2010 Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
The legendary American rock era composer and former Beach Boy, Brian Wilson releases his newest album on August 17, paying tribute to the legendary American Jazz era composer, George Gershwin. Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin includes covers of the songwriter's classics "Summertime," "I Got Rhythm" and "Rhapsody In Blue,"--one of Wilson's earliest musical memories as a child. At the request of the Gershwin estate, Wilson also completed two unfinished Gershwin piano compositions for the album.
2008 That Lucky Old Sun
Wilson was commissioned by London's Southbank Centre to help kick off the venue's 2007 season and prepared That Lucky Old Sun, a concept album based on the American vocal standard and included the participation of his SMiLE band, as well as long-time collaborator Van Dyke Parks. That Lucky Old Sun premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in September 2007 and was released as a studio album the following year. The second disc of the Lucky Old Sun DVD also includes Wilson's live set of performances for Yahoo! Music.
In the early part of the 2000's, Wilson recorded several live albums while preparing the never-before released 1967 Beach Boys album SMiLE for its live debut, as well as making new studio recordings of its songs. 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, prompting Wilson to launch a full world tour in support of the Grammy-winning album.
1995 I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
Wilson attempted to find his footing with a second solo album, Sweet Insanity, which was rejected outright by Sire and permanently shelved. In 1995, he reunited with his mid-'60s collaborator Van Dyke Parks for Orange Crate Art, a collaborative album that featured Parks' songwriting and Wilson's vocals. That same year, Wilson was the subject of a documentary feature, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, for which he also recorded a full soundtrack. Following those releases was 1998's Imagination, which included several throwbacks to lush Beach Boys productions but failed to entice a wide commercial audience. Just as the remaining band members appeared to be pulling back together for a proper studio album though, his brother Carl died of cancer in 1998.
1988 Love and Mercy
Following a long period of drug addiction, mental illness, and general isolation, Wilson issued his first solo album, Brian Wilson, in 1988. Despite the promising lead single "Love and Mercy," commercial success proved elusive; ironically, the Beach Boys had recorded their own comeback record around the same time and wound up topping the charts with "Kokomo."
1976 Brian's Back!
Trumpeted by the barely true marketing campaign "Brian's Back!," 1976's 15 Big Ones led a decade-long line of albums by the Beach Boys that eventually ended with Wilson leaving the band. By 1980, both Dennis and Carl Wilson had left the band for solo careers. (Dennis had already released his first album, Pacific Ocean Blue, in 1977, and Carl released his eponymous debut in 1981.) Brian was removed from the group in 1982 when his weight rose to over 300 pounds. The tragic drowning death of his brother Dennis in 1983 helped bring the group back together and in 1985, the Beach Boys released a self-titled album that returned them to the Top 40 with "Getcha Back." However, it would be the last proper Beach Boys album of the '80s.
1974 Endless Summer
In 1974, Capitol Records issued a repackaged hits collection, Endless Summer. The double LP hit number one, spent almost three years on the charts, and went gold. Endless Summer capitalized on a growing fascination with oldies rock that had made Sha Na Na, American Graffiti, and Happy Days big hits. Rolling Stone, never the most friendly magazine to the group, named the Beach Boys its Band of the Year at the end of '74. Another collection, Spirit of America, also hit the Top Ten and the Beach Boys were hustled into the studio to begin new recordings.
Brian's mental stability wavered from year to year in the early '70s, and he spent much time in his mansion with no wish to even contact the outside world. He occasionally contributed to the songwriting and session load, but was by no means a member of the band anymore (he rarely even appeared on album covers or promotional shots). Reprise took a big risk and authorized a large recording budget for the Beach Boys' next album, shipping most of the group's family and entourage (plus an entire studio) over to Amsterdam. The result was 1973's Holland which included "Sail On, Sailor."
Perhaps a bit gun-shy, the Beach Boys essentially retired from recording during the mid-'70s focusing on their live act instead. The Beach Boys in Concert, their third live album in total, appeared in 1973.
Sparked by the Top 20 hit "Do It Again," 1969's 20/20 did marginally better than the previous albums, Wild Honey and Friends. Still, Capitol dropped the band soon after and a year later the Beach Boys signed to Reprise.
The first LP for Brother/Reprise was 1970's Sunflower, a return to the gorgeous harmonies of the mid-'60s and many songs written by different members of the band. Surf's Up, titled after a reworked song originally intended for SMiLE, followed in 1971. During sessions for the album, Dennis put his hand through a plate glass window and was unable to play drums. Early in 1972, the band hired drummer Ricky Fataar and guitarist Blondie Chaplin, two members of a South African rock band named the Flame (Carl had produced their self-titled debut for Brother Records the previous year).
Carl and the Passions - So Tough, the first album released with Fataar and Chaplin in the band, was the first Beach Boys album that retained nothing from their classic sound.
1967 Smiley Smile
The Beach Boys' single, "Good Vibrations," had originally been written for the Pet Sounds sessions, though Brian removed it from the song list to give himself more time for production. He resumed working on it after the completion of Pet Sounds, eventually devoting up to six months (and three different studios) on the single. Released in October 1966, "Good Vibrations" capped off the year as the group's third number one single and still stands as one of the best singles of all time. Throughout late 1966 and early 1967, Brian worked feverishly on the next Beach Boys LP--a project named Dumb Angel, but later titled SMiLE, that promised to be as great an artistic leap beyond Pet Sounds as that album had been from Today. He drafted Van Dyke Parks, an eccentric lyricist and session man, as his songwriting partner, and recorded reams of tape containing increasingly fragmented tracks that grew ever more speculative as the months wore on. Already wary of Brian's increasingly artistic leanings and drug experimentation, the other Beach Boys grew hostile when called in to the studio to add vocals for Parks lyrics like, "A blind class aristocracy/Back through the opera glass you see/The pit and the pendulum drawn/Columnaded ruins domino/Canvas the town and brush the backdrop" (from "Surf's Up"). A rift soon formed between the band and Brian; they felt his intake of marijuana and LSD had clouded his judgment, while he felt they were holding him back from the coming psychedelic era.
As recording for SMiLE dragged on into spring 1967, Brian began working fewer hours. For the first time in the Beach Boys' career, he appeared unsure of his direction. If SMiLE ever appeared salvageable, those hopes were dashed in May, when Brian officially canceled the project after hearing a preview of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In August, the group finally released a new single, "Heroes and Villains." That fall, the group convened at Brian's Bel Air mansion-turned-studio and recorded new versions of several SMiLE songs plus a few new recordings and re-emerged with Smiley Smile. Carl summed up the LP as "a bunt instead of a grand slam," and its near-complete lack of cohesiveness all but destroyed the group's reputation for forward-thinking pop.
As the Beatles were ushering in the psychedelic age, the Beach Boys stalled with the all-important teen crowd, who quickly began to see the group as conservative, establishment throwbacks. The perfect chance to stem the tide, a headlining spot at the pioneering Monterey Pop Festival in summer 1967, was squandered. Though the Beach Boys regrouped quickly--the back-to-basics Wild Honey LP appeared before the end of 1967--their hopes of becoming the world's pre-eminent pop group with both hippies and critics had fizzled in a matter of months.
All this incredible promise wasted made fans, critics, and radio programmers undeniably bitter toward future product. Predictably, both Wild Honey and 1968's Friends suffered with all three audiences. They survive as interesting records nevertheless; deliberately under-produced, including song fragments and recording-session detritus often left in the mix, the skeletal blue-eyed soul of Wild Honey and the laid-back orchestral pop of Friends made them favorites only after fans realized the Beach Boys were a radically different group in 1968 than in 1966.
1966 Pet Sounds
In late 1965, the Beatles released Rubber Soul. Amazed at the high song quality and overall cohesiveness of the album, Brian began writing songs--with help from lyricist Tony Asher--and producing sessions for a song suite charting a young man's growth to emotional maturity. Though Capitol was resistant to an album with few obvious hits, the group spent more time working on the vocals and harmonies than any other previous project. The result, released in May 1966 as Pet Sounds, more than justified the effort. It's still one of the best-produced and most influential rock LPs ever released, culminating years of Brian's perfectionist productions and songwriting. Critics praised Pet Sounds, but the new direction failed to impress American audiences. Though it reached the Top Ten, Pet Sounds missed a gold certificate (the first to do so since the group's debut LP). Conversely, worldwide reaction was not just positive but jubilant. In England, the album hit number two and earned the Beach Boys honors for best group in year-end polls by NME--above even the Beatles, hardly slouches themselves with the releases of "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" and Revolver.
"I Get Around" of the 1964 album All Summer Long became the first number one hit for the Beach Boys. Riding a crest of popularity, the late 1964 LP Beach Boys Concert spent four weeks at the top of the album charts, just one of five Beach Boys LPs simultaneously on the charts. The group also undertook promotional tours of Europe, but the pressures and time-constraints proved too much for Brian. At the end of the year, he decided to quit the touring band and concentrate on studio productions.
With the Beach Boys as his musical messengers to the world, Brian began working full-time in the studio, writing songs and enlisting the cream of Los Angeles session players to record instrumental backing tracks before Carl, Dennis, Mike, and Al returned to add vocals. The single "Help Me, Rhonda" became the Beach Boys' second chart-topper in early 1965. On the group's seventh studio LP, The Beach Boys Today!, Brian's production skills hit another level entirely. In the rock era's first flirtation with an extended album-length statement, side two of the record presented a series of down-tempo ballads, arranged into a suite that stretched the group's lyrical concerns beyond youthful infatuation and into more adult notions of love.
Two more LPs followed in 1965, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) and Beach Boys' Party. The first featured "California Girls," one of the best fusions of Brian's production mastery, infectious melodies, and gorgeous close harmonies (it's still his personal favorite song). When Capitol asked for a Beach Boys record to sell at Christmas, the live-in-the-studio vocal jam session Beach Boys' Party resulted, and sold incredibly well after the single "Barbara Ann" became a surprise hit.
1963 Surfin' USA
Surfin' U.S.A., hit the Top Ten in early 1963. Though Capitol policy required the group to work with a studio producer, Brian quickly took over the sessions and began expanding the group's range beyond simple surf rock. By the end of 1963, the Beach Boys had recorded three full LPs, hit the Top Ten as many times, and toured incessantly. Also, Brian began to grow as a producer, best documented on the third Beach Boys LP, Surfer Girl. Though surf songs still dominated the album, "Catch a Wave," the title track, and especially "In My Room" presented a giant leap in songwriting, production, and group harmony--especially astonishing considering the band had been recording for barely two years. Brian's intense scrutiny of Phil Spector's famous Wall of Sound productions was paying quick dividends and revealed his intuitive, unerring depths of musical knowledge.
1962 Surfin' Safari
The origins of the Beach Boys lie in Hawthorne, CA, a southern suburb of Los Angeles situated close to the Pacific coast. The three sons of a part-time song plugger and occasionally abusive father, Brian, Dennis, and Carl grew up a just few miles from the ocean--though only Dennis had any interest in surfing itself. The three often harmonized together as youths, spurred on by Brian's fascination with '50s vocal acts like the Four Freshmen and the Hi-Lo's. Their cousin Mike Love often joined in on the impromptu sessions, and the group gained a fifth with the addition of Brian's high-school football teammate, Alan Jardine. His parents helped rent instruments (with Brian on bass, Carl on guitar, Dennis on drums) and studio time to record "Surfin'," a novelty number written by Brian and Mike. The single, initially released in 1961 on Candix and billed to the Pendletones (a musical paraphrase of the popular Pendleton shirt), prompted a little national chart action and gained the renamed Beach Boys a contract with Capitol. The group's negotiator with the label, the Wilsons' father, Murray, also took over as manager for the band.
Finally, in mid-1962 the Beach Boys released their major-label debut, Surfin' Safari. The title track, a more accomplished novelty single than its predecessor, hit the Top 20 and helped launch the surf rock craze just beginning to blossom around Southern California (thanks to artists like Dick Dale, Jan & Dean, the Chantays, and dozens more).
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