Wilson performing in England, 2009.c
|Birth name||Brian Douglas Wilson|
June 20, 1942 |
Inglewood, California, U.S.
|Genres||Rock, pop, baroque pop, surf rock, art rock, psychedelic|
|Occupations||Songwriter, musician, vocalist, producer, composer, arranger|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, synthesizers, bass guitar, violin, saxophone, percussion, electric and acoustic guitars|
|Associated acts||American Spring
The Beach Boys
Kenny & the Cadets
Jan and Dean
Van Dyke Parks
|Fender Precision Bass
Baldwin HT2R Theater Organ1
Moog and ARP synthesizers
Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942) is an American musician best known as the chief songwriter of the Beach Boys. Besides acting as their co-lead vocalist, he also functioned as the band's main producer and arranger. After signing with Capitol Records in mid-1962, Wilson wrote or co-wrote more than two dozen Top 40 hits for the Beach Boys.2
In the mid-1960s, Wilson used his increasingly creative ambitions to compose and produce Pet Sounds, considered one of the greatest albums of all time.3 The intended follow-up to Pet Sounds, Smile, was cancelled for various reasons, which included Wilson's deteriorating mental health. As he suffered through multiple nervous breakdowns, Wilson's contributions to the Beach Boys diminished and his erratic behavior led to tensions with the band. After years of treatment and recuperation, he began a solo career in 1988 with Brian Wilson, the same year that he and the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Since then, he has toured for the first time in decades with a new band and released acclaimed albums, including Brian Wilson Presents Smile, for which Wilson won his first Grammy Award for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" as Best Rock Instrumental. On December 16, 2011, a 50th anniversary Beach Boys reunion tour was announced and Wilson briefly returned to the group. He remains a member of the Beach Boys corporation, Brother Records Incorporated.
In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine published a list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" that ranked Wilson number 52.4 In 2012, music publication NME ranked Wilson number 8 in its "50 Greatest Producers Ever" list, elaborating "few consider quite how groundbreaking Brian Wilson’s studio techniques were in the mid-60s."5 He is an occasional actor and voice actor, having appeared in television shows, films, and other artists' music videos. His life will be portrayed in the upcoming biographical film Love and Mercy.6
- 1 Early life: 1940s–50s
- 2 Career
- 2.1 1960s
- 2.2 1970s–80s
- 2.3 1990s–2000s
- 2.4 2010s
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Discography
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
- 8 External links
Wilson was born on June 20, 1942 at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, California, the son of Audree Neva (née Korthof) and Murry Gage Wilson.7 He was the eldest of three boys; his younger brothers were Dennis and Carl. When Wilson was two,8 the Wilson family moved from Inglewood to 3701 West 119th Street in nearby Hawthorne, California.9 Speaking of Wilson's unusual musical abilities prior to his first birthday, his father said that as a baby he could repeat the melody from "When the Caissons Go Rolling Along" after only a few verses had been sung by the father. Murry Wilson said, "He was very clever and quick. I just fell in love with him."10 At about age two, Wilson heard George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which had an enormous emotional impact on him.11 A few years later he was discovered to have extremely diminished hearing in his right ear. The exact cause of this hearing loss is unclear, though theories range from him simply being born partially deaf, to a blow to the head from his father, or a neighborhood bully, being to blame.12
While Wilson's father was ostensibly a reasonable provider, he was often abusive. A minor musician and songwriter, he also encouraged his children in this field in numerous ways. At an early age, Wilson was given six weeks of lessons on a "toy accordion", and at seven and eight sang solos in church with a choir behind him.13 Wilson was on the football team as a quarterback, played baseball and was a cross-country runner in his senior year.14 He sang with various students at school functions and with his family and friends at home. He taught his two brothers harmony parts that all three would then practice when they were supposed to be asleep. He also played piano obsessively after school, deconstructing the harmonies of The Four Freshmen by listening to short segments of their songs on a phonograph, then working to recreate the blended sounds note by note on the keyboard.15 He received a Wollensak tape recorder on his 16th birthday, allowing him to experiment with recording songs and early group vocals.16
Wilson's surviving home tapes document his initial efforts singing with various friends and family, including a song the Beach Boys later recorded in the studio, "Sloop John B"—and "Bermuda Shorts" and a hymn titled "Good News". In his senior year at Hawthorne High, in addition to classroom music studies, he sang at lunch time with friends like Keith Lent and Bruce Griffin. Wilson and Lent worked on a revised version of the tune "Hully Gully" to support the campaign of a classmate named Carol Hess when she ran for senior class president.17
Enlisting his cousin and frequent singing partner Mike Love and Wilson's youngest brother Carl Wilson, his next public performance featured more ambitious arrangements at a fall arts program at his high school. To entice Carl into the group, Wilson named the newly formed membership Carl and the Passions. The performance featured tunes by Dion and the Belmonts and The Four Freshmen ("It's a Blue World"), the latter of which proved difficult for the ensemble. However, the event was notable for the impression it made on another musician and classmate of Wilson in the audience that night, Al Jardine, who would join the three Wilson brothers and Mike Love in the Beach Boys.18
Wilson enrolled at El Camino College in Los Angeles, majoring in psychology, in September 1960. He continued his music studies at the college as well.20 At some point in 1961 he wrote his first all-original melody, loosely based on a Dion and the Belmonts version of "When You Wish Upon a Star". The song was eventually known as "Surfer Girl". Though an early demo of the song was recorded in February 1962 at World-Pacific Studios, it was not re-recorded and released until 1963, when it became a top ten hit.21
With his brothers Carl and Dennis as well as Mike Love and Al Jardine, Wilson first appeared as a music group in the summer of 1961, initially under the name The Pendletones. After being prodded by Dennis to write a song about the local water sports craze, Wilson and Mike Love together created what became the first single for the band, "Surfin'". Over Labor Day weekend 1961, Brian took advantage of the fact that his parents were in Mexico City for a couple of days, and intended to use the emergency money they had left to rent an amp, a microphone, and a stand-up bass. As it turned out, the money was not enough to cover musical expenses, so Al Jardine appealed to his mother, Virginia for help. When she heard the group perform, she was suitably impressed and handed over $300. Al promptly took Wilson to the music store where he rented a stand-up bass. After rehearsing for two days in the Wilsons' music room, his parents returned home from their trip. His father was irate, until Brian convinced him to listen to what they had been up to. His father was convinced that the boys did indeed have something worth pursuing. He quickly proclaimed himself the group's manager and the band embarked on serious rehearsals for a proper studio session.22 Recorded by Hite and Dorinda Morgan and released on the small Candix Records label, "Surfin'" became a top local hit in Los Angeles and reached number seventy-five on the national Billboard sales charts.23 Dennis later described the first time that Wilson heard their song on the radio as the three Wilson brothers and David Marks drove in Wilson's 1957 Ford in the rain: "Nothing will ever top the expression on Brian's face, ever ... THAT was the all-time moment."2425 However, the Pendletones were no more. Without the band's knowledge or permission, Candix Records had changed their name to the Beach Boys.26
Wilson and his bandmates, following a set by Ike and Tina Turner, performed their first major live show at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance on New Year's Eve, 1961. Three days previously, Wilson's father had bought him an electric bass and amplifier. Wilson had learned to play the instrument in that short period of time, with Al Jardine moving to rhythm guitar. On stage, Wilson provided many of the lead vocals, and often harmonized with the group in falsetto. Although he initially played an electric bass guitar on stage, he gradually transitioned to primarily playing piano/organ by the end of the decade.
In early 1962, producer Bruce Morgan asked some of the members add vocals to a couple of instrumental tracks that he had recorded with other musicians. This derived the short-lived group Kenny & the Cadets, which Wilson lead under the pseudonym "Kenny". The other members were Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, and the Wilsons' mother Audree. The only songs the group recorded were "Barbie" and "What Is a Young Girl Made Of?" both Morgan compositions.27
Looking for a follow-up single for their radio hit, Wilson and Mike Love wrote "Surfin' Safari", and attempts were made to record a usable take at World Pacific, including overdubs, on February 8, 1962, along with several other tunes including an early version of "Surfer Girl". Only a few days later, discouraged about the band's financial prospects, and objecting to adding some Chubby Checker songs to the Beach Boys live setlist, Al Jardine abruptly left the group, but rejoined shortly thereafter.28 When Candix Records ran into money problems and sold the Beach Boys' master recordings to another label, Murry Wilson terminated the contract. Brian, worried about the group's future, asked his father to help them make more recordings. But Murry and Hite Morgan (who at this point was their music publisher) were turned down by a number of Los Angeles record companies.citation needed As "Surfin'" faded from the charts, Brian, who had forged a songwriting partnership with Gary Usher, created several new songs, including a car song, "409", that Usher helped them write. Brian and the Beach Boys cut new tracks at Western Recorders including an updated "Surfin' Safari" and "409". These songs convinced Capitol Records to release the demos as a single; they became a double-sided national hit.29
Recording sessions for the band's first album took place in Capitol's basement studios (in the famous tower building) in August 1962, but early on Brian lobbied for a different place to cut Beach Boy tracks. The large rooms were built to record the big orchestras and ensembles of the 1950s, not small rock groups. At Brian's insistence, Capitol agreed to let the Beach Boys pay for their own outside recording sessions, to which Capitol would own all the rights, and in return the band would receive a higher royalty rate on their record sales. Additionally, during the taping of their first LP Brian fought for, and won, the right to be in charge of the production- though his first acknowledged liner notes production credit did not come until the band's third album, "Surfer Girl", in 1963.30
In January 1963, the Beach Boys recorded their first top-ten (cresting at number three in the United States) single, "Surfin' U.S.A.", which began their long run of highly successful recording efforts at Hollywood's Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard. It was during the sessions for this single that Brian made the production decision from that point on to use doubletracking on the group's vocals, resulting in a deeper and more resonant sound.31 The song, adapted from (and eventually entirely credited to) Chuck Berry, is widely seen as emblematic of the early 1960s American rock cultural experience.32 The Surfin' U.S.A. album was also a big hit in the United States, reaching number two on the national sales charts by early July 1963. The Beach Boys had become a top-rank recording and touring band.7
Brian was first credited as the Beach Boys' producer on the Surfer Girl album, recorded in June and July 1963 and released in September 1963. This LP reached number seven on the national charts on the strength of songs like the ballad "In My Room", later released as a single; "Catch a Wave"; and "Little Deuce Coupe", which was released as a double-sided single with the album's title track, both top-15 hits.
Written and produced by Brian Wilson, and featuring stylistic similarities to other contemporary girl groups, "He's A Doll" was one of several attempts by Wilson to branch away from the Beach Boys as an accomplished producer with varying levels of success.33
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He also began working with other artists in this period. On July 20, 1963, "Surf City", which he co-wrote with Jan Berry of Jan and Dean, was his first composition to reach the top of the US charts. The resulting success pleased Brian, but angered both Murry and Capitol Records. Murry went so far as to order his oldest son to sever any future collaborations with Jan and Dean. Brian's other non-Beach Boy work in this period included tracks by The Castells, Donna Loren, Sharon Marie, the Timers, the Survivors. The most notable group Wilson would attach himself in this era would be The Honeys, which Wilson intended as the female counterpart to the Beach Boys, and as an attempt to compete with Phil Spector-lead girl groups such as The Crystals and The Ronettes.33
Feeling that surfing songs had become limiting, Brian decided to produce a set of largely car-oriented tunes for the Beach Boys' fourth album, Little Deuce Coupe, which was released in October 1963, only three weeks after the Surfer Girl LP. The departure of guitarist David Marks from the band that month meant that Brian was forced to resume touring with the Beach Boys, for a time reducing his availability in the recording studio.34
Wilson continued juggling between recording with the Beach Boys and producing records for other artists, but with less success at the latter—except for Jan and Dean, for whom Wilson co-wrote several hit songs. As his productions advanced further with examples ranging from the Burt Bacharach-styled "Guess I'm Dumb" (recorded by Glen Campbell) to the nearly avant-garde "The Little Girl I Once Knew", Wilson became recognized for his unique use of vocal harmonization and incessant studio perfectionism. Early influences on his music included not only the previously mentioned Four Freshmen and Chuck Berry, but also the work of record producer Phil Spector, who popularized the wall of sound production techniques that Wilson would develop a fervent obsession with for most of his life.36 He later considered both Phil Spector and the Beatles as his chief rivals, and the latter in turn cited his work as a major influence.
Following a nervous breakdown on board a flight from L.A. to Houston on December 23, 1964,37 Wilson stopped performing live with the Beach Boys in an effort to concentrate solely on songwriting38 and studio production.37 Glen Campbell was called in as his temporary stand-in for live performances,36 before Bruce Johnston replaced him. In late 1965, Wilson began working on material for a new album after releasing a single which was an orchestral reworking of the folk song "Sloop John B", made famous by The Kingston Trio in 1958.
As he began work on the new project, Pet Sounds, Wilson formed a temporary songwriting partnership with lyricist Tony Asher. Wilson, who had recorded the album's instrumentation with The Wrecking Crew, then assembled the Beach Boys to record vocal overdubs, following their return from a tour of Japan. Upon hearing what Wilson had created for the first time in 1965,37 the group, particularly Mike Love, was somewhat critical of their leader's music,36 and expressed their dissatisfaction.37 At this time, Wilson still had considerable control within the group and, according to Wilson, they eventually overcame their initial negative reaction, as his newly created music began to near completion.37 The album was released May 16, 1966 and, despite modest sales figures at the time, has since become widely critically acclaimed, often being cited among the all-time greatest albums. Although the record was issued under the group's name, Pet Sounds is arguably seen as a Brian Wilson solo album—Wilson even toyed with the idea by releasing "Caroline, No" as a solo single in March 1966—reaching number 32 on the Billboard charts.39
During the Pet Sounds sessions, Wilson had been working on another song, which was held back from inclusion on the record as he felt that it was not sufficiently complete. The song "Good Vibrations" set a new standard for musicians and for what could be achieved in the recording studio. Recorded in multiple sessions and in numerous studios, the song eventually cost $50,000 to record within a six-month period.40 In October 1966, the song was released as a single, giving the Beach Boys their third U.S. number-one hit after "I Get Around" and "Help Me, Rhonda". It sold over a million copies.
With the universal success of "Good Vibrations", Capitol Records decided to back Wilson up for his next project, originally called Dumb Angel36 but soon re-titled Smile, which Wilson described as a "teenage symphony to God." "Good Vibrations" had been recorded in modular style, with separately written sections individually taped and linked together, and Wilson's concept for the new album was more of the same, representing a departure from the standard live-taped performances typical of studio recordings at that time. Having been introduced to Van Dyke Parks at a garden party at Terry Melcher's home, Wilson liked Parks' "visionary eloquence" and began work with him in the fall of 1966.41 After Wilson famously installed a sandbox in his living room, the pair collaborated closely on several Smile tracks. Wilson recorded backing tracks, largely with session musicians, through the winter. Over Christmas of 1966, however, conflict within the group and Wilson's own growing personal problems threw the project into terminal disarray. Originally scheduled for release in January 1967, the release date was continually pushed back until press officer Derek Taylor announced its cancellation in May 1967.
Following the cancellation of Smile, The Beach Boys relocated to a studio situated in the living room of Brian Wilson's new mansion in Bel Air (once the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs43), where the band would primarily record until 1972. This has been perceived by some commentators as "the moment when the Beach Boys first started slipping from the vanguard to nostalgia."37 Throughout mid-to-late 1967, Wilson oversaw the production of only a few heavily orchestrated songs holding continuity with his Pet Sounds and Smile work, such as "Can't Wait Too Long" and "Time to Get Alone". After the diminished reception accorded to the lo-fi Smiley Smile and the R&B-inflected Wild Honey culminated in the muted orchestrations and collaborative ethos of Friends—the band's first unequivocal commercial failure—Wilson's interest in the Beach Boys began to wax and wane.
Still psychologically overwhelmed by the cancellation of Smile and the imminent birth of his first child Carnie Wilson in 1968 amid the looming financial insolvency of the Beach Boys, Wilson's creative directorship within the band became increasingly tenuous; additionally, cocaine had begun to supplement Wilson's regular use of amphetamines, marijuana, and psychedelics.44 Shortly after abandoning an intricate version of Kern and Hammerstein's "Ol' Man River" at the instigation45 of Mike Love,citation needed Wilson entered a psychiatric hospital for a brief period of time. Biographer Peter Ames Carlin has speculated that Wilson had self-admitted and may have been administered a number of treatments ranging from talking therapies to stiff doses of Lithium and the more extreme electroconvulsive therapy during this stay.46
In his absence, 1969's 20/20 consisted substantially of key Smile outtakes ("Cabinessence" and "Our Prayer"), significant contributions from Dennis Wilson & Bruce Johnston, and the long-germinating "Time to Get Alone." The album's singles—the Bruce Johnston-produced original "Bluebirds Over the Mountains" (Billboard #64) and the Carl Wilson-produced cover of The Ronettes' "I Can Hear Music"—won lukewarm attention, with the latter reaching #24 on the Billboard single chart in April 1969; the lead track, the Wilson/Love-authored "Do It Again", an unabashed throwback to the band's earlier surf hits, had been an international hit in the summer of 1968, reaching number 20 in the US charts and number one in the UK and Australia while also scoring well in other countries. During this phase, Wilson also collaborated with his father (credited under the pseudonym of Reggie Dunbar) on "Break Away", the band's final single for Capitol Records under their original contract; although relatively unsuccessful in the United States (peaking at #63 in Billboard), the song reached #6 on the British singles chart.
At a press conference ostensibly convened to promote "Break Away" to the European media shortly thereafter, Wilson intimated that "We owe everyone money. And if we don't pick ourselves off our backsides and have a hit record soon, we will be in worse trouble... I've always said, 'Be honest with your fans.' I don't see why I should lie and say that everything is rosy when it's not." These incendiary remarks ultimately thwarted long-simmering contract negotiations with Deutsche Grammophon.47
Although Murry Wilson's sale of the Sea of Tunes publishing company (including the majority of Wilson's oeuvre) to A&M Records' publishing division for $700,000 at the band's commercial nadir in 1969 renewed the longstanding animus48 between father and son, he stood in for Mike Love during a 1970 Northwest tour when Love was convalescing from illness. He also resumed writing & recording with the Beach Boys at a brisk pace; seven of the twelve new songs on the 1970 album Sunflower were either written or co-written by Wilson. Nevertheless, the album was a commercial failure in the United States, peaking at #151 during a four-week Billboard chart stay in October 1970. Following the termination of the Capitol contract in 1969, the band's new contract with then-au courant Reprise Records (brokered by Van Dyke Parks, employed as a multimedia executive at the company at the time) stipulated Brian Wilson's proactive involvement with the band in all albums49—a factor that would become hugely problematic for the band in the years to come.
Sometime in 1969, Wilson opened a short-lived health food store called The Radiant Radish.50 The store closed in 1971 due to unprofitable produce expenditures and Wilson's general lack of business acumen.51 While working there, he met journalist and radio presenter Jack Rieley, who would manage the Beach Boys and act as Wilson's principal lyricist for the next few years.52
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Wilson played and sang on much of the 1971 Surf's Up album—the band's highest American album chart placement (#29) since 1967—and wrote or co-wrote four of the album's ten songs, including the title track. and wrote or co-wrote four of the album's ten songs, including the title track. Carl Wilson told Michael Feeney Callan that he had personally "dug that one up from the vaults, but there was no objection [from Brian] in our revisiting it." The released version was a composite assembled by the younger Wilson and Desper that included elements from the Smile recording sessions, a Brian Wilson solo piano performance filmed for Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution (a CBS News special hosted by Leonard Bernstein) in 1967, and additional flourishes (including augmented vocal, keyboard, percussion, and Moog bass parts) added in 1971. Although the song's composer initially "refused to work on the song," as the recording process concluded "a slightly disheveled-looking Brian, his belly hanging out of his pajamas, stormed inside... [and] announced that they needed to add something to the final movement of 'Surf's Up""—a missing lyrical couplet (sung by the elder Wilson) and intricate vocal coda.55 However, only one fully formed original song from Wilson emerged during the album's nominal recording sessions, the dirge-like "A Day in the Life of a Tree".56 According to Desper, the cumulatively deleterious effects of Wilson's cocaine and tobacco use began to affect his vocal register in earnest during the Surf's Up sessions.57
In late 1971 and early 1972, he worked on an album for American Spring entitled Spring, a new collaboration between erstwhile Honeys Marilyn Wilson and Diane Rovell. He was closely involved in the home-based recordings with co-producer David Sandler and engineer Stephen Desper, and did significant work on more than half of the tracks. As with much of his work in the era, his contributions "ebbed and flowed."58 According to Dan Peek of America, Wilson "held court like a Mad King as [longtime friend] Danny Hutton scurried about like his court jester" during the ascendant band's engagement at the Whisky a Go Go in February 197259 His well-documented close friendship with fellow songwriter Tandyn Almer reportedly deteriorated during this period due to a variety of factors, including an alleged liaison between Almer and Marilyn Wilson and the purported theft of recording equipment from Wilson's home studio.60
He contributed to three out of eight songs on Beach Boys' Carl and the Passions – "So Tough" in early 1972. Later that year, he reluctantly agreed to accompany the band to the Netherlands, where they based themselves to record Holland . Though physically present, he often yielded to his bibulous tendencies (primarily hashish and hard cider) and rarely participated, confining himself to work on "Funky Pretty" (a collaboration with Mike Love and Jack Rieley), a one-line sung intro to Al Jardine's "California Saga: California", and Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale), a narrative suite musically inspired by Randy Newman's Sail Away that was promptly rejected by the band; eventually, Carl Wilson capitulated and ensured that the suite would be released as a bonus EP with the album.61 When the album itself was rejected by Reprise, the song "Sail On, Sailor"—a collaboration with Van Dyke Parks dating from 1971 that had grown to encompass additional lyrical contributions solicited by Wilson at parties hosted by Hutton—was inserted at the instigation of Parks and released as the lead single.62 It promptly garnered a considerable amount of FM radio play, became a minor chart hit, and entered the band's live sets as a concert staple.
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Wilson spent a great deal of the two years following his father's June 1973 death secluded in the chauffeur's quarters of his home; sleeping, abusing alcohol, taking drugs (including preliminary flirtations with heroin) and overeating. During this period his voice deteriorated significantly as a result of his mass consumption of cocaine and incessant chain smoking.citation needed Previously, Wilson claimed that he was preoccupied with "[doing] drugs and hanging out with Danny Hutton" during the mid-1970s.64 Although increasingly reclusive during the day, Wilson spent many nights fraternizing with colleagues (including Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop, who were mutually bemused by an extended, contumacious Wilson-led singalong of the folk song "Shortnin' Bread")65 at Hutton's house and related environs; on several occasions, Marilyn Wilson dispatched her friends to climb Hutton's fence and forcibly retrieve her husband.64 Wilson was also photographed at Keith Moon's 28th birthday party (held on August 28, 1974 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel) wearing only his bathrobe.
During the summer of 1974, the Capitol Records-era greatest hits compilation Endless Summer reached number one on the Billboard charts, reaffirming the relevance of the Beach Boys in the popular imagination. However, recording sessions for a new album under the supervision of Wilson and James William Guercio at Caribou Ranchcitation needed and the band's studio in Santa Monica that autumn yielded only a smattering of basic tracks, including a banjo-driven arrangement of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; one of the earliest iterations of the rocker "Ding Dang" (including a licentious chorus omitted from the 1977 released version);citation needed "It's O.K.", an uptempo collaboration with Mike Love; the ballad "Good Timin'"; Dennis Wilson's "River Song"; and Love's "Our Life, Our Love, Our Land". Eventually, Wilson diverted his attentions to "Child of Winter (Christmas Song)", a Christmas single co-written with Stephen Kalinich; released belatedly for the holiday market on December 23, it failed to chart. Though still under contract to Warner Brothers, Wilson signed a sideline production deal with Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher's Equinox Records in early 1975.66 This contract was nullified by the Beach Boys' management, who perceived it as an attempt by Wilson to relieve the burden of his growing drug expenses. Dismayed by his continued deterioration and reluctant to payroll Wilson as an active partner in the touring Beach Boys (an arrangement that had persisted for a decade), Marilyn and the Wilson family enlisted the services of radical therapist Eugene Landy in October 1975.citation needed
Wilson was under Landy's care for fourteen months until December 1976, when the therapist was dismissed for a dispute on his monthly fee.citation needed Though Landy diagnosed Wilson as paranoid schizophrenic (a diagnosis later retracted) and prescribed medication in accordance, the treatment prompted a more stable, socially engaged Wilson whose productivity increased again. The tagline "Brian's Back!" became a major promotional tool for the new Beach Boys album, 15 Big Ones, released to coincide with their fifteenth anniversary as a band. As a mixture of traditional pop covers with newly-written original material, the record was released in the summer of 1976 to commercial acclaim and, despite lukewarm reviews, peaked at number 8 on the Billboard album chart, the band's highest entry (apart from Endless Summer and the follow-up 1975 compilation Spirit of America) since 1965. Wilson returned to regular stage appearances with the band, alternating between piano and bass and, under Landy's advice,citation needed made a solo appearance on Saturday Night Live in November 1976; producer Lorne Michaels stipulated Wilson's exclusive performance, much to the chagrin of the other Beach Boys.citation needed
Wilson's behavior during this time was reported by many to be strange and off-putting, and Landy's role as "unethical" and ostentatious.67 Writer David Felton published an editorial piece for Rolling Stone entitled The Healing of Brother Brian, which included eccentric accounts between Wilson and Landy to Felton. This included reports of moments when Wilson asked Felton for various types of drugs mid-interview, and Landy's medical staff promising Wilson a cheeseburger in exchange for writing a new song.68 Felton would later talk about the absurdity of his interactions, and noted that he wasn't sure if Wilson really behaved that way or if he was under extreme pressure to appease Landy and his staff. Felton recounts numerous times where Landy scolded Wilson in public for not adhering to his strict behavioral guidelines, and that he believed Wilson felt he had a big pressure to cooperate because of it. He later explained, "[Eugene Landy] said 'Brian doesn't have that much sense of humor,' and I never knew the answer to that. Does he or doesn't he? Sometimes I thought he would have a very wry sense of humor, and others I felt he talked almost like a robot…Just stiff and without emotion or affectation…He does what he's told but he doesn't do much else…And that way he kept out of trouble."67
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In April 1977, the all-original Wilson album Love You was released. Described by Wilson as an attempt to relieve himself from mental instability brought on by a period of inactivity,70 Love You has since been cited as an early work of synthpop.71 The album's playful lyrics (alternately invoking Johnny Carson, Phil Spector and adolescent interests) and stark instrumentation (featuring Moog bass lines and gated reverb-drenched drum patterns reflective of contemporaneous work by David Bowie and Tony Visconti) failed to impact an audience sated on the ubiquitous Endless Summer sound. Nonetheless, Love You reached number 53 on the Billboard chart and was lauded as an artistic watershed by many critics, including Robert Christgau of The Village Voice.72 Musicians Patti Smith, Lester Bangs, and Peter Buck have since written heartfelt praise for the album.
Landy was fired shortly thereafter.citation needed Throughout the next five years, Wilson vacillated between periods of relative stability and resurgences of his food and drug addictions. The Wilsons' divorce in January 1979 cited allegations of infidelity on Marilyn's partcitation needed and inappropriate behavior on Brian's (allegedlyaccording to whom? offering drugs to his children) but was considered more a mutual surrender to the pressures of Wilson's continued emotional health problems.citation needed Brian's role in the band—as well as the Beach Boys' commercial prospects—began to diminish once more. During this difficult period, the single "Good Timin'" (a collaboration between Brian and Carl Wilson dating from the 1974 Caribou sessions)citation needed peaked at number 40 in June 1979.73
By 1982, Wilson weighed over 325 pounds and was again immersed in his addictions. Eugene Landy was once more employed, and a more radical program was undertaken to try to restore Wilson to health. This involved "firing" him from the Beach Boys in November 1982 at the behest of Carl Wilson, isolating him from his family and friends (most notably longtime girlfriend/nurse Carolyn Williams) in Hawaii, and putting him on a rigorous diet and health regimen. Coupled with long, extreme counseling sessions, this therapy was successful in bringing Wilson back to physical health. He lost more than 100 pounds and temporarily became a gym fanatic. As Wilson's recovery consolidated, he rejoined the Beach Boys for Live Aid in 1985 and participated in the recording of the Steve Levine-produced album, The Beach Boys. Largely due to the control that Landy exercised, Wilson stopped working with the Beach Boys on a regular basis after the release of the album. Eventually, Landy's therapy technique created a Svengali-like environment for Wilson, controlling every movement in his life, including his musical direction.
Wilson thereafter signed to a solo record deal with Sire Records label boss Seymour Stein and variously worked with Andy Paley, Russ Titelman and Landy's girlfriend as co-authors on the new material. Old friend and collaborator Gary Usher was a key participant in the early demo work for the album, though Landy later removed him from the project. After several years of genesis, Wilson released his debut solo album Brian Wilson. It is arguable that this "breakout" work was hampered by Landy's influence, since Landy insisted on controlling involvement in every aspect of Wilson's writing and recording and his lyrical influence is significant.
Despite the critical success of his debut solo album, rumors abounded that Wilson had either suffered a stroke or had been permanently disabled due to excessive drug use.10 One biographer reported that the actual problem was that Wilson, who had been prescribed massive amounts of psychotropic drugs by Landy's staff since 1983, had developed tardive dyskinesia,74 a neurological condition marked by involuntary, repetitive movements, that develops in about 20% of patients treated with anti-psychotic drugs for a long period of time.75 During recording of the Brian Wilson album, engineering staff had observed what seemed to be "every pharmaceutical on the face of the earth," referring to the medicine bag Landy was using to store Wilson's prescription drugs.76
In order to dispel these claims, Landy separated from Wilson in 1989 to prove that Wilson could function independently. However, they remained "business partners". in 1990 came a faux memoir, Wouldn't It Be Nice - My Own Story, published in 1990. In the book, whose authorship is still debated, Wilson spoke about his troubled relationship with his abusive father Murry, his private disputes with the Beach Boys and his "lost years" of mental illness. Though the book drew on interviews with Wilson and others (by Todd Gold) it is widely believed to be Landy's account of Brian's life (in an unrelated court case Wilson testified that he had never even read the final draft of the manuscript, much less written any of it.77)
Wilson's proposed second solo album under the direction of Landy, entitled Sweet Insanity, was rejected by Sire in 1990. It is believedby whom? that the disturbingly self-revelatory lyrics of "therapy songs" like "Brian" and ersatz rap like the seemingly sexist "Smart Girls", hurt the album. Sweet Insanity also contained delicate and impressive compositions that reemerged on later solo albums (viz., "Let's Stick Together", which became "The Waltz" on Wilson's 2004 solo album Gettin' In Over My Head).
Landy's illegal use of psychotropic drugs on Wilson, and his influence over Wilson's financial affairs was legally ended by Carl Wilson and other members of the Wilson family after a two-year-long conservatorship battle in Los Angeles. Landy's misconduct led to the loss of his California psychology license,78 as well as a court-ordered removal and restraining order from Wilson.79
Wilson released two albums simultaneously in 1995. The first was the soundtrack to Don Was's documentary I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, which consisted of new versions of several Beach Boys and solo songs. The second, Orange Crate Art, saw Wilson as lead vocalist on an album produced, arranged and written by Van Dyke Parks. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times includes Wilson performing for the first time with his now-adult daughters, Wendy and Carnie of the group Wilson Phillips and Van Dyke Parks. The documentary also included glowing tributes from many of his peers, and renewed interest in Wilson as a pop genius and producer extraordinaire.citation needed During the early 1990s, he also worked on some tracks with power pop band Jellyfish, which remain unreleased.80 Roger Manning has recounted an anecdote during these sessions involving Wilson falling asleep at the piano yet continuing to play.81 Later in the decade, Wilson and his daughters Carnie and Wendy would release an album together entitled The Wilsons (1997). Also, around this time, Wilson sang backup on Belinda Carlisle's "California".
Having missed out on the Beach Boys' 27th studio album Summer in Paradise, Wilson returned to the Beach Boys for sporadic recording sessions and live performances during the early to mid-1990s.82 Working with collaborators Andy Paley and Don Was, the sessions were reported to have been tenuous.83 It had also been discussed that Wilson and the Beach Boys would work with Sean O'Hagan of The High Llamas on a comeback album for Wilson and the Beach Boys.84 All projects collapsed, and instead, Wilson was involved with the 1996 Beach Boys album Stars and Stripes Vol. 1: a group collaboration, backing country music artists singing lead vocals of Beach Boys' standards.
In 1998, he teamed with Chicago-based producer Joe Thomas for the album Imagination. Following this, he received extensive vocal coaching to improve his voice, learned to cope with his stage fright, and started to consistently perform live for the first time in decades. This resulted in Wilson successfully performing the entire Pet Sounds album live throughout the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.
Wilson's third solo album Gettin' In Over My Head (2004) featured collaborations with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and brother Carl, who died in February 1998. Clapton played on the track "City Blues," and McCartney's collaboration on "A Friend Like You" fulfilled for many a fantasy union of the legendary Beatles with the legendary Beach Boys. The return to prolific writing and touring gave birth to a new artistic emergence by Wilson.
With his mental health finally on the mend, Wilson decided to revisit the aborted Smile project from 1967. Aided by musician and longtime fan Darian Sahanaja of Wondermints, and lyricist Van Dyke Parks, Wilson reimagined the session material into something that would work in a live context. His work was finally revealed in concert on February 20, 2004, 37 years after it was conceived, though he later stated that the finished product was substantially different to what was originally envisioned. Wilson debuted his 2004 interpretation of Smile at the Royal Festival Hall in London and subsequently toured the UK. Following the tour, Brian Wilson Presents Smile was recorded, and released in September 2004.
The debut performance at the Royal Festival Hall was a defining moment for Wilson. The documentary DVD of the event shows Wilson preparing for the performance and expressing doubts over the concept of putting this work before the public, moments before taking the stage. After an opening set of Beach Boys classics, Wilson returned to the stage to perform Smile in its entirety. A 10-minute standing ovation followed the concert; the DVD shows several rock luminaries in the crowd, such as Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller, Sir George Martin and Sir Paul McCartney (although neither Martin nor McCartney attended the opening night, contrary to what the DVD implies). Brian Wilson Presents Smile was then recorded from April through June, and released in September, to wide critical acclaim. The release hit number 13 on the Billboard chart. The 2004 recording featured his backup/touring band, including Beach Boys guitarist Jeff Foskett, members of Wondermints and backup singer Taylor Mills.
At the 47th Grammy Awards in 2005, Wilson won his first Grammy for the track "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" as Best Rock Instrumental. In 2004, Wilson promoted Brian Wilson Presents Smile with a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Europe. In December 2005, he also released What I Really Want for Christmas for Arista Records. The release hit number 200 on the Billboard chart, though sales were modest. Wilson's remake of the classic "Deck the Halls" became a surprise Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit.
In February 2005, Wilson had a cameo in the TV series Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century as Daffy Duck's spiritual surfing adviser.85 He also appeared in the 2005 holiday episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, performing "Deck the Halls" for children with xeroderma pigmentosum (hypersensitivity to sunlight) at Walt Disney World Resort. On July 2, 2005, Wilson performed for the Live 8 concert in Berlin, Germany.
|Wikinews has related news: Kennedy Center names 2007 honors recipients|
In September 2005, Wilson arranged a charity drive to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, wherein people who donated $100 or more would receive a personal phone call from Wilson. According to the website, over $250K was raised.86 In November 2005, former bandmate Mike Love sued Wilson over "shamelessly misappropriating... Love's songs, likeness, and the Beach Boys trademark, as well as the 'Smile' album itself" in the promotion of Smile.87 The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on grounds that it was meritless.
Wilson then released That Lucky Old Sun in September 2008. The piece originally debuted in a series of September 2007 concerts at London's Royal Festival Hall, and in January 2008 at Sydney's State Theatre while headlining the Sydney Festival.89 Wilson described the piece as "...consisting of five 'rounds', with interspersed spoken word."90 A series of US and UK concerts preceded its release.
On September 30, 2008, Seattle's Light in the Attic Records released A World of Peace Must Come, a collaboration between Wilson and Stephen Kalinich, originally recorded in 1969, but later lost in Kalinich's closet.91
In 2009, Wilson's workload increased when he signed a two-record deal with Disney. In Summer 2009, Wilson was approached to record an album of his interpretations of classic Gershwin songs, and to assess unfinished piano pieces by Gershwin for possible expansion into finished songs. After extensive evaluation of a vast body of Gershwin fragments, Wilson chose two to complete. The resulting album, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, was released in August 2010 on Disney's Pearl label.92 Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin achieved Number 1 position on the Billboard Jazz Chart, and had sold 53,000 copies by August 2011.93 Wilson's second album for Disney was In The Key Of Disney, a collection of classic Disney movie songs, which was released on October 25, 2011.93 This album was especially memorable for its inclusion of Wilson's take on When You Wish Upon a Star, the song that had inspired his own first composition, "Surfer Girl".
Wilson contributed his revival of Buddy Holly's "Listen To Me" to the tribute album, Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released on September 6, 2011, on Verve Forecast. Rolling Stone praised Wilson's version as "gorgeous," featuring "...angelic harmonies and delicate instrumentation."94
Wilson oversaw the official Beach Boys release of the original, partially completed Smile recordings as a compilation titled The Smile Sessions. Released on November 1, 2011, the album was made available as single CD, a 2-CD boxed set, a vinyl double album, and a deluxe 5 CD/2 LP box set.95
On July 27, 2011, Love announced that, "Where we're at right now is Brian's written some songs, I've written some songs. We're talking very seriously about getting together and co-writing and doing some new music together [as a band].. ..He's been doing his own touring, we've been doing ours and so we haven't really been able to lock into that, but it looks like this fall we will. It just makes a lot of sense with a milestone such as 50 years to get together and do something."96 That day, Brian Wilson said the band is going to get back together to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Although a few months later, he claimed he did not really like working with his former bandmates, and that a reunion would depend on how they feel and how much money is involved. He concluded by saying that money is not the only reason he made records, but it does hold a place in their lives.97
In October 2011, Jardine reported that the Beach Boys would reunite in 2012 for 50 U.S. dates and 50–60 overseas dates. Love stated that during the middle of 2011, the band reunited to re-record their song "Do it Again" and make it into a music video to promote the world tour. Love had nothing but praise for Wilson saying "he sounds great, always coming up with chords, and his singing ability is still there. He hasn't lost the ability to do what he does best."98 The Beach Boys released their new album, That's Why God Made the Radio, on June 5, 2012. The album's title track was released as its first single in April 2012. The new album debuted at Number 3 on the Billboard charts which was their highest album debut to date.99
However, in late 2012, following the reunion it was announced that Wilson would no longer tour with the band as Mike Love returned the lineup to its pre-Anniversary Tour configuration with him and Bruce Johnston as its only members.100
On June 6, 2013, Wilson's website announced that he is recording and self-producing new material with guitarist Jeff Beck, session musician/producer Don Was, as well as fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine, David Marks, and Blondie Chaplin.101 On June 20, the website announced that the material might be split into three albums: one of new pop songs, another of mostly instrumental tracks with Beck, and another of interwoven tracks dubbed "the suite" which initially began form as the closing four tracks of That's Why God Made The Radio.102 Confirmed song titles include "Right Time" and "Run James Run", which both feature lead vocals by Al Jardine.103 A version of the traditional "Danny Boy" has also been recorded. Wilson's That's Why God Made The Radio and Imagination collaborator Joe Thomas will also be involved to some extent. Accordingly, "When we started working on this thing, he was calling it his life's suite. He looked at life as three different movements. One was Pet Sounds, the other was Smile and then, he wanted to go out with a bang and have a look back at life from an adult. Pet Sounds was when he was just a kid. Smile was when he was a little more savvy and in the business awhile. And now, this is a guy looking back at life and where he is now, which is in a much happier and less chaotic state." He's also described the recording sessions between Wilson and Beck as "fusion jazz rock with Brian singing, 'oohs' and 'aahs.'"104
Wilson embarked on a short summer tour which included Jardine and Marks. It was then announced on August 5, 2013 that Wilson would embark on a fall 2013 tour with Beck. According to Beck, "Brian will kick things off, but I'll also be given enough time to establish what I'm about. In the end, we'll mix and match. It's a complete honor to be on stage with him."105 Jardine and Marks also joined Wilson on the eighteen dates which began on September 27 and ended on October 30 in Milwaukee at the Riverside Theater. Chaplin guested on some dates and performed "Sail On, Sailor" and "Wild Honey" with the group.
Wilson is set to release an autobiography to be published in fall 2015. It will be written with help from journalist Jason Fine.103
From late 1964 to the 1979, Wilson was married to Marilyn Rovell, although they later divorced. Wilson has two daughters from this marriage: Carnie Wilson and Wendy Wilson, who would go on to musical success of their own in the early 1990s as two-thirds of Wilson Phillips. In 1995, Wilson married Melinda Ledbetter, a car saleswoman and former model he met in the 1980s while under the care of Eugene Landy. The couple adopted five children: two girls, Daria Rose and Delanie Rae, in 1998; a boy, Dylan, in 2004; a boy, Dash Tristan in 2009; and a girl, Dakota Rose, in 2010.106
Wilson suffers from auditory hallucinations, and has been formally diagnosed as mildly manic-depressive with schizoaffective disorder that presents itself in the form of disembodied voices.107108 According to him, he only began having hallucinations in 1965 shortly after experimenting with psychedelic drugs.81109110 During the 1980s, Wilson was administered excessive dosages of psychotropics which further damaged him. Since then, Wilson's drug regimen has consisted of a combination of mild antidepressants.citation needed
A biopic on Wilson's life titled, Love and Mercy will be released in 2014. It will be directed by Bill Pohlad and will star Paul Dano as a younger Brian, John Cusack as an older Brian along with Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy and actress Elizabeth Banks as Wilson's wife Melinda. Shooting wrapped on the film on August 27, 2013 although a release date for the film has yet to be announced. Brian posted a photo of himself along with Cusack and Melinda on his Twitter page.111
- Wilson and The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in January 1988.
- In 2000, Wilson was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Paul McCartney introduced Brian, referring to him as "one of the great American geniuses."112
- On March 29, 2001, TNT and Radio City Music Hall hosted "A Tribute to Brian Wilson." This event featured performances and appearances by Elton John, Billy Joel, Chazz Palminteri host, David Crosby, Dennis Hopper, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, The Go-Go's, Cameron Crowe, Sir George Martin, Vince Gill, Brian's daughters Carnie & Wendy Wilson along with Chynna Phillips (Wilson Phillips), Jimmy Webb, Darius Rucker, Matthew Sweet, Ann and Nancy Wilson of (Heart), The Boys Choir of Harlem, and others.
- Pet Sounds has been ranked as one of the most influential records in popular music, and has been ranked number one on several music magazines' lists of the greatest albums of all time. It is ranked number two on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
- On May 10, 2004, Wilson was honored as a BMI Icon at the 52nd annual BMI Pop Awards. He was saluted for his "unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers."113
- A 2005 concert, "Musicares: A Tribute to Brian Wilson," was held in Wilson's honor, during which he was named MusiCares Person of the Year. Performers included Jeff Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Earth Wind & Fire, Barenaked Ladies, and Backstreet Boys, among others.
- On May 20, 2005, Wilson and two of the other original-era Beach Boys (Al Jardine and David Marks) were honored with the unveiling of the Beach Boys Historic Landmark on the former site of the Wilson family home in Hawthorne, California.
- In 2005, Wilson won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Mrs. O'Leary's Cow.
- In November 2006, Wilson was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Wilson performed "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations" at the ceremony.
- On December 2, 2007, the Kennedy Center Honors committee recognized Wilson for a lifetime of contributions to American culture through the performing arts in music.
- May 20, 2011, Wilson received the UCLA George and Ira Gershwin Award at UCLA Spring Sing.114
- On February 10, 2013, Wilson won the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for The Smile Sessions.115
- (1970) Add Some Music To Your Day (A 1970 Symphonic Tribute To Brian Wilson) by Gary Usher
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- (2002) Making God Smile: An Artists' Tribute to the Songs of Beach Boy Brian Wilson by various artists
- (2004) A Tribute To Brian Wilson by Cameron Michael Parkes
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- (2007) "Brian Wilson" on Munki Brain by The Queers
- (2010) "You Still Believe In Me?" on "Adults!!!: Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited by Nothing!!!!!!!" by Bomb the Music Industry!
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|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Brian Wilson|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Brian Wilson.|
- Official site
- Brian Wilson > Discography at AllMusic
- Brian Wilson discography at Discogs
- Brian Wilson at the Internet Movie Database
- "Four Decades Later, Wilson's 'Smile' Hits London" Audio review at NPR (February 25, 2004)
- Brian Wilson Pictures from 2007 Consumer Electronics Show performance
- Works by or about Brian Wilson in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Brian Wilson's Wave by Peter Ames Carlin, American Heritage, August/September 2004.