80 Things We Love About Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson in Foliage
By Howie Edelson

1. Handling the top and bottom onstage with The Beach Boys by playing bass and singing falsetto – the ultimate example of patting your head and rubbing your tummy.

2. The legendary white Baldwin organ.

3. His love for “Rhapsody In Blue”

4. Brian can perfectly stack his background vocals without needing to hear the previous tracks.

5. The footage of him and Mike Love working on “Goin’ To The Beach” from 1980’s Goin’ Platinum.

6. The sublime sound of his voice as he combines the notes to “as he did to you” in “Let Him Run Wild.”

7. The iconic detuned Bellagio studio piano used throughout the Wild Honey album.

8. Kissing Paul McCartney’s hand when he came backstage to wish him well prior to the 2004 SMiLE premiere.

9. Brian in 1966 flying out to Michigan to rehearse with the band prior to their live premiere of “Good Vibrations.”

10. The black & silver “space” robe he donned onstage in 1976. 11. Along with cousin Mike Love, writing perhaps the rock’s greatest breakup / makeup song with “Kiss Me Baby.”

Brain Wilson Composes at the Piano

12. Playing perfect and powerful rhythm rock piano on “Don’t Worry Baby.”

13. The sandbox.

14. Conceiving rock's first full-fledged “unplugged” album with 1965’s Beach Boys’ Party!

15. Using accordions as a rhythm instrument on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

Brian Plays the Piano

16. The way he returned to the live band for the 1967 Hawaiian gigs, deconstructed their sound and reimagined the entire set into “low-fi” Smiley Smile-esque arrangements.

17. Having the foresight to understand that instruments such as the cello, French horn, and theremin will conjure and underscore deep emotions in music.

18. How he and Mike Love were able to show the hope and excitement of finding new love in the face of heartache in “Help Me, Rhonda.”

19. Brian allowing Dennis to play the celestial hymn-like organ part in “Good Vibrations.”

20. Greeted Queen Elizabeth II with the extremely Brian-like, “Hi Queen.”

21. Brian’s stellar Sunflower-era harmonica work on “Good Time” and “Susie Cincinnati.”

Brian Performs on the Bass

22. The gorgeous Olympic white Fender Jazz Precision bass he played onstage during his 1960’s performances with the boys.

23. How adorable and endearing he was performing “Sloop John B.” during his 1976 appearance on The Mike Douglas Show.

24. The tee-pee.

25. Handling the drums on the 1964 live version of “The Wanderer” while Dennis came up front to sing.

26. NOBODY rocked a green terry-cloth bathrobe like Brian.

27. Starting a single with a A-flat augmented chord with a G-flat in the bass in “When I Grow Up” just might be the most dissonant opening chord of any pop song.

28. Constructing that burst of levity and humor in the instrumental portion of the Smiley Smile version of “Wonderful.”

29. The brilliance in the backing track to “Time To Get Alone,” which musically apes the inner-workings of a clock or “timepiece.”

30. Hitting the road with the band in 1978 and doubling down by handling most of the bass duties during the shows.

31. The ultimate team player, in 1981 when Carl took a break from the band, he bravely took over lead vocal duties on “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations” – definitely NOT the easiest songs to sing.

32. Brian’s “a-ha” vocal during the “do it right baby” portion of Wild Honey’s “A Thing Or Two.”

Brian Wilson portrait with red back ground

33. The way – in a matter of seconds -- “California Girls” transforms from a post-modern classical piece into kaleidoscope Roy Rogers music, while still making PERFECT musical sense.

34. How Brian snuck in the riff of “Underwater” by The Frogmen into the Lei’d In Hawaii version of “Surfin’” – which led directly to the composition of “Do It Again” – thus completing The Beach Boys’ full circle back-to-basics reinvention.

35. Constantly stretching himself throughout his career by going with his gut when choosing collaborators.

36. Composing the bridge to brother Dennis’ “Little Bird” – but never taking songwriting credit.

37. His fondness for Eddie Murphy’s Norbit.

38. Deciding to tag the coda of the SMiLE take of “Vegetables” onto the Smiley Smile version.

39. The way that no one can definitively tell you what key “This Whole World” is in (and there’s even still some debate as to what key “’Til I Die” is in, as well.)

40. Only a few years after Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking all-synthesizer recordings, Brian began to rely more on synthesizers to build his tracks, so by the time he recorded The Beach Boys Love You, he was essentially a prototype 1980’s synth-popper.

41. Brian was the drummer on The Beach Boys’ debut single, “Surfin’” – thwacking his index finger on the snare.

Brian Wilson Headshot

42. Taking an outtake from another album and placing it on a new set and changing the entire atmosphere of the project – e.g., 1967’s “Cool Cool Water” closing out 1970’s Sunflower; 1970’s “Good Time” finding a home on 1977’s The Beach Boys Love You; and 1969’s “When Girls Get Together” appearing on 1980’s Keepin’ The Summer Alive.

43. How 1964’s “All Dressed Up For School,” 1970’s “I Just Got My Pay,” and 1972’s “Marcella” are all uniquely different songs – but musically connected to one another. 44. In 1999, opening the first show of his inaugural solo tour with “The Little Girl I Once Knew.”

45. Guilelessly composed “Girl Don’t Tell Me” in hopes The Beach Boys’ chief competitors – The Beatles – would record it.

Brian Wilson Sailing

46. Suggesting the guitar on “Sail On Sailor” sound like a morse code.

47. Towards the end of the 1960’s had his living room in Bel Air converted into The Beach Boys’ primary recording studio – something most artists were still years away from realizing.

48. Brian the only creative force to successfully and consistently compete with the likes of Holland-Dozier-Holland and George Martin/Lennon & McCartney.

49. The way he gains confidence and soaks up the positive vibes of his bandmates while laying down the 1976 demo of “I Bet He’s Nice.”

50. Attempted to karate-chop Elvis Presley.

51. His love for a good steak.

Brian Wilson Plays the Piano 2

52. Despite being known as a guitar-based band early on – Brian made sure keyboards played a huge role in their sound, incorporating organ, piano, harpsichord, and celeste on so many hits and album cuts.

53. The fact that there are people on this Earth who were actually rung up by Brian behind the register at The Radiant Radish.

54. Inducted The Bee Gees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and going on record stating that “Too Much Heaven” had, quote, “Saved my life.”

55. How he breaks into his falsetto on the line “and if you get the notion” during the 1968 demo of “Sail Plane Song.” 56. In addition to his Beach Boys bandmates and legendary ‘60s lyricists, Brian has co-written songs with Lindsey Buckingham, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, J.D. Souther, Bernie Taupin, Jeff Lynne, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Webb – and even Jon Bon Jovi. 57. In 1966 he witnessed The Rolling Stones record “My Obsession” in Los Angeles.

58. The way Brian took two seemingly unrelated chord progressions and sewed them together for Sunflower's “This Whole World" -- minor chords become major and major chords become minor.

59. Putting all his demons aside, facing his fears and not only completing SMiLE – but going on to TOUR it.

60. In the course of a year, Brian wrote and recorded classic material for three completely different projects – The Beach Boys Love You, Adult/Child, and M.I.U. Album.

61. How Brian LITERALLY gives directions to his old Bellagio Road house in the 1968 Friends classic, “Busy Doin’ Nothin’.”

62. During his hitmaking years with The Beach Boys was also able to effortlessly write and produce such incredible side-projects as Paul Peterson’s “She Rides With Me” and The Honeys’ “The One You Can’t Have,” among MANY more.

63. Spotlighting his expert gospel piano work on 1972’s “He Come Down.”

64. How beautifully he harmonizes with himself on 1963’s “The Surfer Moon.”

65. The “I know you’re gonna love Phil Spector” line in 1977’s “Mona.”

66. The way 1968’s “Do It Again” manages to sound retro, au courant, and futuristic ALL at the same time.

67. The entirety of SMiLE – all those vocal parts, all those instruments, ALL the arrangements were conceived by Brian when he was only 24.

68. He – arguably -- wrote the greatest song about Johnny Carson.

Brian Wilson Plays the Bass 2

69. Totally went against the grain in the late-‘60s by writing such breathtaking waltzes as “Let The Wind Blow,” “Time To Get Alone,” “Be Here In The Morning,” and “Friends.”

70. The visual of him with The Beach Boys at Live Aid in 1985, lean and fit, belting “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” across TV screens across the planet.

71. Brian’s a capella vocal arrangement of "The Lord’s Prayer" is a masterclass in tight jazz chord-melody writing for a male vocal quartet.

Brian Wilson Wears Fire Helmet

72. He booked specific studios for specific parts of "Good Vibrations" because that section wouldn’t sound right at the wrong studio. He would hire a musician to play literally one note on a track -- because that’s what the arrangement needed to be just right.

73. "Holidays" from SMiLE hammers away in the chorus with the major 7th of the chord in the bass. On paper it should sound horrible -- but somehow, you don’t even realize it’s supremely dissonant.

74. Despite employing the top session pros on many Beach Boys recordings – Brian always went back to making music with his family.

75. Brian’s use of a harpsichord on “I Get Around” presaged the baroque pop boom of the mid-‘60s.

76. In the summer of ’78, looking cool and confident on bass and Adidas sweatsuit while appearing with Mike Love & Celebration to perform Brian, Mike, & Al’s “Almost Summer” on American Bandstand.

77. How in 1976 he revived the unfinished 1965 track “Sandy” and with new lyrics, changed it to “Sherry, She Needs Me” and ABSOLUTELY NAILED the falsetto part as if it was a decade earlier.

Brian Wilson in the Studio

78. Recorded “Back Home” three times – 1963, 1969, and 1976 – all with completely different feels and all equally brilliant.

79. His frequent use of eighth note chord clusters in lieu of a hi-hat.

80. Brian always knows when he has the master backing track for a song. It's never a case of “. . .let’s try one more.”