Smile were a London-based blues rock band best known as the predecessor to renowned rock band Queen. The band was formed in 1968 by Brian May, who was to become Queen's guitarist. It included Tim Staffell as singer and bassist, and later, drummer Roger Taylor, who also went on to play for Queen. They recorded only six songs and disbanded in 1970.
In 1968, Brian May, a student at London's Imperial College, and Tim Staffell formed a group when May placed an advertisement on the college notice board for a "Ginger Baker type" drummer, and a young medical student named Roger Taylor auditioned and got the job. Smile were signed to Mercury Records in 1969, and had their first experience of a recording studio in Trident Studios that year. Staffell was attending Ealing Art College with Farrokh ("Freddie") Bulsara (Freddie Mercury), and introduced him to the band. Bulsara soon became a keen fan.
The group's biggest public performance was on 27 February 1969 at the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child. Held at the Royal Albert Hall, May, Taylor and Staffell performed as a trio on guitar, drums and bass respectively. Keyboardist Chris Smith had been fired the day before, according to Staffell. (According to Smith, he was only briefly in the band and left of his own accord because he was interested in different styles.)
Smile gigged quite a bit on the London scene, according to Time Out's listings. On 19 April, they played at the Speakeasy and on 31 May, appeared at the Whisky a Go Go.
In March 1969, the band played at a venue known as PJ's, using claims to have previously been played on BBC Radio 1 to secure an audience. It seems likely that the claims were fictitious, however. Shortly after they were given a one-off recording deal by Mercury Records to record three tracks, "Earth" (Staffell), "Step on Me" (May), and "Doin' All Right" (May/Staffell).
These were recorded in June 1969 at Trident Studios in Soho.
Ultimately this US promotional recording was never published commercially, however, in September of the same year, Mercury Records commissioned them to record three more songs: "April Lady" (Stanley Lucas), "Blag", a May instrumental, and "Polar Bear", a "gentle song about a polar bear" written and led by May, at De Lane Lea Studios. Again, the record was not released at the time.
When Staffell left in 1970 to join another band, Humpy Bong, Smile effectively disbanded. Bulsara persuaded May and Taylor to continue, and at about the same time, changing his surname to Mercury, joined the band as lead vocalist, from which emerged "Queen". This new band tried a number of bass players during this period, namely Mike Grose, Barry Mitchell and Doug Bogie, none of which fitted with the band's chemistry. It was not until February 1971 that John Deacon completed the lineup, and they began rehearsing for their first album. This definitive lineup lasted until Mercury's death in 1991.
For their debut album, Queen recorded "Doing All Right". According to the book "Queen: The Early Years", Staffell has been well compensated through royalties from the sale of the album, given his co-songwriting credit for the song with May. Queen also recorded the song for their first BBC recording session with John Peel. That session, along with their third session, have been released in the UK as At the Beeb (Band of Joy Records) in 1989, and in the U.S. as Queen at the BBC (Hollywood Records) in 1995. Also in 1995, Queen issued their "Let Me Live" singles, one of which features three of the first session BBC recordings, including "Doing Alright".
Smile reunited for several songs on 22 December 1992. Taylor's band The Cross were headliners and he brought May and Staffell on to play "Earth" and "If I Were a Carpenter".May also performed several other songs that night.
Two legitimate releases of the six Smile tracks have since been issued:
Gettin' Smile (LP) from Japan, released 23 September 1982, on Mercury Records. The sleeve contains notoriously inaccurate lyrics and songwriting credits for the songs. This release was used for all subsequent bootlegs which contain the songs.
Ghost of a Smile (CD) from Holland, released in 1997, on Pseudonym Records. The CD booklet is comprehensive and features new liner notes by Staffell. All the tracks were newly remastered. The album also features two versions of the Eddie Howell/Freddie Mercury collaboration "The Man from Manhattan" (no relation to Smile, except that May plays guitar on it).
There is a bootleg album of their early tracks circa the Smile-era titled Pre-Ordained. Most of them also appeared on the 1995 Italian bootleg In Nuce.