Brian Wilson

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Brian Wilson
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He wasn’t made for these times…or those times…but for all times. Arguably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era, he inspired the Beatles to greater heights, and wrote one of the most beautiful songs ever in “God Only Knows”. The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album continues to top ‘Best album ever’ polls and surveys, 40 years after release.

Singer and songwriter Brian Wilson, is one of the few undisputed geniuses in popular music, and the main creative force behind some of the most cherished recordings in rock history. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to call Brian Wilson one of the most influential composers of the last century.

Wilson’s remarkable journey began on 20th June 1942 in a modest Hawthorne, California home that was filled with music. Both his parents played the piano, and as a young “boy soprano,” Brian’s vocal gift was immediately evident. He had also started singing harmonies with his two younger brothers (Dennis and Carl).

Formed in 1961, brothers Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson along with their cousin Mike Love and schoolmate Alan Jardine blended rootsy Chuck Berry R&B, The Four Freshman’s intricate vocal harmonies, and the topical splendour of California’s mythos of an Endless Summer into a unique, new form. Crafting a series of hit singles the equal of anything of their contemporaries, the band, under the creative muse of their leader, songwriter and producer Brian Wilson, began to evolve their sound, moving quickly away from their surf, car and sand topicality towards more deeply passionate, introspective songs.

Brian Wilson was barely out of his teens when he began to create some of the most beloved records ever; “I Get Around,” “Surfer Girl,” “In My Room,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls”, all of which have become timeless classics.

Maybe it was all too much, too soon, maybe he couldn’t take the pressure, and during a 1964 US tour, Brian had a nervous breakdown during a flight from Los Angeles to Houston. Wilson left the Beach to concentrate on what he did best, writing and producing.

Wilson spent the majority of the following three years in his bedroom sleeping, taking drugs, and overeating. During this time, his voice deteriorated as a result of chain smoking and drug abuse.

And this is from where the stories and myths emerged detailing the strange behaviours of this troubled genius.

He allegedly spent $30,000 on an Arabian-style tent complete with an oil lamp to eat sandwiches, smoke weed and take LSD. In his lounge, he installed a massive sandpit with a piano in it so he could feel the sand at his feet whilst songwriting. Unfortunately his two dogs, Louie and Banana also took a liking to the sandpit and regularly left their own special contributions.

During a 1967 trip to America, Paul McCartney met with Brian who was working on the song “Vegetables”, intended for the Smile album but eventually released on Smiley Smile. The two worked into the night, resulting in McCartney being recorded chewing a stick of celery.

In 1969, Wilson opened up a vitamin and health food store called The Radiant Radish. It opened when he felt like opening it, sometimes in the middle of the night and usually whilst dressed in his stripy pyjamas. Needless to say, it closed after about a year. However, this little venture did make him think about the idea of opening a 24-hour ping pong table store, so it wasn’t all for nothing!

Anyway, none of this matters. What Brian and The Beach Boys have achieved is outstanding. Everyone talks about Pet Sounds, but check out two other classic Beach Boy albums Surf’s Up and Holland, both contain magical Beach Boys moments.

Brian led the band to experiment with several genres ranging from pop ballads to psychedelic and baroque while devising novel approaches to music production and arranging. While initially managed by the Wilsons’ father Murry, Brian’s creative ambitions and sophisticated songwriting abilities dominated the group’s musical direction.

I went to see Brian Wilson when he toured the ‘lost’ Beach Boys Smile album in 2004. It was one of the most moving musical experiences of my life. Brian and his new band were amazing. I also had the honour of meeting him, but I was too in awe to say anything but “Hello, great to meet you”.

And they played “Vegetables”.

Important Dates In The Life Of Brian Wilson:

On this day in music
10 Jan 2023
American jazz and rock guitarist Dennis Budimir died at the age of 84. He was a member of The Wrecking Crew and worked with many artists including Joni Mitchell, Carpenters, Brian Wilson, Barbra Streisand, Frank Zappa, Linda Ronstadt and Dusty Springfield. He also played on more than 900 movie soundtracks from the early 1960s until the 2000s.
4 Feb 2020
Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson asked fans to boycott the band he helped start because of a forthcoming performance at a hunting event in Nevada. In a tweet Wilson said there was nothing he could do to stop the concert at Safari Club International's annual convention in Reno, Nevada, which would feature the touring group led by co-founder Mike Love. The convention would also include a keynote speech by Donald Trump Jr. Animal rights activists described the annual convention as one of the world's largest gatherings for trophy hunters and a celebration of the "senseless killing" of hundreds of animals.
7 Feb 2015
American bass player, songwriter, Joe B. Mauldin died aged 74. He was best known as the bassist for the early rock and roll group The Crickets and later became a recording engineer at Gold Star Studios, the Los Angeles studio which became the "hit factory" for Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and other major 1960s rock performers.
3 Dec 2007
Diana Ross and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson were both celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors, attended by President Bush. Hootie and the Blowfish paid tribute to Brian Wilson with a medley of some of the Beach Boys' best-known songs.
26 Mar 2004
Jan Berry of Jan and Dean, died at the age of 62, after being in poor health sustained in a 1966 car crash. Had the 1963 US No.1 & UK No.26 single 'Surf City', (co written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson). At the height of their fame, Jan and Dean hosted and performed at The T.A.M.I. Show, the film also featured The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
20 Feb 2004
Brian Wilson kicked off an 11-date UK tour at London's Royal Festival Hall. The shows saw Wilson performing the full suite of songs from his unreleased masterpiece 'Smile' Wilson's 'teenage symphony to God.
3 Jun 2002
Paul McCartney, Sting, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Cliff Richard, Ozzy Osbourne, The Corrs, Will Young, Atomic Kitten and S Club 7 all appeared at The Queen's Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, London.
30 Jun 2001
Beach Boys member Al Jardine went to court in a bid to sue his former band mates, claiming he had been frozen out of the Beach Boys. The $4 million (£2.35 million) suit was filed against Mike Love, Brian Wilson, the Carl Wilson Trust and Brother Records Incorporated in a New York Superior Court. In 1998 a US judge temporarily barred Jardine from performing under the name Beach Boys Family And Friends after representations from Mike Love and Brother Records. Jardine lost the case in 2003.
29 Mar 2001
Brian Wilson was honored in a three hour tribute at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Guest performances included Billy Joel,Paul Simon, The Go-Gos and the trio of Carly Simon, David Crosby and Jimmy Webb. Also singing Beach Boy songs were Ann and Nancy Wilson, Elton John and Aimee Mann. Brian Wilson himself joined the fun when he took the stage for the final three songs, 'Barbara Ann', 'Surfin' U.S.A.' and 'Fun, Fun, Fun'.
21 Aug 2000
American recording engineer Chuck Britz died of brain cancer in Paradise, California at the age of 72. He worked with Jan and Dean, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, P.F. Sloan and The Grass Roots on numerous albums between 1962 and 1967.
15 Sep 1990
Wilson Phillips had their second US No.1 with 'Release Me', a No.36 hit in the UK. The group was made up of Carnie and Wendy Wilson, the daughters of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, along with Chynna Phillips, the daughter of Mamas and Papas founder John Phillips.
9 Jun 1990
Wilson Phillips went to No.1 on the US with 'Hold On'. 25 years earlier to the day Wendy and Carnies father Beach Boy Brian Wilson had been at No.1 with 'Help Me Rhonda'.
16 Nov 1976
Beach Boy Brian Wilson gave his first formal interview for eight years on the UK BBC 2, TV show 'Old Grey Whistle Test.'
28 Aug 1968
The Beach Boys were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'Do It Again'. Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love it became the group's second and final UK No.1.
25 Aug 1967
Brian Wilson returned to performing live with The Beach Boys in Honolulu after a 2 year hiatus. The group had just released 'Heroes and Villains' in the US.
17 Nov 1966
The Beach Boys were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'Good Vibrations.' As a child, Brian Wilsons mother told him that dogs could pick up "vibrations" from people, so that the dog would bark at "bad vibrations" Wilson turned this into the general idea for the song.
4 Nov 1966
The Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations', entered the UK chart and went on to be a UK & US No.1 hit single. As a child, Brian Wilson's mother told him that dogs could pick up "vibrations" from people, so that the dog would bark at "bad vibrations". Wilson turned this into the general idea for the song.
22 Oct 1966
The Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’ made its debut on the US singles chart. Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, the track was recorded over six weeks in four different Los Angeles studios, at a cost of over $16,000. The recording engineer would later say that the last take sounded exactly like the first, six weeks earlier. The record would reach No.1 on the US charts in December 1966.
27 Aug 1966
The Beach Boys 'God Only Knows' peaked at No.2 on the UK singles chart. The song broke new ground in many ways. It was one of the first commercial songs to use the word 'God' in its title and Brian Wilson used many unorthodox instruments, including the French horns that are heard in the song's famous introduction.
9 Mar 1966
The Beach Boys started recording the Brian Wilson and Tony Asher penned song 'God Only Knows', which when released in May 1966 was the eighth track on the group's album Pet Sounds. It became a UK No.2 single in 1966 and the B-side of 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' when released in the US.
7 Mar 1966
Brian Wilson released 'Caroline No' the first solo single by a Beach Boy. Before it evolved into the final song we know today, (Wilson's recording reappeared as the final track on the Beach Boys' studio album Pet Sounds). The song was originally written as 'Carol I Know'.
18 Feb 1966
Beach Boy Brian Wilson recorded the future classic song 'Good Vibrations', which went on to become the band's third US number-one hit. As a child, his mother told him that dogs could pick up "vibrations" from people, so that the dog would bark at "bad vibrations" Wilson turned this into the general idea for the song.
28 Aug 1965
The Beach Boys 'California Girls' was at No.3 on the US singles chart, the single peaked at No.26 in the UK. The music for the song came from Brian Wilson's first LSD experience. Wilson recorded the Beach Boys' vocals using Columbia's new 8-track recorder, allowing Mike Love's lead vocals to be triple-tracked and the group's vocals spread over three more. 'California Girls' was the first Beach Boys recording to feature vocals from Bruce Johnston, who had joined the group to substitute for Wilson on concert tours.
12 Jul 1965
The Beach Boys released 'California Girls' which Brian Wilson had conceived during his first acid trip. Written by Wilson and Mike Love the song reached No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a top 10 hit in several other countries, becoming one of the band's most successful songs globally. The track inspired The Beatles' parody Back in the U.S.S.R. and many songs with similar or identical titles, including Big Star's 'September Gurls', the Magnetic Fields' 'California Girls', and Katy Perry's 'California Gurls'. In 1984, David Lee Roth recorded a cover version that peaked at No 3.
6 Apr 1965
The Beach Boys went into the United Western Recorders recording studio complex in Hollywood to start work on a new Brian Wilson and Mike Love song 'California Girls.' They recorded 44 takes of the backing track until Brian Wilson was satisfied with the results.
23 Dec 1964
During a US tour Beach Boy Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown during a flight from Los Angeles to Houston. Wilson left the band to concentrate on writing and producing. Glen Campbell replaced Wilson for the bands live shows before Bruce Johnston replaced him.
7 Dec 1964
Beach Boy Brian Wilson married Marilyn Rovell in L.A. The couple divorced in 1979. Marilyn and her sister and cousin were in a group, the Honeys, who were produced by Brian Wilson. Marilyn and Brian had two daughters, Carnie and Wendy, who became members of Wilson Phillips.
2 Apr 1964
Beach Boys recorded their next single 'I Get Around', which became their first US No.1 in the summer of this year. The song begins with a multi-part a cappella introduction that quickly shifts into rock-style verses sung by Mike Love and a pop chorus sung in falsetto by Brian Wilson.
3 Aug 1963
The Beach Boys released 'Surfer Girl', the first song Brian Wilson ever wrote and the first one he produced.
20 Jul 1963
Jan and Dean started a two week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Surf City', written by The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, with the Beach Boys on backing vocals. The single peaked at No.26 in the UK.
4 Mar 1963
The Beach Boys released 'Surfin' U.S.A.' a song with lyrics by Brian Wilson set to the music of 'Sweet Little Sixteen', written by Chuck Berry. Billboard ranked 'Surfin' U.S.A.' the No. 1 song of 1963.
16 Jul 1962
The Beach Boys signed to Capitol Records in the US, their first hit was in September this year with 'Surfin' Safari.' Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, The Beach Boys first recorded the song at World Pacific Studios on February 8, 1962 in what was the band's second ever recording session.


  1. Eugenia Vanburen

    November 6, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    I really liked the beat, instruments,and most importantly ill listen to again some time, I definitely recommend it.

  2. Philip Heath

    June 20, 2021 at 7:36 am

    I saw the Smile tour in Brisbane, Australia, in 2004. I expected brilliance, and there it was, but the music was unexpectedly moving and pure, and simply beautiful. The band was undoubtedly the most versatile and perfect I’ve heard. I feel SO privileged to have seen Brian, and heard his finest writing and arrangements and musicianship live. Solid gold memory!

  3. Joyce Lackey

    September 6, 2023 at 12:47 am

    We saw the film about Brian and all of the problems he had when his producer gave him drugs that messed hom up. I amso thankful he got the help he needed to overcome them with a lot of help. He’s a sweet soul that deserves a good life enjoying his talent. Like Paul McCartney he is a music genius. I will always have a lot of respect for him and Paul for all of the great music they have given us.

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