Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley?


One day I found myself looking for obscure "glam rock" compilations on Amazon UK and the "customers who bought this" recommendation led me to an album called "Breathlessly Brett" an LP originally recorded in the mid-1970s -- but not released until 2003 -- by a then teenage performer named Brett Smiley. It seldom left my CD player for the next month.

I'd never heard of Brett Smiley before, but when I did a search on him, an interesting story emerged. Smiley was just 16 years old when he was discovered by Rolling Stones manager Andew Loog Oldham. At 18, he was given a $200,000 recording deal and recorded an album, produced by Oldham and with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces on guitar. An amazingly raucous single "Va Va Va Voom" was released and heavily hyped with Smiley's face appearing in ads all over London and in an extremely over the top performance and interview on the popular Russell Harty Plus TV program.

The single bombed, the album was shelved and other than a few brief film cameos (like "American Gigolo") Smiley wasn't heard from again until 2003 when RPM records acquired the master tapes. The sad truth was the Smiley wallowed in serious, skid row drug addiction for years. His legend proved strongly intriguing for glam rock fans and Johnny Thunders biographer, Nina Antonina, wrote a book, The Prettiest Star: What Ever Happened to Brett Smiley about how Smiley's brief pop supernova moment influenced her teenaged years.

Now recovered from the drug excesses of his past, Smiley continues to record and perform, mostly around New York City.

The Russell Harty clip features Smiley performing his Ziggy-influenced "Space Ace" (the "Va Va Va Voom" B-side) and it's pretty incredible if you like this sort of thing. (Turn the sound up really loud as the audio sounds weaker than the CD version) "Space Ace" performance

(Richard Metzger is guest blogger.)



  1. The most random thing about this whole post is the comments on that last youtube video:

    “Is this the same Brett Smiley who had a real pretty sister named Donela, and who was an understudy for the lead in “Oliver”, and who briefly lived at 301 East 52 Street, and who stole the show at the Kips Bay Boys Club Christmas show in (roughly) 1964?”

    “Yes, the very one. I’m a friend of Brett’s, are YOU a friend of Brett’s from the past? Give me a private message and we’ll chat!”

    The internets, it really is a small world (after all).

  2. #5 Jim

    It is a lot like Velvet Goldmine, but that story is more based on the career of one Jobriath Boone (everyone says Bowie and Bolan, but it’s more Jobriath than either of them). I didn’t really like Velvet Goldmine too much myself, but the attention to detail in that film was amazing. There are two places in the film where you see the album covers of the Maxwell Demon character and both of them are based on the cover art of the 2 Jobriath LPs.


  3. The book cover, the linked video, the myspace page…

    So full of wrong.

    I was just going to walk away and not reply, but then it popped up again in my RSS reader after I deleted it.

    Please can I have a unicorn chaser now?

  4. Having lived through this era of music the simple fact is like #2 stated, a lot of this “unknown” music was not very good, most good music from this era is already too well known, and played way too much still, not making room for others to show their innovation and talent.
    There is a reason it wasn’t popular way back when. No one is going to find a hidden trove of under appreciated artists from the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s.
    The cream rises to the top, the rest is sour milk.

  5. I totally see the Hedwig connection.(HUGE fan.) But, alas, I’ve not seen Velvet Goldmine… Did they name the movie that in tribute to the VU? I love the band, Lou Reed, etc. I guess not as much as my neighbor, though. She supposedly has a Lou Reed tatoo. I never heard that crazy album you were talking about a few days ago. But I really love the album that has the song, “Sex With Your Parents.” It is a f’d-up title, but I love that song and the rest of that album. Anyway, thanks Richard, I will have to give this Brett Smiley a listen. Maybe his (her?) music doesn’t stand up to the best of the music from the 60’s and 70’s, but- neither did Hedwig’s music! That is part of the charm, right?

  6. #8 Atomicelroy

    I strongly disagree. True that most “failed” acts had but one album or a couple of singles they left behind, but there are PLENTY of obscure artists still left to discover from the 60s, 70s, and 80s that put out several records that have still not made it to CD (and probably never will).

    Not to get into a pissing match with you or anything, what about bands like The Poets, known as “the Scottish Rolling Stones” or the single-named one hit wonder Keith, who put out two great lite-pop records and one insanely overblown psychedelic concept album? Other acts that come to mind are long-forgotten figures like PJ Proby or Vince Taylor (the main inspiration for Ziggy Stardust). Barbara Streisand’s younger sister Rosalind Kind put out two amazing albums in the 60s that sound like a female Scott Walker, etc, etc, etc. 60s electronic noise bands like Cauldron or White Noise? Soul singer Jon Lucien. Jobriath Boone who someone has already brought up in this thread. Reggae artists like Joe Higgs (“Life of Contradiction” –a great musical masterpiece– was out of print for 33 years!) or the recently departed Alton Ellis (the Smokey Robinson of reggae as I like to think). Even Big Youth was out of print for years. (And what about Jandek? Well… he’s not exactly *good* I suppose)

    My favorite example of a (nearly) forgotten band returning like gangbusters after someone currently famous or influential champions them is Orange Juice. Their records remained out of print and unreleased on CD until fairly recently. The original drummer, who is one of my best friends, was AMAZED that the world still cared about his high school band, but still care they did. Today OJ is credited as THE most influential Scottish post-punk group, they feature in documentaries about the era, chapters in books about them and the reissue of their early singles was voted best reissue of the year in MOJO. Franz Ferdinand laud them in interviews, etc.

    There is SO MUCH obscure yet great stuff out there that to make a blanket statement like ‘The cream rises to the top, the rest is sour milk’ is simply not true and literally thousands of audio blogs on the Internet prove this point.

    Check it out, you’ll have fun trying to prove me wrong!


  7. I’d never heard of Brett Smiley before, and the interview and performance on Russell Hardy is pretty laughable. The song itself isn’t too bad (a bit bland), but Brett’s rolling around on stage trying to look alluring (?) really just looked silly. And then he had to open his mouth for the interview….

    I looked up the single Va Va Va Voom, and that’s a little catchier, though still not fantastic.


  8. Va Va Va Voom! OMG, I love that song. That could have totally been on the Rocky Horror soundtrack. And if you can’t get down to that, then I don’t know WHAT to say.

  9. #13 Wolfiesma wrote:

    “Va Va Va Voom! OMG, I love that song. That could have totally been on the Rocky Horror soundtrack. And if you can’t get down to that, then I don’t know WHAT to say.”

    True dat. You can never, ever scrub that riff out of your head once you’ve heard it. Steven Marriott on guitar and Elton John’s drummer. Produced by Andrew Loog Oldham. Truly it’s a “find” isn’t it? –glad to hear you liked it.

  10. Since she moved from Boston to Brooklyn last year and catching a few of his shows, my girlfriend has become an acquaintance of Brett’s.

    He is a very sweet, sad man.

  11. Jobriath, heh. I saw an album of his in a remainder bin once and was so tempted to get it, but something told me that it probably wouldn’t be on the order of, say, Aladdin Sane. Now I come to find out that that album is a collectors’ item. Damnit. (Also curious that his real name is Bruce Wayne Campbell.)


    There are plenty of bands from that era that were ignored or forgotten, and not because their music “wasn’t very good”, but because they were ignored by their record label (something that still goes on today), or because they self-released their album(s) and/or had no distribution. Were Nick Drake, The Modern Lovers, or Big Star “not good” simply because their albums didn’t sell at the time? To be fair, there were a lot of crap bands back in the 70’s (and the 80’s, and the 90’s, and…), who were justifiably ignored, but your argument also implies that only the popular bands were good; there were lots of popular bands who released several albums and filled big arenas but who were really quite horrible (Bloodrock comes to mind, but I could just as easily lump Grand Funk Railroad into that category as well, even though I admit to somewhat liking Grand Funk).

    That said, I’m not blown away by this Brett Smiley record, but I can see plenty of people liking it.

  13. @#8

    Huh? Are you for real?

    Dismissing all the obscure music out there as not good is just plain lazyness. The entire Northern Soul scene was based on DJs digging up lost gems. Small regional American artists reformed their bands and toured the UK to excited audiences and some hits even charted years after they were initially released, due to play from British DJs.

    Similarly, for the past few years DJs have been rediscovering Italo Disco tracks that were never very big in the US, to the point that the songs are being repressed on cd and vinyl and some are heard in clubs so often they now seem overplayed.

    I’ve watched a roomful of twenty-something hipsters sing along (in German!) to Grauzone’s Eisbar! WTF? As a DJ I often get requests for Q. Lazzarus’ Goodbye Horses or The Outfield’s Your Love, two 80s songs which I had never heard before maybe 6 years ago.

    There’s plenty of good stuff out there. Popular opinion supported Hitler and Vanilla Ice. Success is no indicator of quality.

  14. #21 BRETT BURTON

    I believe you broke Godwin’s Law in your post. . . when you mentioned the name “Vanilla Ice.”

  15. Richard, I will give you my soul if you make all the old Infinity Factory episodes available. MY F**KING SOUL!

  16. Hi Richard, I was wondering what happened to you. Not even Gary Baddeley knew. I’m glad to see you still have a creative outlet.

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