Wednesday, June 20, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Brian Wilson

As the head Beach Boys turns 70 today, Psychobabble takes a look at twenty things you may not have known about brilliant Brian.

1. Murry Wilson instilled a fascination with the Old West in his oldest son, believing frontier tales would make Brian a rugged individualist… and possibly, a singing cowboy. Old West themes would later play a central role in SMiLE.

2. Brian has often blamed the deafness in his right ear on a punch he received from Murry as a toddler. His doctor, however, believed it to be nerve impairment, while his mother thought the deafness was either a congenital disorder or the result of a street fight with a fellow two-year old!

3. When he was a boy, Brian’s favorite ride at Disneyland was the Matterhorn Bobsleds rollercoaster.

4. Brian scored As and Bs in all of his twelfth-grade classes. Well, all but one. He received a C in piano and harmony. One of the reasons he got such a relatively poor grade in his area of expertise was the F he received for a sonata-writing assignment. Apparently, “Surfin’” is not a sonata.

5. Brian is renowned for his beautiful falsetto, but one man is not a big fan. The singer, himself, was always ambivalent, often embarrassed, about his high voice and confided to the women in his life that it was one his biggest “hang ups.” Although he has said he purposely wanted to "sing like a girl" on Pet Sounds, he apparently nixed "Let Him Run Wild" from the Good Vibrations: 20 Years of The Beach Boys box set because he hated his sublime performance, feeling he sounded "like a little girl... a sick chick." Al Jardine later theorized that Brian purposely ravaged his voice with cigarettes and drugs to get a rougher, more “manly” voice, like his brother Dennis.

6. Although Nick Venet is credited as producer on the first two Beach Boys albums, Brian was the true driving force behind the console.

7. Brian has often cited the instrumental prologue of “California Girls” as the best piece of music he ever wrote. He composed it while taking one of his first, if not his very first, acid trips.

8. When Carol Kaye was playing bass on some of Brian’s greatest recordings, she had no idea her producer had once played the same instrument on stage with The Beach Boys!

9. The only Brian Wilson solo compositions ever released as A-sides of Beach Boys singles are “Surfer Girl”, “Honkin’ Down the Highway”, and “The Little Girl I Once Knew”. Though John Lennon told Melody Maker the latter song was “fantastic” and said “I hope it’s a hit so I can hear it all the time,” “The Little Girl I Once Knew” charter lower than any Beach Boys single since “Ten Little Indians”, released on November 26, 1962. “The Little Girl I Once Knew” was released on November 27 three years later.

10. Brian had some serious reservations about Tony Asher’s contributions to their greatest co-composition. He was concerned about using a word as heavy as “God” in the title of a pop song and feared “I may not always love you” was an overly negative way to begin the song.

11. Brian insisted that “Caroline, No” be released as a solo single. Tony Asher suggested this might have been because some of the other Beach Boys disliked the song.

12. Brian was convinced a conspiracy was afoot when he saw John Frankenheimer’s 1966 cult classic Seconds. As he arrived late to the cinema, his paranoia was stoked when he heard a character address a “Mr. Wilson” from the screen. Knowing that his idol and rival producer Phil Spector had invested in the film, Brian believed Spector had cribbed portions of his own life for this film about a dull suburban guy who undergoes a radical rebirth.

13. In 1967, Brian moved to 10452 Belagio Road in Bel Air, a former home of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

14. A behind-the-scenes photo of Michael Cooper’s Sgt. Pepper’s cover shoot indicates The Beatles may have intended to include a wax figure of Brian among the rest of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. While the figure may just be a generic surfer (it’s certainly too buff than Brian ever was and it’s well-known he never surfed a day in his life), the inspirational role Brian played in the album’s creation may prove otherwise.

15. Brian rarely has a bad word to say about a Beach Boys song, but he’ll make an exception for Mike Love’s “Student Demonstration Time”, which he finds “too far-out for me.” A fitting reaction considering how Love hated so much of Brian’s most “far out” work.

16. Brian often named The Rolling Stones as one of his favorite bands and visited the boys at Olympic Studios while they were recording “My Obsession”, his favorite track from his favorite Stones album. The melody “Heroes and Villains” bears more than a passing similarity to that of “19th Nervous Breakdown”. The admiration went both ways. Mick Jagger praised “I Get Around” on a British television show (some sources say it was “Ready, Steady, Go” while others credit “Juke Box Jury”), which was a major factor in The Beach Boys’ success in the UK. Jagger also copped the “bow bow bow” chorus from “Help Me Rhonda” for his own “What to Do”.

17. The Velvet Underground were even less likely Beach Boys fans than The Rolling Stones, though Lou Reed’s “Who Loves the Sun” was obviously influenced by the Californians. John Cale was so Brian-obsessed that he recorded a tribute called “Mr. Wilson” for his Slow Dazzle album. Through the grapevine, Cale heard that its subject dismissed the song as “sarcastic”.

18. “Don’t Worry Baby” was Keith Moon’s all-time favorite ballad, and The Who’s drummer gave his own tonally-challenged rendition of Brian’s song on his sole solo album, Two Sides of the Moon. Co-producer John Stronach later recalled Wilson playing pipe organ during sessions for the album, though he received no such credit on its sleeve.

19. Brian Wilson was one of the first celebrity champions of the often derided Monkees, revealing in the liner notes of The Monkees Anthology that his own “Break Away” was inspired by the group. The first name on an online petition ( calling for The Monkees’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one Brian Wilson. Could it be?

20. Brian has a real tough time deciding on his favorite Beach Boys album. At various times he has named Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), Friends, and The Beach Boys Love You as his band’s best.

The following sources were indispensible in my research for this piece:

Kirk Curnutt's Brian Wilson (Icons of Pop Music)
Mark Dillon’s Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys
Tony Fletcher’s Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend
Domenic Priore’s Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! and Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece
Robert Rodriguez’s Revolver How the Beatles Reimagined Rock'n'Roll
Jon Stebbins’s The Beach Boys FAQ
Timothy White’s The Nearest Far Away Place well as liner notes from:

The Beach Boys’ Sunflower / Surf's Up
John Cale’s The Island Years
The Monkees Anthology
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