Brian Wilson Biography

20 June 1942, Hawthorne, California, USA. Brian Wilson, the spiritual leader of the Beach Boys, has received as much press and publicity for his health and mental problems over the years as has his magnificent contribution as songwriter, producer, arranger and vocalist of that famous group.

It was suggested as early as 1965 that Wilson was a ‘musical genius’ and that he should go solo. He did release a solo single ‘Caroline, No’ in 1966, but it has since been absorbed into the Beach Boys canon. For many years internal ructions kept Wilson and his self-appointed doctor/guru/friend Eugene Landy (b. 26 November 1934, d. 22 March 2006, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA) at loggerheads with the rest of the Beach Boys. Ironically Brian was the last Wilson brother to release a solo album. Brian Wilson was released in 1988 to strong reviews with Wilson bravely appearing for the major publicity that ensued. By commercial standards it was a flop, even with the high-tech production handled by Russ Titelman, Jeff Lynne, Lenny Waronker and Andy Paley. The suite ‘Rio Grande’ had strong echoes of the Beach Boys’ SMiLE period.

Wilson was forced to sever his links with Landy after the rest of the Beach Boys had taken him to court. He successfully contested the ownership of his back catalogue which had been sold by his father Murry Wilson. Immediately after this Mike Love issued a writ claiming he had written 79 songs with Wilson. Sire Records rejected Wilson’s second album Sweet Insanity as being ‘pathetic’. In 1993, he was again working with Van Dyke Parks together with Andy Paley on further new songs, and, following an out of court financial settlement with Mike Love, he began writing songs with his cousin after a creative break of many years. The television documentary I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times was the first in-depth interview with Wilson, and the public were at last able to make up their own mind as to his state of health. Although he was clearly enjoying singing and writing songs, there were doubts as to their quality. The accompanying Don Was -produced album failed to ignite, and so it was immediately on to the next project in the ‘we are going to convince you that Brian Wilson is not a spent force’ movement. Recorded with Van Dyke Parks, 1995’s Orange Crate Art was more cohesive and was a co-project in the true sense. The album could best be described as interesting, with flashes of brilliance in songs such as ‘San Francisco’ and the title track. Reviews were positive but any chart success proved elusive. Further good news about Wilson’s health arrived with the confirmation that he had moved out of California, and was living with his second wife Melinda in Chicago together with their two adopted children (the family later moved back to Beverly Hills). He worked long and hard on 1998’s Imagination, and although sales were modest he did receive an immense amount of positive reviews and goodwill.

Wilson undertook a tour of the USA in 1999, using the young Californian band the Wondermints as his backing unit (their association dated back to 1995). The following year he embarked on the Pet Sounds Symphony tour, playing his most famous album live backed by a 55-piece orchestra. He also released a double album, Live At The Roxy Theatre, initially only available via his official website. In 2002, Wilson made a triumphant return to the UK, earning amazing reviews and accolades. The subsequent release Pet Sounds Live was taken from his London performances. He returned again in the summer for a second tour and an appearance at the Queen’s Royal Jubilee concert. Then in February 2004, to the unmitigated delight of his fans, Wilson unveiled the completed version of the legendary ‘lost’ Beach Boys album SMiLE during a series of concerts with an expanded Wondermints band at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints had worked tirelessly behind the scenes in organising the music, with Van Dyke Parks returning to provide some new lyrics.

A star-studded new studio album, Gettin In Over My Head, was released later in 2004. The album provided further evidence of Wilson’s renewed status, although the quality of the material was bitterly disappointing in light of his recent and often magnificent concerts. ‘Rainbow Eyes’, ‘Saturday Morning In The City’ and ‘The Waltz’, in particular, were marred by pedestrian music and mawkish lyrics. Shortly afterwards, Wilson released the long-awaited studio recording of SMiLE.

Wilson has ultimately proven to be the real survivor of the Beach Boys and the true voice of the music he created and arranged with the band, enabling him to bathe in the justified glory their music provokes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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