Smile - Ghost Of A Smile

EricEric USA
edited November 2022 in Year-1997


ALBUM: Ghost Of A Smile
LABEL: Pseudonym
YEAR: 1997


LINEUP: Brian May - guitars, piano, vocals * Tim Staffell - bass, vocals * Roger Taylor - drums, vocals

Eddie Howell - 'The Man From Manhattan'
Eddie Howell - lead vocals, acoustic guitar * Freddie Mercury - piano, backing vocals * Brian May - lead guitar, backing vocals * Jerome Rimson - bass * Barry de Sousa - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Earth * 02 Step On Me * 03 Doin' Alright * 04 April Lady * 05 Blag * 06 Polar Bear * 07 The Man From Manhattan (orig) * 08 The Man From Manhattan (Back Again)


For those unfamiliar with the history of Queen, Smile was the late '60s band formed by guitarist Brian May following the break-up of his previous group 1984.

With Cornwall drummer Roger Taylor and bassist Tim Staffell, the power trio became quite popular on the London club and college circuit.

They opened shows for Yes, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Kippington Lodge (Nick Lowe's popsike outfit), Pink Floyd and underground favourites Mighty Baby while developing their own material.

Studio time was booked when they could afford it and the band even sent a demo to Apple Records for which Paul McCartney commented he liked their smiley face logo.

Eventually Smile scored a deal with Mercury Records, but it wasn't exactly an ideal arrangement. It was the American subsidiary of Mercury that signed the band, releasing the single 'Earth' which naturally disappeared without a trace.

All the while a friend of Tim Staffell's, one Freddie Bulsara was starting to nose around Smile's rehearsals setting the stage for what would become one of the most influential groups in rock history.

Released on the Dutch Pseudonym label, this is second time Smile material has been issued. In 1982, 'Getting' Smile' was released on LP on Mercury, but only in Japan.

Often bootlegged, it's hard to believe we had to wait until 1997 for another Smile comp and from Holland no less.

Just goes to show and much like The Beatles Apple organization, how the band's parent company Queen Productions is sadly out of touch when it comes to giving the fans what they really want.

Case in point, at the time of this review Queen is in the process of releasing yet another in a long line of meaningless 'best of' compilations with the clever title - 'Absolute Greatest'. It never ends..

The Songs

Recorded in June and September 1969, 'Ghost Of A Smile' is an eye opening listen for two reasons.

The first is Tim Staffell who turns out to be a confident vocalist, not all that far removed from Freddie Mercury actually, in particular on the bouncy 'Step On Me' which brings me to my second point that Smile had already laid the ground work for Queen stylistically.

While Freddie can be credited for beefing up the sound and adding a more experimental tone that was to come a few years down the road, Smile had plenty going for them.

It's not a surprise The American record company chose 'Earth' for a single with its cosmic themes fitting perfectly with the 'Age of Aquarius' playlists of the day, It's just too bad no one gave it a spin!

'Doin' Alright' famously appeared on the Queen debut and its surprising how little was changed from the original.

'April Lady' sung by Brian May with Roger Taylor chiming in on the chorus is the set's other winner, and although he didn't write it, it's a laid back tune very similar to cuts May would contribute to the early Queen albums.

By the way, May's orchestral guitar sound is all over the six tracks with a chance to stretch out on 'Blag' which is almost a precursor to 'Brighton Rock' from 1975's 'Sheer Heart Attack' opus.

I've never been too thrilled with 'Polar Bear', although Queen also demoed the song with Mercury on vocals and it's that version I prefer when all is said and done.

As a bonus to the Smile material, Pseudonym added the rare Freddie Mercury produced single 'The Man From Manhattan' by Eddie Howell as well as an alternate version. It's a good tune with shades of 'Killer Queen' and Brian May on guitar.

What happened to Howell is a mystery although I do know he released an LP prior to the single with Phil Collins and future Brand X members as back-up band.

An interesting curio as is Mercury's other shot at producing for 1978's very Queen-like 'Changeling' LP by Peter Straker which we plan on reviewing here at GDM in the future.

In Summary

Unfortunately this disc is long out of print and god only knows if any Smile material will find its way on CD again.

There is some rare black and white film footage of Smile performing at Royal Albert Hall that occasionally pops up on YouTube although it's extremely short and without sound.

While hardcore Queen fans will already have the Smile material in various forms, those with even a passing interest in the band's early days will find much to enjoy with 'Ghost Of A Smile'.

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