About Smile

Five years before the first Queen album was released, half of that future supergroup worked together in Smile, a hard rock outfit that played in the London and Cornwall area in the late '60s. Although the band never was able to commercially release any of their work during their 18-month existence, they did record six songs which finally saw domestic release in 1997 on the album Ghost of a Smile. Smile was formed at Imperial College in Kensington, London, in late 1968. Students Brian May (guitar) and Tim Staffell (bass, vocals) had previously worked together in the band 1984. After that group broke up, the two put an ad up on a school bulletin board looking for a "Ginger Baker/Mitch Mitchell-type drummer." Roger Taylor, who had previously sung lead vocals in the Reaction, was the best of those who auditioned and the new trio christened themselves Smile. Staffell designed a logo for the group which was a pair of large grinning red lips with glimmering white teeth and the band started gigging at Imperial College in October 1968. In early 1969, Smile supported such recently established acts as Pink Floyd and Yes and in February they even played a supporting gig at Royal Albert Hall in London. Focusing mostly on hard rock covers, the group would extend the songs they played to lengths of up to 20 minutes, changing tempos frequently. The group's reputation soon grew and Smile became Imperial College's house band. In the Cornwall area, where Roger Taylor grew up, the band also developed a solid fan base. At one of their gigs in April 1969, Smile were approached by an A&R man from Mercury Records America who offered them a deal to record a single. Lacking much original material, the band chose to record a Tim Staffell-penned track called "Earth," and backed it with "Step on Me," which had its birth with 1984. The group put down the tracks in June 1969, but Mercury ended up only pressing promotional copies of the single. However, the label retained enough interest in the group to book more studio time for them in September 1969. At De Lane Lea studios, Smile laid down three more songs, all originals, including "Doin' Alright," which was later performed by Queen. However, Staffell was beginning to lose interest in the group and became more attracted to American music. Meanwhile, May's astronomical studies at college were taking him away from the band for weeks at an end. Staffell left Smile in early 1970 and was replaced as vocalist by the flamboyant Freddie Mercury, who had been hanging around with the group for a couple years while also working in his own bands. Smile also added a new bass player, Mike Grose, and continued to perform sporadic gigs. Mercury had definite ideas of the directions where the band should go and by July 1970, Smile had been renamed Queen. Staffell later joined Humpty Bang who released on single, "Don't Be Too Long," and performed on Top of the Pops. He later joined the bands Outside and Morgan. The first commercial release of Smile material was a Japanese compilation that came out on record in 1982. Ghost of a Smile, released in 1997, finally saw the band's complete output released on an easily accessible compact disc. ~ Geoff Orens

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