Biography by William Ruhlmann & John Bush
Brian Wilson is arguably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era. Born and raised in Hawthorne, CA, Wilson formed the Beach Boys -- with his two younger brothers, cousin Mike Love, and school friend Alan Jardine -- and they became the most successful American rock band in history by performing his songs, which initially combined the rock urgency of Chuck Berry with the harmonies of the Four Freshmen. Wilson's musical imagination expanded during the '60s to the point of such remarkable works as "Good Vibrations," a chart-topping Beach Boys single of 1966. Wilson retreated from his dominance of the Beach Boys after 1967, as their popularity declined. He made sporadic contributions to their records, returning only briefly as a songwriter and producer in the mid-'70s.
Wilson issued a debut solo album in 1988, with a promising lead single "Love and Mercy," but a pop crossover proved elusive; ironically, the Beach Boys had concurrently recorded their own comeback around the same time, and took "Kokomo" to the top of the charts. Wilson's second album, Sweet Insanity, was rejected by Sire, but in 1995, he reunited with his mid-'60s collaborator Van Dyke Parks for Orange Crate Art. That same year, Wilson was the subject of a documentary feature, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, which also appeared a soundtrack album. Following in 1998 was Imagination, which included several throwbacks to lush Beach Boys productions, but failed to entice a wide commercial audience.
Although Wilson was never a standout as a live performer, he began touring and released a pair of live titles: Live at the Roxy Theatre (2000) and Pet Sounds Live (2002). His cobbled studio follow-up, 2004's Gettin' in Over My Head, unfortunately exhibited the same foibles as Imagination. Also, it was overshadowed by Wilson's preparation of the legendary Beach Boys record SMiLE for its live debut and a new studio recording. He debuted the new SMiLE at the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 20, 2004, and recorded it in the studio that April. Both the live and studio versions earned rapturous reviews, and Wilson then launched a full world tour of SMiLE. The seasonal effort What I Really Want for Christmas followed in October 2005.
Wilson began preparing another thematic work after he was commissioned by London's Southbank Centre to help kick off the venue's 2007 season. The result was That Lucky Old Sun, a concept album based on the American vocal standard and including the participation of his SMiLE band, as well as Van Dyke Parks. That Lucky Old Sun premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in September 2007 and was released as a studio album later that year. Wilson returned to the studio two years later, this time to put his own stamp on a number of George Gershwin covers. At the behest of Gershwin's estate, he also completed two piano compositions that were unfinished by Gershwin at the time of his death. Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin was released in August 2010, marking Wilson's first album for the Disney-affiliated Pearl label. Wilson's second project for Pearl, In The Key of Disney, arrived the following year, and featured 11 classic Disney songs.
In 2012, Wilson officially reunited with the Beach Boys. (All four surviving members of the classic lineup had contributed to a track from Al Jardine's 2011 album Postcard from California.) The group toured and recorded during the first half of 2012, and in June of that year, released That's Why God Made the Radio, their first original album with Wilson in more than 15 years. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard charts and earned positive reviews. After the summer tour, however, Mike Love returned to touring the Beach Boys with only himself and Bruce Johnston as members of the classic lineup, leaving behind Wilson and Jardine.
By 2014, Wilson began recording as a solo act again, with songs that he had initially written for a Beach Boys album. Instead, he recruited guest stars for the venture, including She & Him's Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, fun.'s Nate Ruess, Kacey Musgraves, Capital Cities' Sebu Simonian, and former Beach Boys Al Jardine, David Marks, and Blondie Chaplin. (Musicians for the project featured classic session players such as Jim Keltner, Kenny Aronoff, Dean Parks, and Don Was.) The results appeared on Capitol in April 2015, under the title No Pier Pressure.
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