He is one of popular music's most deeply revered figures, 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 in a modest Hawthorne, California home that was filled with music. His mom and dad both played piano, and as a young “boy soprano,” Brian’s vocal gift was immediately evident. He had also started singing harmonies…literally “in their room”…with his two younger brothers (Dennis and Carl). As a teen in the 1950s, he became obsessed with the harmonic blend of groups like the Four Freshmen, and then, in the early 1960s, inspired to combine multi-part vocal harmony with the rock rhythms of Chuck Berry, Brian found his place in the musical sun. He was barely out of his teens when he began to create some of the most beloved records ever... nine consecutive “gold” albums that featured such classics as "Surfer Girl," “In My Room,” “I Get Around,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” "Fun, Fun, Fun," “Help Me Rhonda” and "California Girls"...just to name a handful of the more than two dozen Top 40 hits Brian co-wrote, arranged, produced and performed on with his family band, the Beach Boys.
By 1966, though, glorious harmonies, ingenious hooks and four years of virtually uninterrupted creative growth and commercial success was no longer enough to satisfy Wilson, and as his artistic horizons expanded dramatically, he produced three records in that landmark year that forever changed the course of popular music. The first was Pet Sounds; the emotional autobiography of its 23-year old “auteur,” it is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums ever made. Brian’s second studio masterpiece in 1966 was a track that he first cut during the Pet Sounds session, but it wasn’t included on the album because it was not only unfinished but destined for a different kind of greatness. Over more than a dozen sessions, the Pet Sounds outtake began to take shape as the next Beach Boys single, and when “Good Vibrations” was unleashed on the world in the fall of ’66, it stunned everybody. As “Good Vibrations” headed from final mix to master to pressing plant, Brian and fellow songwriter Van Dyke Parks began work on his third major production of ‘66, an album Brian believed would be “a teenage symphony to God.” Brian was nearly done with Smile when a combination of circumstances (record industry pressure, technical challenges, personal issues, internal group dynamics, etc.) forced him to shelve it.
Sadly, for a long while the music took a back seat as Wilson struggled, in the words of the Pet Sounds song “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” to find a place to fit in, to survive. His journey back to music took place in fits and starts. In 1988, Wilson finally released his first solo album, which featured “Love and Mercy,” the beautiful “message” song that often ends his concerts, and vintage compositions (e.g. “Melt Away,” “There’s So Many,” “Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long”). In 1995, after Brian married Melinda Ledbetter, he at last had what he called “emotional security,” which gave him the confidence to return full-time to music. Reuniting with his old friend and collaborator Van Dyke Parks, Brian sang the lead vocals and multi-part background harmonies for the acclaimed Orange Crate Art. Next, in 1998, came his second solo album, Imagination. Filled with solid Wilson originals and extraordinary layered harmonies, Wilson’s shockingly strong vocals were, for many, the highlight of Imagination. Welcomed back to the world of music (through such honors as induction into the “Songwriters Hall of Fame”), Wilson was feted in 2001 at “An All Star Tribute” at Radio City Music Hall.
In 2009 Wilson announced his next project, a groundbreaking collaboration with one of his musical heroes George Gershwin. With the blessing of the Gershwin estate he was able to complete 2 unfinished fragments of music by the late composer. This historical moment in music history will be released in 2010 on Walt Disney Records. The album will also include Wilson’s versions of his all time favorite Gershwin tunes.
If you’ve seen Brian in concert, you’ve already witnessed the magic and the celebration. If you’ve heard his records, you know why he’s been called the Mozart of Rock, the Gershwin of his generation. In a culture where trends change overnight, Wilson has gone the distance. It’s been said that if music is math, then Wilson just might be Einstein. But no comparisons are really necessary; he’s Brian Wilson, an American composer, arranger and producer whose work has proved to be as powerful as faith, as timeless as love and as heartfelt as mercy.