The Mad Genius of Brian Wilson
1942 to 1960
Brian Douglas Wilson is born June 20, 1942 in Hawthorne, CA to Audree and Murry Wilson, the owner of an industrial equipment rental business called A.B.L.E. and a tirelessly aspiring songwriter. At around two years of age, Brian hears Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" at his grandmother's house, immediately infusing him with a love for music. Brothers Dennis and Carl are born in 1944 and 1946, respectively. Raised in a tough love household, the Wilson brothers grow up in fear of their father, who was known around the neighbourhood to use his leather belt on them and taunt them in front of friends whenever they fail to do live up to Murry's expectations. According to Peter Ames Carlin's authorized biography, Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, the boys told contrary tales growing up of their father's abuse, like instructing Dennis to eat tomatoes, the food he despised most, till he vomited and making a young Brian defecate on a plate as punishment. Most famous of all, however, was Murry's well-known tendency to taunt his sons by removing his glass eye and forcing them to stare at the empty socket. But Murry's most detrimental act comes when Brian is six years old, and was struck in the head by his father, causing him to lose hearing permanently in his right ear. The account has both been confirmed and denied by Brian and his family over the years, who also cite birth, a fight with a neighbourhood kid and a congenital nerve defect as other reasons. In high school, Brian, a popular and athletic student develops a crush on Carol Mountain, a girl he would repeatedly visit in song throughout the following decades, most famously on 1965's "Caroline No." Brian begins hanging out with friend Ted Sprague as a way of avoiding his father, and begins attending church. He joins the choir and begins developing his voice, discovering the falsetto and learning the importance of harmonizing. On family occasions, the Wilsons, led by Brian on piano, would perform with cousins the Loves; cousin Mike Love turns Brian on to R&B, doo wop, and most importantly the Four Freshmen, who quickly become a favourite. Brian begins mimicking the group's music with his mother and Carl, and experiments with layered vocals using a Wollensak tape recorder purchased by his parents. Brian studies composition and harmony in school and soon he begins recording everything, as well as writing and performing songs at home and school, including a song to help a fellow student run for student council and an early version of "Sloop John B." After he graduates from high school, Brian enrols at El Camino Junior College, where he bumps into acquaintance Al Jardine, who along with Mike Love, begin discussing the possibilities of forming a group.
When Brian struggles to find something new to write about, Dennis, now enthralled in an indolent lifestyle of booze, marijuana and surfing, suggests his brother try writing surf songs using the slang he learned from the beach. Brian, Mike, Al, Dennis and Carl form a band and give life to Brian's song "Surfin'." While Murry and Audree are away in Mexico on Labor Day weekend, the group use emergency house money and a loan from Al's mom to rent instruments and equipment to rehearse. When the elder Wilsons return home, Murry is livid, but a run-through of the song convinces him the band have potential, and he shortly declares himself their manager. Al is briefly booted out of the band when Murry decides it should be a family-only affair before Brian changes his mind; Jardine doesn't learn of his ejection until 2005. They call themselves the Pendletones, after a popular wool shirt favoured by surfers, and record their first single, "Surfin'" with b-side "Luau," which is released on December 8, 1961 by local record label Candix. When the label suggests they change their name for the release, they choose the Beach Boys; the single does so well locally, selling 50,000 copies, that it enters the Billboard charts at #75. Brian drops out of college to focus on the band, and they begin playing shows to support the single. In their matching striped shirts, the band play school assemblies, hops and beach parties, transported to and from by a watchful Murry in his station wagon. Brian begins to obsess over the work of producer Phil Spector, whose "wall of sound" style of production begins to influence the head Beach Boy's ear in the studio.
1962 to 1963
Candix goes bankrupt and Murry calls up Capitol Records, sets up an appointment and the day of, walks out of the famous tower alongside Brian with a record contract for the Boys. They release "409" as their first single, believing the vehicular subject matter will appeal to listeners, but it's the b-side, "Surfin' Safari" that catches the attention of DJs and helps them climb to #15 on Billboard. Al leaves to go to school in Grand Rapids, MI for pharmacy, and is briefly replaced by Carl's friend David Marks. The Beach Boys release their debut album, Surfin' Safari in October, and though it doesn't make the band a household name it peaks at #32 on an impressive 37-week stay in the Billboard charts. The album shows their age and innocence under Murry's strict regime, sticking to clean-cut subject matter like the county fair and harmless sand-filled fun amidst some pretty conventional rock song structures. Hardly a sign of what is to come. Brian begins honing his surf lingo by hanging out with local surfers and comes up with "Surfin' USA," which Capitol releases in the spring of 1963; the song immediately becomes a sensation and reaches #3 on Billboard, raising the awareness of the sport and turning surfing into the new big thing. The song marks Brian's first attempt to double-track vocals, a technique similar to a one-person duet that involves singing and/or playing along to a recording to produce a fuller sound than just using one voice. Another hit, "Shut Down," quickly follows and turns the Beach Boys into one of the country's most popular bands. Murry convinces Capitol to give full production control to Brian, adding to his authority over songwriting, arranging and co-vocals. A 21-year-old Brian marries his 16-year-old girlfriend Marilyn. Al Jardine is invited back into the group when he returns home from school, replacing Marks. Brian, along with friend Gary Usher, writes "In My Room," which begins to show his interest in developing beyond surfing and car songs, into escapism, which will later take on a bigger role in his songwriting. Even though he is pumping out hit after hit for the Beach Boys, Brian finds the time and interest to write for and produce other artists, including California brethren Jan & Dean (who score a #1 hit with "Surf City" in 1963), much to his father's dismay. Brian's reputation as a hitmaker earns him an office at the famed Capitol Records Tower at Hollywood and Vine, where he writes the third Beach Boys album, Surfer Girl, which is released in September 1963. Featuring the title track, as well as "Catch A Wave," "Little Deuce Coupe" and "In My Room," it's another album highlighted by singles that continues the band's surefire hit formula of tubular and vehicular subject matter. A month later they release Little Deuce Coupe, an album featuring some previously released songs and some quick news ones thrown together hastily to build on their success. Taken aback by Phil Spector's "Be My Baby," performed by the Ronettes, Brian begins working in the same Los Angeles studios as the producer, as well, sitting in on Spector's recording sessions to get a sense of how he built his sound. Brian soon begins to hire Spector's session players in hopes of achieving something similar for his recordings; he even offers the eccentric producer a future Beach Boys song called "Don't Worry, Baby," as well as "Don't Hurt My Little Sister" for the Ronettes, both of which Phil rejects. Brian is, however, invited to play piano on a session, but is thrown out for "substandard playing," according to Spector, who becomes known for his displeasure in Wilson's infatuation.
In early 1964, the Beatles arrive in the U.S. and immediately threaten the Beach Boys' reign over the pop music charts. On the same label, the Fab Four's overnight fame Stateside quickly overshadows the California sons in their label's eyes. The band begin the year releasing Shut Down Volume 2, the follow-up to a 1963 hot rod comp that featured two Beach Boys songs; this album, however, was assembled to try and compete with the Beatles, and suffers from its reliance on filler, despite boasting songs like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "The Warmth of the Sun." Thanks to the pressure from the Liverpudlian moptops, on top of touring, Brian spends his days constantly writing new songs, and during recording sessions, spends extra time re-recording vocals of his band-mates he deems unsuitable, thus increasing his obsession and reputation as a workaholic. Brian suffers a panic attack on a plane to play a show in Houston. Immediately, he begins to cut down on the number of shows he plays to help him focus on writing and recording more material to keep the Beach Boys aligned with their competition, which now also included the Beatles as well as the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. The band fire Murry as their manager for obvious reasons, however, the elder Wilson doesn't bow out of the band's personal and professional life, constantly interrupting their recording sessions with his never-ending criticisms. After one final straw, Brian screams at his dad to shut up, and Murry never willingly returns to the studio. The band release All Summer Long; although it contains the same mix of carefree beach pop and wistful ballads, the title track, "I Get Around" and "Wendy" suggest the emancipation from Murry gave them an even sunnier demeanour. On a late European tour, Mike Love ends up in a German jail, according to Capitol publicist Earl Leaf for fighting with a pimp after trying to sleep with one of his hookers. Live album, Beach Boys Concert becomes their first number one album, topping the charts for four straight weeks. The band follow that a month later with the release their first seasonal album, The Beach Boys' Christmas Album, working with one of Brian's idols, Dick Reynolds, arranger for the Four Freshman. Another trip to Houston, on December 23, affects Brian; he begins crying and wailing as he lies in the aisle screaming into his pillow. He ends up playing the gig, but returns home right after and calls session musician Glen Campbell to replace him for the next night's show. Soon after, Brian chooses to stop performing with the band, and begins focusing his attention solely on writing and recording. The band threaten to break up; according to Brian, upon telling the band, Al gets cramps, Dennis threatens someone with an ashtray and Mike breaks into tears. Things get back to normal, however, and Campbell becomes a temporary stand-in, but is quickly replaced by long-serving Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, who can hit all of Brian's falsettos. Brian's friend Loren Schwartz, an agent for William Morris, introduces him to the wonder of marijuana, and, looking for some creative inspiration, Brian takes an immediate liking to the drug.
Recorded in January soon after Brian's breakdown, The Beach Boys Today! is released in March and is the band's first album to break free from routine by using more keyboards and percussion instead of guitar, and dividing the listening experience by presenting an A-side of upbeat rockers and a B-side of melancholy ballads. Many people believe his newfound interest in pot helped inspire Brian. He begins spending more time with Schwartz, and soon begins taking LSD, which inspires him to write "California Girls." They release Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) in June, which takes a slight step back into their original prescription of fun in the sun; "I'm Bugged At My Ol' Man," however, is an amusing poke at Murry, following his dismissal. Worried about his growing drug use, Marilyn moves out and threatens to leave Brian if he doesn't stop socializing with Schwartz; she eventually returns home. At the recommendation of Al, Brian records an instrumental version of high school favourite, "Sloop John B.," but puts it on ice for the time being. Murry and Audree Wilson separate, giving Brian even more reason to resent his father. As Brian's appetite for drugs increases, so does his appetite for food, with Marilyn assigned as his in-house chef, making him burgers and steaks whenever he likes. Brian also begins shutting himself away from friends and family, instead concentrating on losing himself in his music at his Beverly Hills mansion. In order to get another album out, he quickly puts together Beach Boys Party!, a collection of oldies, Beatles cuts and new versions of their own hits. Feeling the heat from the Beatles, who have just released Rubber Soul, Brian sets out to write an album that is more than just singles and filler. According to friend and biographer David Leaf, Brian told Marilyn, "I'm gonna make the greatest rock album ever made!" He also tells Rolling Stones producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham, "One day I'll write songs people pray to." Brian looks for a new collaborator to feed off and calls an advertising exec/jingle writer named Tony Asher. Brian and his new co-songwriter begin working on a new album immediately.
Brian creates Pet Sounds using a number of collaborators and session musicians; aside from a co-writing credit on "I'm Waiting for the Day" and some lead vocal duties by Mike Love ? and Carl Wilson on "God Only Knows" ? the Boys are virtually absent from the album, putting Brian's genius on display. Recorded while the band were off touring in Japan, Brian was in the studio emulating and progressing Spector's production methods. This included expanding the breadth of instruments to include exotic strings, bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, ukulele, guiros, Coca-Cola cans, dog whistles, barking dogs and on "You Still Believe in Me," Asher inside a piano plucking strings with paper clips. A lot of the album's inspiration comes from his idea of teenage love, he tells Asher, divulging that he fantasizes about his wife's sister, Diane, an old crush, as well as high school friend, Carol Mountain, who becomes the inspiration for album cut, "Caroline No." Brian's mood swings back and forth between giddy and depressed, and according to Asher, as driven and inspired as he was, Brian also had the tendency to avoid work and take in an episode of Flipper. Upon returning from Asia, the Beach Boys are introduced to the album, which is mostly recorded by early February. Their immediate reaction is puzzled; Al, Dennis and Mike are overhead complaining "This isn't our kind of shit!" according to Carlin's Catch A Wave. Mike especially takes offence to the album, largely because he felt snubbed by Brian working with other songwriters; to make some peace, Brian allows Mike to rename "Hang On To Your Ego" to "I Know There's An Answer." According to Mike, "I was aware that Brian was beginning to experiment with LSD and other psychedelics. The prevailing drug jargon at the time had it that doses of LSD would shatter your ego, as if that were a positive thing... I wasn't interested in taking acid or getting rid of my ego." Obsessed with achieving vocal perfection, Brian forces his band-mates to do take after take; unsatisfied, he excuses them, erases their vocals and re-records them himself. Upon its finish, Brian is worried about how people will react, later telling biographer David Leaf he "was scared nobody would like it." Capitol's response to hearing the tapes is an unenthused one, and there is discussion about shelving it and just releasing a greatest hits instead. They eventually decide to release it in May to mixed reviews in the U.S., a disappointing Billboard charting at 11 and lukewarm sales of only 500,000 ? an embarrassment considering most of their previous albums were million sellers. To make up for this, Capitol issues Best of the Beach Boys two months later and it's an instant hit, charting for over a year and a half ? a dagger to the heart for Brian. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1976, Marilyn Wilson says, "That really hurt him badly. He couldn't understand it. It was like, why put your heart and soul into something?" But that was in the U.S. ? over in the UK things were completely different. Bruce Johnston takes an early pressing of Pet Sounds over to London, and hosts an exclusive listening party for both journalists and a select bunch of famous musician friends. Paul McCartney hails "God Only Knows" as the greatest song ever written, and soon after the Beatles began using multi-tracking vocals as a result of hearing Brian's work and admit Pet Sounds was the inspiration behind Sgt. Pepper. For no reason at all other than excitement, Stones manager Oldham takes out a full-page ad in Melody Maker to proclaim Pet Sounds as the greatest album ever made. Upon release, the album receives rapturous reviews and sells like hotcakes. Meanwhile, back at home, a gutted but still inspired Brian works on an R&B track called "Good Vibrations"; the idea is based on his mother telling him about the vibes dogs have to determine if a human is friendly or not. Again, Brian breaks out an arsenal of instruments, led by the Theremin. Brian's pursuit of realizing "Good Vibrations" takes him seven months, in four different studios as he forces the musicians and the Beach Boys into gruelling sessions. He cuts the versions apart and pastes them together to get his finished version, a process that is virtually unheard of at the time. In the end, his "little pocket symphony" far exceeds the typical length of a pop song and as well as the budget, costing Brian more than $50,000 ? at that point, the most expensive song ever produced. The single rejuvenates the Beach Boys after the disappointment of Pet Sounds, selling a million copies in its first month, confirming Brian's ability to both push the envelope and appeal to the masses. Along with manager Nick Grillo, the Beach Boys found Brother Records, a new label and holding company designed to protect the band's intellectual property rights and trademark. Brian starts taking the amphetamine, Desbutol, using them to keep him up so he can work; they cause him to see small bodies flying through the air, which he believes are heavenly creatures feeding him the music. It's argued that they inspire him to name his next album Dumb Angel. As Brian begins to work on the record he seeks out yet another collaborator; friend Terry Melcher recommends upstart musician/songwriter Van Dyke Parks. The two hit it off and work together at once; Brian buys Parks a new Volvo so he can drive to his house every day. They write with the idea of making the album a continuous suite of songs that follow a theme both lyrically and musically; Brian tests the many different sections by playing them for friends, in order to discover what works and what doesn't. The album's name changes to Smile, and they hire an artist friend of Parks' named Frank Holmes; he designs the iconic album cover of a shop that sells smiles. Surprisingly, the Beach Boys beat out the Beatles for the readers' choice pick for "Best World Vocal Group" in NME. Brian's appetite for both food (steaks, cookies, Reddi-wip) and drugs increases, while his grasp on sanity begins to decrease. Brian has a sandbox installed in his living room, built around his piano and filled with sand to give him the feel of the beach beneath his feet. Soon after, he has an Arabian tent pitched to hold meetings and have conversations, and then replaces all of the furniture in another room with gym mats to encourage everyone ? but himself ? to exercise. During the sessions for the song "Fire," which will become "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," Brian hands out fire hats to all of the musicians and has an assistant light a bucket of kindling to give them the smell of smoke as inspiration. Brian begins to feel that song has an impact on his surroundings when he notices a string of fires occurring in L.A.; in his frail mental state, he believes he has cast a voodoo curse on the city and reportedly destroys the tapes. He also becomes ever more fearsome that he is being spied on and he hires a team of surveillance experts and boosts his security; Brian then asks all of his friends and family to change their phone numbers and begins hosting all of his business meetings in the safest place he could think of: the deep end of his swimming pool. The Beach Boys return from a UK tour, and are ridiculed by Brits who make fun of the band's matching striped wardrobe; Dennis's tearful humiliation inspires Parks to write a song called "Surf's Up," to express the emotion. The other group members questioned Brian's bizarre recording methods. While recording "Barnyard," he made everyone crawl around and make animal noises. For "Heroes & Villains," Al admits to Goldmine in 2000, "Brian made us crawl around and snort like a bunch of pigs? It was like being trapped in an insane asylum." They also questioned the music. Though Carl was a fan and told the press, "Smile makes Pet Sounds stink," Mike was livid about the "hippie bullshit," singling out Parks' lyrics on "Cabin Essence." Mike aggressively confronts Van Dyke asking for an explanation of what the lyrics meant, without an answer Parks walks out and leaves the project for a period of time. Anticipating the release, Capitol print up 400,000 copies of the album sleeve, none of which are ever used (and most of which are destroyed in the late '80s, with the exception of a reported dozen). Capitol is even less impressed when an increasingly depressed and paranoid Brian (for some reason he now believes Phil Spector is trying to control and possibly even kill him) tells them the album won't be ready for Christmas. Still, the label takes out ads in Billboard and other trade mags promising Smile and it's "?Good Vibrations' sound" will be available in January 1967. It isn't.
1967 to 1968
After constant tinkering, the walkout by Van Dyke Parks and numerous postponements, Brian quits the project and Capitol shelves plans to release Smile indefinitely. When Smile is eventually released 37 years later, Brian admits why the album never saw a release on the accompanying DVD: "The reasons that I didn't release Smile: One, Mike didn't like it..." The band begin to work with alternate Smile takes at Brian's Bel Air studio in June and July, using hashish as a motivator. Brian is unreliable during the sessions, forcing the other members to take matters into their own hands and become co-producers. Having edited his prized possession from Smile, the epic "Heroes & Villains" down to a radio-friendly size from over six minutes long, Brian asks his astrologer to choose a moment he should release the single. The song only charts at #12, and is considered a failure when reviewers don't understand Brian's vision. Carl manages to duck out of being drafted for Vietnam and the band cancel a crucial headlining slot at the Monterey Pop Festival, which in turn creates a bit of a backlash against the group; the Jimi Hendrix Experience steal their spotlight as America's favourite band. The Beach Boys release Smiley Smile, an incoherent album containing a bunch of Smile outtakes, in September, which is notable for being their first album crediting the entire band as producers. Carl describes it as "a bunt instead of a grand slam," comparing the album to what should have been with Smile. Without the same buzz as Smile, the album doesn't even make Billboard's Top 40, and becomes their worst selling album. To avoid more disaster, Brian rejoins the live band for some shows in Hawaii planned as a live album recording; the performance is less than spectacular and the band are forced to go into the studio and record overdubs. The album never surfaces, but produces a classic rant by Love when they get to a performance of "Heroes & Villains," where he derides the song and takes pokes at each band member. Murry Wilson's dream comes true and he releases his own album titled, The Many Moods of Murry Wilson, a collection of light jazzy pop; the album is a complete failure. The band members vote to relieve Brian of his authority ? since most of his days are either spent in bed or tripping while recording ? agreeing to share all of the responsibilities together. Brian begins working with a band called Redwood, writing and producing them before they hit it big and change their name to Three Dog Night. With the Beach Boys, Brian takes an interest in the wilderness, Brian uses transcendence to help him write the next album, Wild Honey, an R&B-leaning album that again uses some throwaways from Smile. The album closes off the bumpy year and marks the last time they record in both mono and stereo. It fares better than its predecessor, but it still doesn't return them to their heyday glory, which is now long behind them. Brian and Marilyn welcome their daughter Carnie into the world. Mike begins practicing Transcendental Meditation after meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; he accompanies the Beatles, Donovan and Mia Farrow for a two-week stay at the guru's ashram in India. While he is away, the remaining members begin recording Friends, with Bruce Johnston contributing for the first time, along with some of the Wrecking Crew. Most notably, Dennis Wilson steps up and writes two songs, "Little Bird" and "Be Still," which features a bridge taken from Smile's "Child is Father of the Man." The album, their first released solely in stereo, is also another departure for the band, concentrating more on acoustic arrangements, heavily influenced by the group's practice of Transcendental Meditation, which Brian, Mike and Al pay tribute to on the album's closer. The album does well in the UK, but charts miserably in the U.S., peaking at #126. The biggest disaster, however, comes when the Beach Boys bring the Maharishi as their opening act on tour to lecture about TM; those looking for surfing anthems are given a rude awakening, and after just a few dates, the band pull out of the tour when their New York City date sells only 200 tickets. The Beach Boys, however, do strike gold in the UK soon after when one-off single "Do It Again" hits #1. Though a lot of the details are unconfirmed, the demons in his head take over and Brian is committed to a mental hospital for treatment; considering his output was still relatively steady, it is thought it was for a very brief stay.
An excited Brian hands band members a five-way agreement that declares the band have legally changed their name to "the Beach" since they are no longer boys; no one signs and the contract is discarded. Brian's involvement in the band's activity both in the studio and on stage decreases significantly, thanks to his growing addiction to cocaine and unstable emotional and mental states. The band pull together songs for an album titled 20/20, their last studio album for Capitol and only release in 1969. Comprised of some past singles, two more leftovers from Smile and a few new recordings, it's a surprisingly cohesive collection of songs that show the Beach Boys were better off without the erratic Brian at the time. In his absence, brothers Carl and Dennis step up and fill the void. Perhaps the most noteworthy inclusion is Dennis' "Never Learn Not to Love," a reworking of Charles Manson's "Cease to Exist," a song the future mass murdering cult leader donated to Wilson on the condition that he doesn't change the lyrics ? Dennis alters some words and changes the bridge. Having already occupied Dennis's Sunset Boulevard house with his followers, Manson threatens both Dennis's and his stepson Scott's life for the betrayal. Not long after, Manson orders a hit on Beach Boys associate/producer Terry Melcher at his L.A. home on Cielo Drive, after pulling out of directing a documentary on Manson's family. Melcher and girlfriend Candice Bergen had recently moved away, leasing the house to director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. When the Family arrive they brutally murder Tate and her guests, and scrawl Beatles lyrics on the wall in blood. Manson arrives a couple days later at Dennis's doorstep demanding money from him. A week later when Dennis is touring Canada with the Beach Boys, Manson revisits him to find his house empty; he leaves a .45-calibre bullet with Wilson's name on it. Later on when he is asked by reporters about what he knew about the murders, Dennis replies, "I know why Charles Manson did what he did. Someday, I'll tell the world. I'll write a book and explain why he did it. Over the years, people have always wanted to know what happened, what my relationship with Charlie was. We were just friends." Owing one more record to Capitol, Brian and his dad write "Break Away" together, but the single never even reaches the top 60. Marilyn gives birth to her second daughter with Brian, Wendy. Marilyn later tells Rolling Stone, "He once told me, ?I want you to discipline the kids. I'll do it wrong.' He backed out of it totally." The Beach Boys discover Capitol has been skimming an extra ten percent of the band's profits, and didn't pay Brian nearly $1.5 million in producer royalties. The band sue the label, which is settled in their favour, eventually giving them rights to all of their albums from Pet Sounds on; Capitol retaliates by deleting the band's albums from its back catalogue. It gets worse for the band when Murry, who is still their acting publisher and co-owner of their publishing company Sea of Tunes, sells the company to A&M for $750,000, citing the band's decreased popularity. Murry apparently keeps all the money himself, and a rumoured violent confrontation with Brian, according to his 1991 autobiography, occurs. Beach Boys fan Ted Nolan walks into the Radiant Radish, a West Hollywood health food store and finds a long haired Brian Wilson selling vitamins in his robe. He recounts the tale in a 1971 Rolling Stone article. Brian records two albums with poet Stephen Kalinich, but they are never released; one of them, A World of Peace, is set for release in September 2008.
1970 to 1971
Mike suffers a breakdown followed by intense fasting, a high-speed chase by his father and brothers and what he calls "tainted Wilson blood." Brian rejoins the band for some West coast live dates; he suffers a panic attack in Seattle, stating that someone in the crowd is trying to kill him. Done with Capitol, the band sign with Reprise as a joint venture with their label Brother; the deal hinges on a healthy Brian regularly contributing at least 70 percent of the music on every album. A hopeful Reprise releases "Add Some Music To Your Day," but the single stalls at #64; Capitol release their final Beach Boys single, "Cotton Fields," which hits #1 in Australia and Scandinavia. The band record an acoustic-heavy album of new songs written by every member called Add Some Music, but the label rejects it, asking for three or four hits or else they'll cancel their contract. Upset by the ultimatum, the Beach Boys write some new music at the label's behest, and rename the album Sunflower. Though it fails to reach much of an audience (it's the band's worst-selling album ever), the album is a critical success that shines a light on the members' individual songwriting talents, and will be remembered as one of their finest albums, confirmed by its inclusion in Rolling Stone's 500 greatest albums of all time. As the band begin to feel irrelevant, they are asked to play the Big Sur Folk Festival curated by Joan Baez. With their shaggy hair and burly beards, they not only fit in with the surprised crowd by putting on a career-saving show; soon after the make an appearance in San Francisco at a Grateful Dead show, solidifying their cool with whole new audience. Eager to capitalize, they jump into the studio and take new manager Jack Rieley's direction to focus more on socially and politically aware songs. The band are motivated and writing, but Brian is not; he does contribute some instrumentals, but his voice is damaged from smoking cigarettes and joints. Named after a song originally planned for Smile, Surf's Up is released to much fanfare, becoming their first top 40 album since Wild Honey. Much to the label's insistence, Brian does contribute his part with some prodding: the title track thanks to Carl's hard work reviving it, and "Til I Die," a deep, brooding song filled with vibraphone and organ reminiscent of Pet Sounds. Brian works on a country album with friend and concert promoter Fred Vail called Cows to the Pasture, but it is never finished. Brian hosts a party that includes Paul and Linda McCartney. Looking to entertain guests, Brian puts a fishbowl over his head, and with his vision obscured, he falls and cracks and shatters the glass bowl; embarrassed, he runs upstairs and locks himself in his bedroom. At a party hosted by Elton John, Brian, reportedly high on coke, invites Iggy Pop to perform "Shortenin' Bread" with him, but Brian continues playing the song for hours; known for his own eccentric, drug-fuelled misbehaviour, Iggy ends up leaving, muttering "I gotta get out of here. This guys is nuts!" Dennis gets involved in a drunken accident and severs tendons in his hand when he punches out a bedroom window, and the band recruit Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar of the Flame.
1972 to 1973
Now with Blondie and Ricky as full-time members, Bruce Johnston leaves the band over a disagreement with Rieley. The rest of the group get to work on a new album dividedly. Titled as an homage to the vocal group Brian imagined in high school, Carl and the Passions: So Tough, is noted for its inconsistencies, largely due to the personnel changes. Although he is credited for three songs, Brian is virtually absent on the album. Instead, it's the R&B style of new contributors Blondie, Ricky and Daryl Dragon (a future member of Captain & Tenille) that bring the drastic redirection. Unimpressed by the finished product, Reprise decide to package the album as a double with Pet Sounds, one of the albums they acquired from Capitol. The package reaches only #50 in the charts, but So Tough becomes a cult classic and a favourite amongst fans. Brian and friend David Sandler produce an album by Spring, a pop duo comprised of his wife Marilyn and her sister Diane. Featuring covers of Brian's songs as well as some originals he wrote; unfortunately, the album, released by United Artists, doesn't sell. Brian becomes obsessed with Randy Newman's Sail Away. Looking for some inspiration, the Beach Boys up and move their family to the Netherlands for the summer. At first, Brian stays home, but after his family make the trip, he boards a plane ? it takes three trips to LAX airport to get him there. Once he arrives he wanders off without his passport and falls asleep in the duty free lounge. Brian begins smoking pot and drinking hard apple cider while in the Netherlands, falling deeper into depression, and one day while he's drunk, wraps his Mercedes around a telephone pole, though isn't hurt. Brian relies on Sail Away to keep him inspired, often listening to it all day long. The album helps him write a fantasy song about a young musical prince, a Pied Piper wizard and a magic transistor radio. The other band members think he's nuts, but decide to include "Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale)" as an EP with the album. Ironically, Holland ends up being mostly about California, though with much more sophistication than their early days. Another mature and contemporary effort, but it's turned down by Reprise, who ask for some more commercial material from Brian. Surprisingly, he delivers, thanks to the help of Van Dyke Parks, who uncovers a song they worked on earlier. Called "Sail On, Sailor," the song saves the release of Holland, though doesn't give the label the success they were looking for. Murry Wilson suffers two heart attacks within a few months and dies at the age of 57. The Wilson brothers are all devastated, but only Carl attends the funeral; Brian flies to New York to promote the new Spring single. The release of George Lucas' American Graffiti marks a second life for the Beach Boys, when the director uses "Surfin' Safari" and "All Summer Long" in the film, which becomes a hit with younger audiences. The Beach Boys are considered cool again, and when the release The Beach Boys in Concert, a double live album, it becomes their first gold record for Reprise. Blondie Chaplin leaves the band, and is replaced by James William Guercio, who eventually becomes their manager.
1974 to 1976
Looking to capitalize on their resurgence, Capitol put together a pre-Pet Sounds compilation Mike Love names Endless Summer. With its colourfully ambiguous and unconventional album cover, the double album repackages the songs that made them famous; it's divided into four themes: the beach, school, cars, and love songs. The album captures America's mood and is an instant hit, reaching #1 after two months, and remaining on the charts for 155 weeks, selling more than three million copies. Rolling Stone names the Beach Boys "Band of the Year," even though it has more to do with their past glory than who they are in 1974. They begin recording a new album at Guercio's Caribou Ranch studio for an early 1975 release, but most of the tapes are destroyed when the studio burns down. On the live circuit, their popularity boosts them from openers for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to selling out basketball arenas. Ricky Fataar leaves. The Beach Boys go out on a co-headlining tour with Chicago called "Beachago," performing each other's songs each night; they continue to sell out concerts, but begin phasing out their more recent material in favour of the hits from their first five years. Capitol capitalizes on their success with another hit compilation, Spirit of America, which gathers the remaining singles left off Endless Summer. Reprise tries a similar tactic with The Good Vibrations ? Best of the Beach Boys, which collects their most popular post-1965 material, but the album doesn't resonate as well with fans. John Cale writes a song called "Mr. Wilson" for his Slow Dazzle album; the song celebrates the dreamy aspects of Brian's music, as well as the torturous life he was leading. Brian finds some time and energy to help Melcher and Johnston start up a label called Equinox, producing some singles for them, but when the Beach Boys find out about the work they quickly put an end to it. Brian sinks deeper into depression, giving up bathing altogether and growing his fingernails till they curve under; he gains more than 100 pounds in two years, starting his day with a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread. His heavy intake of food, drugs (now including heroin), booze and cigarettes reaches a zenith, with Marilyn threatening to commit him, divorce him, or both, while the Beach Boys cut him off from their touring income since he wasn't involved. New manager Stephen Love, Mike's brother, hires former NBA player Stanley Love, their other brother, to become Brian's minder and bodyguard. His first job is to sweep Brian's home and remove any drug stashes and intercept the daily deliveries to his curbside mailbox. He also gets Brian back on his feet, getting him to bathe and dress regularly, as well as cut back on his gluttonous habits. Marilyn then calls in the band's lawyers and accountants to give him a scare and tell him if he doesn't produce 70 percent of the band's music Warner Brothers will sue him and take away his house; she then threatens to leave with the kids and send him to the street homeless and hungry. When Stanley is called back to the NBA by the Atlanta Hawks, the Wilsons hire Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychologist renowned for his work treating dysfunctional celebrity lifestyles. He brings in a team of therapists that include a psychiatrist, a physician, a nutritionist and some heavyweight minders in order to help Brian get sober, re-enter society and become a productive artist. The team move into Brian's house; they put a lock on the fridge, force him to jog and lift weights, and meet specific songwriting and recording targets. Landy's approach proves to be very extreme: when Brian doesn't get out of bed, the doctor would pour a bucket of water on him and when he would refuse to go to a dinner party because he didn't feel well, he would command Brian to vomit on the table. According to Carlin's biography, Landy would say, "I had to be crazier than Brian." As crazy as it was, it begins to work and Brian begins to lose his addictions and become more productive musically. In early 1976, Brian not only attends recording sessions but also leads them, hiring some of the same musicians on the band's earlier recordings for the sessions. Brian is looking to "really stretch out and blow some minds," and word travels quickly. Soon every news source is reporting that "Brian is back." The band (including Brian, who is still hesitant to work with his mates) release 15 Big Ones, an album of favourite oldies ("In the Still of the Night," "Blueberry Hill") and new material, looking to keep their momentum going. Named in honour of their 15 years in the business, the album is their most successful release of new studio recordings in ten years, going gold. To promote the album, NBC hires Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels to produce a live special titled It's OK. The hour-long special is unorthodox, featuring live clips and interviews, as well as some candid footage of each band member, including Al fending off an aggressive goat at his rural home and Dennis judging a beauty contest. Brian is captured lying in bed explaining his many problems. The show is considered a hit. Rolling Stone feature Brian on their cover with the title "The Healing of Brother Brian." In the story, Brian asks writer David Felton if he can score him some cocaine or speed. Much to the Beach Boys' chagrin, Landy encourages Brian to accept an invite from Lorne Michaels to make a solo appearance on Saturday Night Live; though there is plenty of excitement about his performance, Brian, sitting at his piano with his feet in a giant sandbox, is terrified and follows Landy's instructions via prompt cards. Landy is fired the next month, after it is discovered he has doubled his rate to $20,000 a month. Brian reportedly takes a swing at him. Stan Love is brought back in to act as Brian's minder.
1977 to 1980
The Beach Boys release their 18th studio album, The Beach Boys Love You. Originally titled Brian Loves You, it is essentially a Brian Wilson solo album with contributions from the other Beach Boys. The album ? their last for Reprise, who put little effort into promotion ? is a confusing effort, filled with all sorts of childlike innocence and exuberance, while at the same time painting a portrait of his melancholy state. Many consider it to be the last great Beach Boys album, thanks to its peculiarities and Brian's heavy presence. The album was a commercial failure, but to this day, it is Brian Wilson's favourite Beach Boys album. CBS signs the band to a deal giving them approximately $1 million per album (again on the condition that Brian contribute to at least 70 percent of the songs), and their credibility continues to rise; volatile rock journalist Lester Bangs solidifies their cool when he calls them "a diseased bunch of motherfuckers if there ever was one? their beauty is so awesome that listening to them at their best is like being in some vast dream cathedral decorated with a thousand gleaming American pop culture icons." However, cracks began to show in their foundation and the Beach Boys began arguing more and more over management, money and the direction of their music ? Carl and Dennis want to develop their sound, while Mike wants to give the crowd what they want: beach and car songs. They begin travelling separately on tour, taking different planes and buses from one another. Dennis releases Pacific Ocean Blue on Guercio's CBS imprint Caribou, the first solo album by a Beach Boy. As good if not better than anything the band released in the ?70s, it is a modest success selling 300,000 copies, however, Dennis's trainwreck lifestyle and internal band politics prevent him from promoting it properly. Brian begins writing for an album called Adult Child, a batch of songs matching Love You's youthful reflections, but the band reject it, with Mike asking him, "What the fuck are you doing?" From there Brian shuts down having decided he doesn't want to work with the band anymore. His drug use picks up again, and at home one day, he goes to hug daughter Carnie and accidentally burns her with his cigarette. Devastated by his actions, he locks himself in his bathroom, screaming, and shaves his head to show his shame. Dennis begins dating Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie, who uses him as a muse for the 1982 single, "Wish You Were Here." Before they can benefit from the CBS riches, the band deliver one final album for Reprise. They offer Merry Christmas from the Beach Boys in time for the holidays, but the label snub the idea, though the album lives on thanks to bootlegging. Another album, California Feeling, is rejected also. They relocate to the Maharishi International University at Mike's insistence, to get away from distractions. Al, Brian and Mike record M.I.U. Album, with only minimal participation by Carl and Dennis. They use some of the Christmas songs they wrote and overdub new vocals. Originally given to the label as Winds of Change, but again declined, M.I.U. Album is accepted and released, becoming their biggest failure yet, charting at #151. Super-fan and biographer Carlin calls it "one of the worst records ever made by a great rock band." The band end up touring Australia with Brian, but shit hits the fan when Dennis uses Carl's money to buy heroin that ends up making Brian violently ill. When they meet to decide how drugs entered their camp, Brian's bodyguard ends up punching a heavily drunk Carl in the face. Brian divorces Marilyn; he moves to Riviera Country Club on Sunset Boulevard and spends some days lying on the sofa flicking cigarette butts and burning holes into the hardwood floors. To help fight his demons, he eats steaks for every meal and follows them with cakes, bags of cookies and vats of ice cream. At Stan's request, Brian visits a psychiatrist, who like his father Murry, lights up a pipe, which sends Wilson into a violent rage, jumping at his shrink. Brian is admitted to the hospital again for a brief time, but returns home. One day he wanders off with no keys, wallet or ID, and ends up in San Diego playing the piano in exchange for booze at a gay bar. That results in an extended stay at a mental institution. Though he improves, the Beach Boys bail him out and fly him to Florida to record a new album, their first for an antsy CBS. Brian proves to be too unstable and the Boys recall Bruce Johnston (who stays on with the band till present) in to help produce. L.A.: Light Album is a marked improvement, containing two songs from Dennis' aborted second album, but is remembered mostly for the inclusion of an updated, 11-minute disco version of Wild Honey's "Here Comes the Night," which fans deride as a cheap attempt to cash in on disco's then-fading popularity. The album is another commercial failure for the band, but they manage to play in front of 100,000 fans at the Knebworth Festival in England. The next month, Mike and Brian begin to hastily write and record songs for a quick follow-up with Johnston in the producer's chair again. Desperate, they once again open the vault and exhume some forgotten older songs, as well as record some covers for Keepin' the Summer Alive. It's another flop peaking at #75, and the band begin to accept their fate as a band of yesteryear. Carl tells a reporter, "The Beach Boys set plays itself. We can play a real turkey of a show and then people will still come back afterwards and say, ?That's the best concert I've ever seen in my life.'" The band stop rehearsing and writing new material, but they play a triumphant concert on the National Mall in Washington, DC; they'll play an annual gig there for a few years.
1981 to 1984
Carl begins to re-evaluate his role in the band and moves to Colorado to kick his addictions and write a solo album with his wife Myrna. His self-titled debut is released by Caribou, and becomes only a short blip on the radar. Mike also releases a solo album, Looking Back with Love, which also fails to make any waves; mostly covers, the only real highlight is his version of "Be My Baby," which is produced by Brian, who also contributes backing vocals. Brian moves into a house in Pacific Palisades with girlfriend Carolyn Williams, a nurse he met at a mental hospital. Dennis helps his brother's addiction by bringing vodka, cocaine and McDonald's to him, while supplying him with the same on the road. Dennis, who was constantly in and out of the band, returns for a tour but his drinking leads to collapsing on stage and fist fights with Mike. Capitol releases the "Beach Boy Medley," a four-minute single mashing up "Good Vibrations," "Surfin' Safari," "Help Me, Rhonda," "I Get Around" and "Shut Down," and it becomes their biggest hit since 1976. The band become pioneers of combining rock'n'roll with baseball, touring baseball fields and playing a double-bill with MLB games. Mike and Dennis come to blows at the Universal Amphitheater in California, after Mike insults the drummer; Dennis kicks over his drums and jumps at the singer and the two fight in front of the shocked crowd. As a result, Dennis is locked in a backstage closet by security. Not long after, Dennis is introduced to his daughter Jennifer's friend, Shawn Love, Mike's illegitimate daughter. The two fall in love, get married (his fourth) and have a baby, Gage. After discovering Dennis has been feeding Brian drugs, Brian's ex-bodyguards Stan Love and Rocky Pamplin break into Dennis' house, beat him up with a telephone, break his ribs, and leave his bruised and bleeding, unable to call for help. The Beach Boys call in Eugene Landy again to help Brian, who has ballooned to 340 pounds; Landy agrees on the condition that there is no outside interference from anyone. The band send a threatening letter at Landy's insistence suggesting they fire Brian on the grounds of his exorbitant spending. Brian checks into Cedars-Sinai for a week of testing; when Carolyn comes to pick him up, she discovers Landy has flown him to Hawaii and is given a letter from Brian instructing her to move out of his house. Brian is held in Kona and given treatment by his doctor to clean up his life, which includes wearing a beeper so he can be monitored at all times. Landy officially diagnoses Brian as a schizophrenic. The Beach Boys become "America's Band," thanks to Mike Love befriending new President Ronald Reagan. The Beach Boys are banned from playing their now traditional Fourth of July party in Washington by Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, after he labels rock music an "undesirable element"; the band receive overwhelming support from their fans, including the President and First Lady, who apologize and invite them back next year. They are also asked to play the birthday party of VP George Bush, who jumps onstage and serenades his wife with the song "Barbara Ann." Carl releases his second solo album, Youngblood, but again, it's not a commercial success. Worse for the wear, Dennis goes snorkling with some friends in Marina Del Rey, looking for some possessions he once threw in the ocean (he discovers a silver picture frame he once tossed off his boat); a strong swimmer, Dennis never comes up and is found dead 45 minutes later by the Harbor Patrol. Authorities say his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He was 39. Carl addresses the press soon afterwards, stating, "We are not disbanding. We know Dennis would want us to continue in the spirit and tradition of the Beach Boys."
1984 to 1988
The Beach Boys hire Culture Club producer Steve Levine to oversee their next album and give them more of a contemporary sound. Brian contributes to five songs, under the watchful eye of Landy, who also co-writes three songs. Carl describes the process with little enthusiasm, saying, "Almost everything on the record was programmed note-for-note, sound-for-sound, beat-by-beat, and then we wouldn't hear it until we sent it through the computer. The digital approach is so new, and it can be quite tedious until you learn it." Dedicated to their "beloved brother, cousin and friend" Dennis, the eponymous 22nd album can't get beyond #52 on the charts, despite the label marketing it as another return for Brian. Unhappy with its failure, CBS drop the band. Still under Landy's control, Brian is now fitter than ever, running six miles every morning, then moving to the piano to work on his songs and going out and hitting the town at night ? with his minders chaperoning him, taking notes or videotaping him. Landy puts a spin on his relationship with Brian, telling reporters they're "partners in life" ? at this point, Landy has also become Brian's business partner, greedily compensating himself. After dropping weight, Landy forces Brian to get plastic surgery in order to make him look younger. With Landy's guidance, Brian begins writing a solo album with the help of one-time Beach Boy collaborator, Gary Usher. However, Landy quickly takes charge, and begins contributing as a songwriter, to which Usher notices a decline in interest on Brian's part. Brian tells Usher, "I'm a prisoner and I have no hope of escaping," and admits he tried to commit suicide by swimming straight out to deep sea, only to be rescued by Landy's henchmen. Creatively, the Beach Boys hit their all-time low. Instead, they focus more on building the brand and returning to the live circuit, where they're appreciated for playing the 20-year-old hits. On the Fourth of July, 1985, they play to a crowd of one million in Philadelphia, and later on that evening play another show at the Mall in DC. The two gigs put them in the Guinness Book of World Records. Nine days later, the band play a memorable set at Live Aid. David Lee Roth scores a hit when he covers "California Girls." They sell "Good Vibrations" to Sunkist for an ad promoting orange soda, and are commemorated for their 25th anniversary with another NBC special. In 1987, they team up with rap favourites the Fat Boys for a cover of "Wipe Out," providing the instrumental and backing vocal tracks; the song is a modest hit, but best forgotten. Brian and Usher get their song, "Let's Go to Heaven in My Car," on the soundtrack for Police Academy: Citizens on Patrol. Seymour Stein signs Brian to Sire for a solo record deal on the grounds that his staff producer Andy Paley co-produce. The sessions are fraught with interruptions by both Landy and his assistants, who convince Brian to sing lyrics written by Landy or his wife and confiscate tapes as soon as they're done.
1988 to 1991
The band's best year of the decade occurs in 1988. They're inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by friend Elton John, along with the Beatles (inducted by Mick Jagger), Bob Dylan (inducted by Bruce Springsteen) and the Supremes. When Mike makes his speech, he derides Paul McCartney who chose not to attend, protesting the internal feud between the remaining Beatles. Diana Ross pulls a similar move, which Mike also addresses with a snarky comment. He then begins talking about the Beach Boys' commitment to performing, boasting about their 180 dates a year, and saying, "I'd like to see Mick Jagger get out on the stage and do ?I Get Around' versus ?Jumpin' Jack Flash' any day now!" He follows it up with, "I challenge the Boss to get up onstage and jam!" As he leaves the stage, Elton John adds, "Why didn't he fucking mention me?" Al apologizes to the snubbed musicians, to which George Harrison replies, "I guess Mike didn't listen to the Maharishi, did he?" When Dylan collects his award, he jokes, "I'd like to thank Mike for not mentioning me." The Beach Boys earn their first U.S. #1 in 22 years with "Kokomo," a song Mike writes with John Phillips and Terry Melcher for the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise bartending movie, Cocktail. It becomes their biggest selling hit of all time. Brian is not involved with the recording, and claims the band didn't contact him in time; the band claim Landy is at fault for keeping Brian away from them. Brian does perform the song live whenever he plays with the band, and when the Beach Boys appear on an episode of Full House, Brian is with them, saying his lines and performing with the band and cast. Brian releases his self-titled solo debut, a contemporary pop album featuring Terence Trent D'Arby, Christopher Cross and ELO's Jeff Lynne; it receives an excited response from critics, but fails to move beyond #54 in the charts. Landy and wife Alexandra give themselves credit as co-songwriters, but when the album is reissued by Rhino in 2000, Brian has their names removed. To capitalize on "Kokomo," the Beach Boys return to Capitol to release Still Cruisin' the next year. Because of Landy's influence, Brian only contributes "In My Car," which along with the title track, are sold to Chevrolet in a Corvette ad campaign. The rest of the album is filled with oldies, soundtrack contributions and "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Thanks to the inclusion of "Kokomo," the album goes gold and is their best seller in 13 years. The Beach Boys begin scheduling recording sessions deliberately so Brian can't attend, and estrange themselves personally, including Carl. Mike tries to kick Al out of the band. A scandalous TV mini-series, Summer Dreams airs; based on an unauthorized tell-all bio by Steven Gaines called Heroes and Villains, the movie is immediately dismissed by the band and fans. Brian's mother Audree calls Stan Love complaining that Landy refuses to let her and granddaughters speak to Brian because they're a bad influence; Stan hires a lawyer to investigate Landy. Basing their decision a different case, the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance force Landy to surrender his licence to practice psychology, but he continues to work as a business partner with Brian and their company, Brains and Genius. Landy begins helping Brian write his autobiography with People magazine's Todd Gold. Together, they launch a $100 million civil suit against A&M's publishing branch, regarding Murry Wilson's sale of Brian's songs back in 1969. Landy and Brian begin working on another album titled Sweet Insanity, with Landy working as co-producer and co-songwriter. He makes Brian try his hand at rapping on a song called "Smart Girls," which features the rhyme: "My name is Brian and I'm the man/I write hit songs with the wave of my hand." Sire refuse to release the record. Brian develops facial tics along with shaky hands and legs; after meeting Brian at a Beach Boys convention, fan Peter Reum recognizes the symptoms as Tardive Dyskinesia, a neurological condition brought on by the use of psychotropic drugs. Reum eventually passes on his diagnosis to Carl via biographer David Leaf, and Brian's younger brother intervenes with Brian's treatment. In 1991, a separation agreement forces Landy to spend 90 days away from Brian, however, Landy maintains control through his assistants, who aren't named in the document. Slowly, Landy's manipulative efforts become public knowledge, such as negotiating a 25 percent take of Brian's earnings, a $300k annual salary for his career advice, a $150k annual payment from the Brother Records Inc. as Brian's representative, and unbeknownst to Landy, the primary beneficiary in Brian's will. Published in October 1991, Brian's autobiography, Wouldn't It Be Nice, is a highly suspect read, which paints Landy as his hero and the rest of the Beach Boys as villains.
1992 to 1997
In February 1992, the Supreme Court of Santa Monica order Landy to be removed from Brian's life completely, threatening the penalty of a hefty fine or jail if he tries to contact him. When he hears the news, Brian calls producer Andy Paley and says, "I can do anything I want to now. Let's make some music." The Beach Boys release their next album, Summer In Paradise, without the help of a major, using Brother and distributor Navarre to put it out. Recorded using ProTools and mostly electronic instrumentation, the album is mostly written by Mike Love, with the help of producer Terry Melcher, and features Full House star and occasional Beach Boys drummer John Stamos on vocals for a cover of Dennis's "Forever." The album sells less than 1,000 copies and reportedly bankrupts Navarre. It is the last ever studio album by the band featuring new material. The Barenaked Ladies release a song called "Brian Wilson," about a man whose life parallels Brian's when he was under the control of Landy. The Beach Boys release Good Vibrations, a five-disc box set containing singles, b-sides, demos, live tracks, and most importantly, a never-before-released 30-minute section of Smile. Brian is awarded $10 million in a settlement from his suit against A&M; Mike then sues Brian for $3 million, claiming he was an uncredited writer on 79 of those songs. Mike also files a defamation suit against Brian, claiming his autobiography portrayed him as a "violent, sex-crazed maniac." Another lawsuit hits Brian when brother Carl, mother Audree and the Beach Boys file multimillion suits against Brian, Landy and Todd Gold over the autobiography, claiming it damaged their "feelings, reputations and careers." The Beach Boys become a staple on the casino, state fair and baseball game circuit. After examinations, Brian is cleared of his schizophrenia diagnosis, and told he is a mild manic depressive with a "schizo-affective disorder that presented itself in the form of disembodied voices" over the years. Crossing a West Hollywood street one morning, Brian is nearly hit by a car. A driver stops to check on him and it turns out to be Melinda Ledbetter, a woman he dated in the '80s. The two begin a courtship and on February 19, 1995 they are married. Melinda is the rock Brian needs, helping him re-enter society and rebuild his family ties. Brian begins working with his daughters, Carnie and Wendy, who had success with their trio, Wilson Phillips; he imagines a sequel to Pet Sounds, but the project brings them closer together and contributes songs to the duo's 1997 album, The Wilsons. Brian works with Van Dyke Parks again on an album called Orange Crate Art; essentially a Parks solo album with Brian providing vocals, the album can't match the hype it brought, both critically and commercially. Don Was produces and directs a documentary on Brian called I Just Wasn't Made For These Times; an intimate look at the rise and recovery of Brian, the film is a hit on the festival circuit. Brian also records a soundtrack for the doc with Was, containing re-recorded Beach Boys songs, unreleased demos and a couple new ones. Brian, surprisingly, returns to the Beach Boys and works with Mike on an old song he wrote with Paley called "Dancin' the Night Away," which they rename "Baywatch Nights" for the David Hasselhoff show of the same name; it's never finished, but the group appear on the show together. The Beach Boys discuss recording an album with Was, after they discover more unused demos by Brian and Paley. Recording sessions do happen but nothing comes of it. Carl is reportedly the odd one out, complaining Brian's music wasn't commercial enough; by the time he recommends working with innovative pop musician and Beach Boys fan Sean O'Hagan of High Llamas, Brian loses interest. Instead, the Beach Boys put their energy in Stars and Stripes Vol. 1, a compilation of country stars providing vocals to the band's countrified re-recorded versions of their songs. The album doesn't resonate with either country or Beach Boys fans and a second volume is cancelled. Carl is diagnosed with lung cancer, but continues on with the band's tours, using oxygen after every song. Originally turned down because Carl and Mike didn't want yet another Beach Boys project to give all the glory to Brian, Pet Sounds Sessions, a four-disc box set is released collecting the album and two discs of outtakes, different mixes, backing tracks and a cappella tracks, as well as a fourth disc of the album in original mono. The band are offered a ten-show tour to play the album in its entirety, but the Beach Boys claim it would be too difficult to perform live. Brian begins recording a new solo album with new collaborator, Joe Thomas. The two move into homes next to each other just outside of Chicago, after a 102-track studio is installed in Brian's house. Audree Wilson passes away at the age of 78.
1998 to 2002
Carl Wilson loses his battle with lung cancer on February 6, 1998. Acknowledging he is the last of the Wilsons, Brian tells Carlin, "It's scary. I keep thinking I'm going to get assassinated like John Lennon did. I manage to get through my fears, but sometimes I get these crazy notions that someone is going to kill me." Mike licenses the Beach Boys name from Brother Records Inc., to tour under the name with Bruce Johnston. Al is left out and forms his own band called the Beach Boys' Family and Friends, with Carnie and Wendy Wilson, along with a bunch of Beach Boys sidemen; unfortunately, he doesn't secure a license from Brother, and he's forced into litigation over the name. Brian releases Imagination, which he calls "a rebirth in my life." The goal of the album is to make a hit, and with the exception of adult contemporary top 20 hit "Your Imagination," the album is not much of a success. A live album, Live At the Roxy Theatre, follows. Talk of a solo tour arises and Brian is re-introduced to the Wondermints, an intricate power pop band he first met at a 1995 tribute show they played in his honour. Hearing the band again, Brian says with excitement, "If I'd had those guys in '67, I could have taken Smile out on the road!" Along with some past Beach Boys sidemen, the Wondermints are recruited as Brian's backing band for an Imagination tour. At first, Brian is terrified about performing, but once they got going in Ann Arbor, things go according to plan. The show begins with a 23-minute video recounting Brian's past, which receives rapturous applause except when Mike Love's face hits the screen, causing the 1700-capacity crowd to boo. The two-hour set includes six songs from Pet Sounds, which receive the biggest response. Realizing the demand, Brian puts together a touring version of Pet Sounds, using his band (with Brian singing all of the lead vocals) and an orchestra; they tour North America in 2000 and receive rave reviews. The shows are divided into four parts: an orchestral suite arranged by Van Dyke Parks of Brian's music; an hour-long set of hits and rarities without the orchestra; then Pet Sounds with the orchestra, including "Good Vibrations"; closing with an encore of more hits. A 2002 album, Pet Sounds Live, is released, collecting the songs performed in London over three nights. Brian is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by friend Paul McCartney, and is the guest for a "An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson" at Radio City Music Hall, featuring performers like Elton John, Billy Joel, David Crosby and Paul Simon. Caroline Now!, a Brian Wilson and Beach Boys tribute album is released, featuring artists such as Alex Chilton, Saint Etienne, the Free Design and Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake. A close friend of Mike Love and sometime Beach Boy, John Stamos produces An American Family, an ABC TV movie telling the story of the Beach Boys; it's said Love uses his influence to tell his side of the story. Brian shocks everyone when he plays "Heroes & Villains" at a Christmas party. The performance inspires everyone to suggest following up the Pet Sounds tour with some Smile shows. At first, Brian dismisses the idea, saying, "I don't really ever want to put out the Smile stuff. It's just not appropriate music."
2003 to 2008
Rolling Stone ranks Pet Sounds as the second greatest album of all time, after the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. Shocking everyone again, Brian agrees to bring Smile to the stage. His managers book the Royal Festival Hall in London and they sell out immediately. Brian gives Wondermint Darian Sahanaja access to the Beach Boys tape vault to dig up the Smile songs for rehearsal, and the band begin trying to piece the songs together. Inviting his Smile partner Van Dyke Parks to join them, at first he refuses, but eventually changes his mind. Re-introducing Smile into his life isn't as easy for Brian as everything thinks; one day he jets out of rehearsal and drives himself to the hospital, telling doctors he is freaking out; but when Melinda comes to pick him up, he leaves like nothing has happened. Inevitably, the Smile shows lead to the release of the album, which fans and possibly even Brian have been waiting for, for 37 years. With help from Sahanaja and Parks, Brian performs, produces and arranges the album, but refuses to take part in the mixing because, according to Carlin, "he still couldn't imagine hearing those sounds in the sanctified surroundings of a recording studio." Simultaneously, Brian works on another solo album, Gettin' In Over My Head, which is released by Rhino in June 2004. The album gathers unreleased songs ? some up to 40 years old ? Brian worked on over the years and features late brother Carl, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Eric Clapton; unfortunately, it's completely overshadowed of what's to come three months later. Brian Wilson Presents Smile is finally released by Nonesuch in September; as expected, the reviews all rave about the album and despite a few reactions by fans who felt it should never have been released, the album is a big seller, debuting on the Billboard charts at 13. About the album, Brian tells Carlin, "The other Beach Boys didn't like Smile; they didn't want to do it. But my new band is so much better. They play better and they sing better, too. I have a much better time with them, anyway." Brian wins a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance with "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." Showtime produce and air Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile, a documentary about the release of Smile; the film is released on DVD with a live version of Smile. To promote Smile, Brian and UK newspaper The Mail on Sunday give away a promo CD of Brian-penned Beach Boys songs containing photos of the band from their heyday; Mike Love files a lawsuit claiming "millions of dollars in illicit profits, unfair competition and infringing use [that] shamelessly appropriated Mike Love's songs, likeness, and the Beach Boys trademark." Love's legal document he filed is said to contain many inaccuracies, including crediting him as the Beach Boys' primary force. Brian responds via his website, saying, "The lawsuit against Brian is meritless. While he will vigorously defend himself he is deeply saddened that his cousin Mike Love has sunk to these depths for his own financial gain." Love's lawsuit is thrown out in 2007 after the courts deem it meritless. He is inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Brian makes a guest appearance on the animated series, Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century as Daffy Duck's spiritual surfing advisor, as well as an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, performing "Deck the Halls" (taken from his new Christmas album, What I Really Want for Christmas) for children with xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare allergy to sunlight. More goodwill comes when Brian plays Berlin's Live 8 concert, and raises $250k for Hurricane Katrina victims by personally calling anyone willing to donate $100 or more. He relaunches a small Pet Sounds tour once again, to celebrate its 40th anniversary and includes Al Jardine. Mike Love releases a Christmas remake of "Kokomo" titled "Santa's Going to Kokomo"; it's panned by critics, but perfectly demonstrates his desperation to make money off the Beach Boys' name and in turn, drag it through the dirt. Deciding to bury the hatchet, Brian, Mike and Al make a public appearance together and joke about reuniting once more, saying they'd like "to start a new tour if they weren't stopped to do so by Brian's management, and Mike's incurable addiction to lawsuits." A Pet Sounds tribute album titled Do It Again is released featuring the likes of the Oldham Brothers, Patrick Wolf, Architecture in Helsinki and the Wedding Present, among others, recreating the album. The Kennedy Center Honors recognize Brian for a lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts of music. Brian returns to Capitol ? nearly 40 years after he left the label ? to both record (in the label's studios) and release his fifth solo album proper, That Lucky Old Sun. Originally commissioned by London's Southbank Centre for a series of concerts in September 2007, the album is another collaboration with Parks and band-mate Scott Bennett that consists of an "interwoven series of five 'rounds,' with interspersed spoken word" and centres around the title track made famous by Louis Armstrong. It's a return to not only the warm theme of Southern California, but also a return to form and another unexpected experiment by the now 66-year-old songwriter/producer.
Essential Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966)
Inspired by the Beatles, yet also an inspiration on the Fab Four, Wilson's opus is rightfully hailed by many experts as the greatest album ever made. Pet Sounds' influence on every pop album that followed, especially those of the Beach Boys themselves, cannot be stressed enough. From the unorthodox selection of instruments (i.e. dog whistle) Wilson brought in to fulfil his intricate arrangements, to the layers and layers of harmonies Wilson perfected himself, to the immaculate sequence of brilliant songs, perhaps best of all is how Wilson's finest moment still reveals something new with every listen.
The Beach Boys Endless Summer (Capitol, 1974)
While it can be argued that studio albums like Love You or Surf's Up are just as worthy as this comp, Endless Summer is a vital part of Wilson's history. Released just after the movie American Graffit regenerated the Beach Boys' sinking career, Endless Summer was a primer for a new generation as well as a reminder for many of the band's early anthems detailing the innocence, romance and "fun in the sun" of the time while defining what would become "America's band."
Smile (unreleased 1967; Nonesuch, 2004)
Though Wilson shelved it because he was losing his mind making it, the original Smile exists in various forms through its heavy bootlegging over the years. Thankfully, Wilson had enough in him to dust it off and finally complete it 37 years later. Some hardcore fans balked at the plan and wanted it to exist purely as legend, but upon its release, the album that nearly killed him cemented Wilson's genius and allowed us to hear what a "teenage symphony to God" actually sounds like.
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