Brian Wilson, born in a Inglewood, California hospital in the summer of 1942, was the eldest of three brothers. Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson each active throughout their childhood and throughout adolescence with many activities which kept them engaged in different ways, such as playing football, yet also actively engaging in musical interests, such as singing or playing in their high school’s marching band.
Wilson, with the help of his brothers, enlisted the help of their long-time singing partner and cousin Mike Love, and began performing publicly as the newly-formed quartet “Carl and the Passions.” It was at one of these performances, specifically a fall arts festival at the boys’ high school, which sparked the interest of a classmate and longtime friend, Al Jardine. Jardine would go on to form the fifth and final member of the original Beach Boys rock and roll band.
In the early 1960s, the band was signed to Capitol Records and began recording “beach music,” with songs like “Surfin’ USA” and “Surfin’ Safari” gaining international fame in the summer of 1962. After gaining initial success as a performer, Brian soon took to the role as The Beach Boys producer, and released one of the most influential LPs of the 1960s, Sufer Girl, which crested at #7 in the fall of 1963, and included the powerful ballad “In My Room” as well as “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Catch a Wave.”
Behind Wilson’s success and international recognition, however, was a darker side. Onboard a Los Angeles flight bound for Houston, Wilson fell apart. Between touring internationally and his demanding schedule as a record producer, Wilson isolated himself in his bedroom, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, in what would eventually be regarded as a three-year-long nervous breakdown. It was during this time in which Wilson began his work on what would become perhaps the band’s most influential project, Pet Sounds.
In May of 1965, The Beach Boys found themselves in a state of transition. Without their leading man accompanying them, the band began to lose direction. Initially Wilson’s place had been filled by Glen Campbell. Campbell, however, had other aspirations as a musician, and split with the band to pursue a solo career, causing a massive rift to form between certain members of the band as they struggled to find a replacement. It looked like this was the end for the group; that was until Wilson, with the guidance of his family and friends, came out of his reclusive, drug-induced depression and began once again producing the band’s music in January of 1966. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys’ most successful album to date would be released in the spring of that year, and Wilson would enjoy a third number one single in “Good Vibrations.” It would be the last crowning success The Beach Boys would have as a group.
Wilson, revitalized from the success of Pet Sounds, began working on a new project, originally called Dumb Angel, but soon renamed Smile. The band began work on this groundbreaking album, dubbed by critics as “rock’s new sound,” beginning in late 1966 and into the spring of 1967. From the get-go, however, the album seemed slated to fail. A lengthy legal battle between the group and Capitol Records coupled with failing equipment and personal creative differences began to push back production on the album until its eventual cancellation in the summer of 1967. To make matters worse, Wilson, who had been battling substance abuse during this time, suffered a traumatic relapse, sending The Beach Boys into a state of oblivion during the 1970s, and putting any new projects on hold for nearly 30 years.
Wilson, nearly 40 years after shelving the Smile project, attempted to resurrect the album in early 2003, accompanied by longtime fan and fellow musician Darian Sahanaja of The Wondermints and world-renowned lyricist Van Dyke Parks. Friends and family, namely his younger brothers Dennis and Carl, had succumbed to long term illness with alcohol and other illicit drugs. Wilson, who had begun work on Smile exactly 37 years earlier, finished in February of 2004 and debuted his newest work at the Royal Festival Hall in London and throughout the UK on a tour that summer. The album reached number 13 on the Billboard Charts, and to this day, Wilson is active in both producing and performing his own music, a true legend in the tumultuous history of rock and roll.