"Child is Father of The Man"
Another great mystery of SMiLE is "Child is Father of the Man"-- not because of some long-lasting and heated debate about it's logistics, but the fact that it was a key song that was simply never completed in 1966. A great skeleton of a song that could have been classic Brian Wilson at his creative height, we will never know Brian's original intentions of how a completed "Child is Father of The Man" would have sounded.
"Child is Father of the Man" was initially tracked on October 7th, 1966, again in two sections: the verse and a chorus. While the chorus was identical to it's remake the following week, this early verse was very different and rather uptempo. Four days later, Brian returned to the studio and recut the song from scratch, after completely rewriting the verse into something more serene and introspective, and composing a brand new third section: an ominous-sounding bridge. At the end of the session, Brian created a three-minute test edit of the completed instrumental track, which featured the structure:
chorus / verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / half of a chorus
Assumed to be completed, the backing track laid dormant until receiving vocal overdubs two months later. On December 2nd and 6th, The Beach Boys overdubbed their group vocals to the chorus. The mastertapes to these vocal overdubs have since been lost, and all known versions are sourced from a pair of mono acetates, each featuring a different set of vocal overdubs to the chorus. No other vocals were ever recorded for the song. Brian wrapped up these vocal sessions with several test edits that featured the vocal-overdubbed chorus paired with different orders of the verse and the bridge, as if he was unsure how the structure should be, second guessing his three-minute standard pop song structure from October. Work on the song ceased when Brian's focus went strictly to "Heroes and Villains" in January.
Yet curiously the group returned to the song on April 10th, 1967, during a session devoted to recording "Vege-Tables". The brief, sparse take featured only piano and group vocals, again of only the chorus. It's unknown why and for what this was recorded: if it was meant as a demo, the start of a proper remake, or maybe a new section of "Vege-Tables" reapproprioated from "Child is the Father of The Man". Surely, it was not logged under the "Vege-Tables" master number (this new "Child" didn't have a master number at all), the session was logged as "Tune X" (a completely separate and seemingly unrelated March 1967 recording of a Carl Wilson original) and slated as "Nowhere". Very mysterious.
Echoes of the lost "Child is Father of the Man" were found later, with elements of it's melody appearing in "Little Bird" from 1968's Friends as well as the lyrics famously overlayed on top of the outro of the completed "Surf's Up" on that album in 1971 (more on that later). Other than that, nothing was heard or known.
With no lyrics barring a chorus and a structure only defined by Brian's October 7th test edit, SMiLE aficionados eagerly awaited how the song would emerge on Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. We were of course not disappointed... The song was debuted with new verse lyrics written in 2003 by Van Dyke Parks specifically for the project, with a concise structure: instrumental verse / chorus / verse / bridge
Yet for The SMiLE Sessions box set, it's reconstruction on disc 1 featured a revised structure: April 10th chorus / bridge / chorus / verse / chorus