TL: The Beach Boys release SMiLE in 1967

OTL: For a good year long period between 1966 and 1967, Brian Wilson had been recording material for an album known as "SMiLE" as the follow up to the crtically acclaimed "Pet Sounds." The album was to carry on in the direction of the "Good Vibrations" single and many who heard the tapes said that it was way ahead of the curve of anything else in popular music. However, do the a myriad of reasons Brian cancelled the project outright, the only completed song from the sessions, "Heroes And Villains" was released as a semi-successful single and instead a new album, "Smiley Smile" was recorded in 3 weeks to get some product out there as quickly as possible. "SMilE" became the the most famous album never released until Brian Wilson released it as a solo album in 2004.

But what if:

On December 13th, 1966, a week after a particularly ugly dispute between himself and Van Dyke Parks regarding the song's lyrics during a session for "CabinEssence", Mike Love announces that he is leaving the Beach Boys in favor of a solo career. This is usually marked as the beginning of the end for Brian Wilson.

Finding a musical collaborator, Mike Love writes the lyrics for a feel-good single that sounds reminiscent of the group's "surf" phase, although lyrically somewhat more mature and with a bit more of a "rock" edge to it. Released in late February of 1967 with a cover for the B-side, the single peaks at #18 on the charts.

In the meanwhile, although emotionally crushed by his cousin's departure, Brian soldiers on with his project. While still maintaining his professionalism in the studio, his mental deterioration continues to progress at an alarming rate.

On (or possibly a day or two after) February 17th, Brian hears the new Beatles single "Strawberry Fields Forever" for the first time while driving his car. He is so taken aback bu what he hears that he pulls over his car to listen to it, remarking to his companion that The Beatles "Got there first."

Work on SMiLE abruptly shuts down for two weeks. At one point it seems that the entire album would never see the light of day. Fortunately, Brian, mentally hanging by a thread, is slowly coaxed back into the studio by the other Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks and several of his close friends. Although recording resumes by mid-March, the sessions are much more infrequent and cover less ground. The "Heroes And Villains" single is released in July like it was in "real life", also like the musical world we know, it peaks at #12 on the charts.

The "SMiLE" finally released on August 24th, 1967, one year and four months after the first recording session, has the same track listing as the one Brian Wilson released in 2004. Although Bob Dylan released the double album "Blonde on Blonde" a year previous, Capitol is extremely reluctant to release two LPs of new Beach Boys material. As a compromise, the fourth side is used as sort of mini greatest hits compilation, featuring six of the Beach Boys' most successful previous singles to help ensure sales. This goes through despite Brian's heavy objections. Mike Love's voice can be heard on about half of the tracks on the album.

The album receives huge amounts of praise from critics, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts. Follow up singles "Wonderful" and "Wind Chimes" peak at #9 and #15 respectively. Paul McCartney remarks in an interview his astonishment that Brian Wilson was actually able to top "Pet Sounds."

Despite all this, Brian still feels that the Beatles have won the musical war, the release of "Sargent Pepper's" in particular, leaving with barely enough wind in his sails to add the final few details to "SMiLE." He is completely and utterly defeated.

Much to surprise of everyone though, Brian begins work on a new song. "Can't Wait Too Long" is paired up SMiLE sessions reject "He Gives Speeches" for release as a single on December 4th, 1967. It reaches #19. In the meanwhile, the other Beach Boys have also been working on new songs as well as "Can't Wait Too Long"

On January 12th, 1968 the mental and emotional roller coaster Brian Wilson had been on for the past year comes to an abrupt and tragic end when he is found dead in his house. Investigators rule the cause of death as a suicide. The remaining Beach Boys are thrown into mourning and complete, utter chaos. Nobody knows what to do after this. The album that the group was working on, entitled "Wild Honey" (inspired by a comment Brian made once that it was a really good title for a song) is released in March. Obviously this album bears absolutely no resemblance to the "Wild Honey" we know, featuring 8 songs written by Al, Bruce, Carl and Dennis as well as "Can't Wait Too Long", "He Gives Speeches" and "Heroes And Villains" B-side "You're Welcome" to add some Brian songs and to fill out the album's length. It hits #28.

Feeling enormously guilty for not making amends with Brian before his death, Mike* does so with the other Beach Boys. The five of them decide to record the album "Friends" as a tribute in Brian's memory. Released at the tail end of 1968, the album is by far the saddest and most emotionally intense collection of songs in the Beach Boys catalog, even if it's somewhat uneven. It peaks at #64.

Afterwards, the Beach Boys continue to release albums with a couple fan favorites each release, but worse and worse sales figures. The group eventually disbands in 1973 with their final album "Holland." All the Beach Boys except Al hae sporadic solo careers afterwards. In 2003, Rolling Stone names SMiLE #1 on it's list of Greatest Albums of all time. "Pet Sounds" is #3 and "Today!" is #91.

Holy crap I spent too much time writing this.

*by the way, his solo career didn't go very far after that first hit. Maybe a couple more singles barely hit the top 40 and an album that goes nowhere.

**Blondie Chaplain and Ricky Faatar still appear on the last two albums if you were wondering.