only copy left, did anyone ever try and buy it from you?
FLACO JIMINEZ: I got tired of repeated calls from Mike Love. That American really annoys me! So, I donated my copy to a place that he couldn't get his hands on it. What is funny is that Mike Love has funded several expeditions into the jungle to search for the lost albums! But, it is like the Spanish search for El Dorado, he will never find it.
TOMAS: Where is your copy of the Mexican Smile album now?
FLACO JIMINEZ: I donated it to the 'Hard Rock Café' in Cancun. They play it all the time there, it is really quite the local hit! It really makes me smile seeing these tourists groove to the psychedelic mariachi music we did so many years ago. Someone even made a bootleg cassette of the album and much to my surprise "Vegatables Market" has become quite the underground hit in the market places around Mexico!
Right: Back cover of the Mexican Smile album with the list of songs.
TOMAS: The most interesting part of this story is that you were privy to the actual story line and track lineup for the Mexican Smile album. I know you took notes to translate to the Spanish speaking mariachi session musicians. Can you tell me the storyline?
FLACO JIMINEZ: Ah, the storyline? Yes, I took notes so I could translate the songs to the session men. You see, they spoke no English. The album starts with "Do You Like Worms in your tequila", which is a musical journey through the history of Mexico. From the first landing of Columbus, to the conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez, through the Spanish occupation, to the Mexican Revolution, finally to the adventures of Pancho Villa. "Heroes and Villains" really opens the story. It is where our hero, 'Ranch Hand William', first meets Marguaritte. Marguaritte's father owns the largest ranch in town. But a fight breaks out when Pancho Villa's men get too rowdy and drunk and the couple are separated! In "Wonderful", Williams dreams of Marguaritte. "Ranch Essence" describes life on the ranch in a picturesque way. The story continues in "I'm in Great shape (until I drank the water)" in which the nightwatchman at Marguaritte's family ranch gets drunk and falls asleep on his watch.
A fire begins in the barn and so begins, "The Elements Featuring Mrs. Lopez's Cow". The whole ranch burns down, leaving Marguaritte's family destitute. William wanders the markets, hoping to catch a glimpse of Marguaritte. The next three songs describe the market place: "Black Velvet Painter", "Vegatables Market" and "Windchimes (for tourists)". Not finding her, William wanders to the local Cathedral to seek out a padre for advice. "Our Prayer" begins. "Child is the father to the man" represents the padre's advice to William.
William returns to the saloon. While there he notices the town drunk, old Don Juan. Don Juan was a rodeo star in his day. William also noticed a poster on the wall for the rodeo contest. A prize of 10,000 pesos! With that prize money he could rebuild the burnt out ranch and win Marguaritte's love! He asked Don Juan, 'would he teach him the secrets of rodeo?' Seeing his chance for further glories, Don Juan agreed to teach William. First, he must learn of the bull, its vibrations. So starts, "Good Vibrations". Williams' training is represented in "Rodeo Rider". "Rodeo's Up" starts as the day finally arrives and William participates in the rodeo, winning the grand prize! "You're Welcome" ends the story as Marguaritte thanks William and William in turn thanks Don Juan.
It's a long story, but it tells of love and the proud history of Mexico!
FAQ about the Mexican SMiLE Album
Left: Copy of the Mexican Smile memo from Capitol
Here is the memo sent out to Capitol retailers in Mexico in late 1966:Nota de los expedientes de Capitol de México a todas las distribuidores al por menor:
La " sonrisa para mí Flaco " es el nombre del álbum nuevo de Brian Wilson y Flaco Jiminez, que release/versión en enero de 1967 por Capitol de México. Y con una cubierta feliz del álbum, los sonidos realmente felices interiores y un feliz en pedazo de la visualización del mercado - usted no puede faltar. Somos seguros vender 10.000 copias en enero!
Morales del matón, presidente de los expedientes de Capitol, México
Here is the translation:
Memo from Capitol Records of Mexico to all retail distributors:
"Smile for me Flaco" is the name of the new album by Brian Wilson and Flaco Jiminez, which will be released in January of 1967 by Capitol of Mexico. And with a happy album cover, the really happy sounds inside and a happy in market display piece - you can't miss. We're sure to sell 10,000 copies in January!
Hector Morales, President of Capitol Records, Mexico.
Using the songs listed on the back cover, we come up with the following songs and their translations:
usted tienen gusto de gusanos en su tequila? - Do You Like Worms in your tequila? héroes y bandidos - Heroes and Villains maravilloso - Wonderful Ranchessence esencia del rancho - Ranch Essence Estoy en gran dimensión de una variable (hasta que bebí el agua) - I'm in Great shape (until I drank the water) Los Elementos Que ofrecen A Vaca De Señora Lopez - The Elements Featuring Mrs. Lopez's Cow Pintor Negro Del Terciopelo - Black Velvet Painter Mercado de Vegatable - Vegatables Market carillones del viento (para los turistas) - Windchimes (for tourists) Nuestro Rezo - Our Prayer El niño es el padre al hombre - Child is the father to the man Buenas Vibraciones - Good Vibrations Jinete De Rodeo - Rodeo Rider el rodeo está para arriba! - Rodeo's Up Usted Es Agradable - You're Welcome