Beach Boys founder, producer and key songwriter revolutionized pop music
Paul McCartney calls him "one of the great American geniuses" at his SHOF induction in 2000
Legendary producer, arranger, performer and songwriter, Brian Wilson has created a body of work that remains among the most memorable in rock music history. His career, first following intense travail as the key creative figure in the group The Beach Boys, and later, physically and emotionally, as a brilliant star in his own right, had its actual beginnings over Labor Day weekend, 1961, in Hawthorne, California.
During that historic moment, Brian Douglas Wilson, and younger brothers Dennis and Carl, cousin Mike Love and friend, Al Jardine, were rehearsing a tune written by Brian and Mike for an audition for a possible recording session. The song, "Surfin," put to music the newest southern California craze, the sport of surfing with the raw material that would define The Beach Boys sound to come, propulsive, Chuck Berry style rock and roll with the sophisticated pop harmonies of the Four Freshman, who were always one of Brian Wilson's favorite music makers.
When "Surfin," began making local waves in the greater Los Angeles area, well-tuned ears at the nearby Capitol Records Tower just up from Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, liked what they heard and The Beach Boys soon began a multi-decade long association with Capitol. Wilson and the band thereafter stepped into the potent theme sources of surfing, hotrod cars and high-octane hormones, to find the flashpoint of what America's post World War II teenagers were looking for.
Hit singles came quickly and in abundance, all of them written by Brian Wilson and recorded by The Beach Boys with their patented sound. Among the titles: "Surfin USA," "Little Surfer Girl" and "Little Deuce Coupe." Virtually all these first single record hits soon became the titles of albums, all of them equally successful. Brian Wilson's California Dream, what he perceived as a new version of the Kennedy espoused American Dream, soon resulted in more major hit songs such as "I Get Around" and "Fun Fun Fun," all becoming part and parcel of the new American pop culture.
In late 1964, stressed from overwork, Brian Wilson made a key decision to eliminate touring with the band from his personal schedule to focus completely on writing new songs, a change that soon resulted in another helping of great Beach Boys hits, "Dance, Dance Dance," "Help Me Rhonda," and the almost anthemic, "California Girls."
With the band on the road, Wilson teamed with lyricist Tony Asher, to create what came to be known in many circles as the Great American Album, Pet Sounds. In addition to the songs themselves, the instrumentation allowed for a host of unique sonic flourishes, with the generous use of such offbeat music sources as accordion, theremin, bicycle wheels, kazoo, banjo, glockenspiel, and even barking dogs. The result was more classics to be such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Sloop John B." Paul McCartney, who at the time was competing with The Beach Boys as a Beatle, said in later years that Pet Sounds was his favorite album of all time, while "God Only Knows," one of the album's many highlights, was his favorite song of all time. Wilson, at this moment of triumph in 1966, one of many, was but 24 years old.
In early 1967 came yet another trail-blazing opus, the three and a half minute, "Good Vibrations," what Wilson referred to at the time as his "pocket symphony." Following this wonderfully expressive song, with its rapturous tone and thought, Wilson was beginning to experience considerable personal stress and artistic frustration, as many creative geniuses seem to have to endure at key moments in their lives, in both physical and psychological exhaustion. During the '70s and onto the '80s, The Beach Boys became one of the most spectacularly successful touring attractions in pop history, while Brian Wilson stayed behind, manning the home front and dealing with his own set of virulent demons. Despite this, there were still some creative moments, which brought forth such memorable songs as "Do It Again" and "Sail On Sailor," among others.
From the mid '80s onward, Wilson underwent a number of difficult years, highlighted by the influence on his psyche and career of the therapist Eugene Landy, whom some critics felt compromised Wilson's work, including in 1988, his first solo album, Brian Wilson, which included the sensitive songs "Love and Mercy" and the majestic "Rio Grande."
During this entire period, The Beach Boys with their ongoing success on the concert trail, became a kind of living monument to the Wilson creative skills. He helped build the band that had then become an entity unto itself. But life for Wilson too was soon to change as he celebrated the arrival of the year 1995 with marriage to Melinda Ledbetter. The union and the arrival later of daughters Daria and Delanie, helped bring about dramatic and positive changes in Wilson's life.
With this rebirth and rejuvenation, many exciting projects were waiting for Wilson. There was an album by Van Dyke Parks, Orange Crate Art, on which Wilson sang a brace of songs written by Parks, a former collaborator. Then came the Brian Wilson documentary film and soundtrack, I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, and the album, The Wilsons, where he joined his daughters from his first marriage, Carnie and Wendy for a few tracks and then merged with co-worker, lyricist Tony Asher, for "Everything I Need" An encore for all this sporadic activity came in 1998 with the recording and release the album Imagination, which included a collection of songs co-written with other celebrity songwriters like Carole Bayer Sager, J.D. Souther and Jimmy Buffett. The album became a substantial hit and Wilson, always the victim of stagefright in his earlier years, toured throughout the country promoting not only an album but also notifying the world that he remains one of the truly influential pop music composers of this or any era.