Brian Wilson Recalls Beatles/Beach Boys Relationship
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Articles Musicians
Image attributed to Brian Wilson
Singer, songwriter, musician and record producer Brian Wilson is best known for being the co-founder of the rock band the Beach Boys, who formed in 1961. The multiple Grammy Award winner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. He was ranked #12 in the Rolling Stone "100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time” list in 2015. The British magazine NME ranked Wilson #8 in its “50 Greatest Producers Ever” countdown, elaborating “few consider quite how groundbreaking Brian Wilson’s studio techniques were in the mid-60s.” He is often depicted in media as a “genius.”
The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds is widely considered Wilson's masterwork and ranked #2 on the Rolling Stone "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" tally in 2020.
"My room was like the sanctuary where my brothers and me could sing harmony together."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: When did you first know that you had such a special gift for creating songs?
Brian Wilson: When I was 14, I started learning to play piano. I taught myself how to play the piano.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you play other instruments as well?
Brian Wilson: No. I was a piano player. I always played the piano. I learned to make the song arrangements on my piano, and then I would give it to the musicians, and they played the music as I wrote it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were 19 when you wrote “Surfer Girl.”
Brian Wilson: Right.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How does someone that young handle so much success?
Brian Wilson: I don’t know. It beats me … I don’t know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What advice would you give young songwriters and musicians today just starting out in the business?
Brian Wilson: I would tell them if you’re going to write a song, follow through and write the whole song. Don’t quit halfway through the song.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You recorded onto 4-track and 8-track tapes in the 60s. Are things easier now in the age of digital media?
Brian Wilson: It makes it easier to record because you can concentrate on the bass; get the right sound on the bass, the drums, and all of the instruments. You can load tracks easier on the 24-track, 48-track, and 72-track.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did the idea for the surfing songs come about in the beginning?
Brian Wilson: Well, some of them came from me, my brother Dennis and my cousin Michael.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Who decided on the name Beach Boys?
Brian Wilson: Some guy at the record company (Candix Records) came up with that name. We called ourselves the Pendletones and when they pressed up “Surfin,” they called us the Beach Boys. That’s how we got our name.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: One of my favorite Beach Boy tunes is “In My Room.” What was the inspiration for that song?
Brian Wilson: My room was like the sanctuary where my brothers and me could sing harmony together. Then later on we sang “In My Room” similar to the harmonies that we sang when we were little boys before the Beach Boys was formed.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Another one of my favorites, “God Only Knows,” was honored by BBC Music. Is that the greatest song you’ve ever written?
Brian Wilson: Probably my best, yeah.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What were you thinking about when you wrote it?
Brian Wilson: I was thinking about my relationship with my girlfriend, and I wrote it for her.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What were you and the band going through at the time of writing and recording Pet Sounds back in the 1960s?
Brian Wilson: We weren’t going through anything. We were just very inspired. We heard Rubber Soul by the Beatles, and it inspired us to do Pet Sounds.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: During the Pet Sounds recording sessions, Mike Love referred to you as “Dog Ears.” What did that mean?
Brian Wilson: He said I have such good ears that I have ears like dogs, and dogs have good ears.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was Mike complimenting you on your extraordinary musical talent?
Brian Wilson: Yeah.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: But you are deaf in one ear?
Brian Wilson: I can’t hear out of my right ear. I hear music only monophonically.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you still enjoy performing live even today?
Brian Wilson: Actually, I like it more today than in the past because I get to do a lot more singing than I did with the Beach Boys. I get to sing a lot more, so I enjoy the concerts.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you still suffer from stage fright, Brian?
Brian Wilson: I haven’t gotten over it yet.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you perform any rituals before heading out on stage?
Brian Wilson: I have my dinner meal that I have prior to the concert. I go through a little bit of pre-concert nerves.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How do you calm your nerves?
Brian Wilson: I just use my mind to calm myself. I have a great chair that I sit in before I go out.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was there competition between the Beach Boys and the Beatles in the 1960s?
Brian Wilson: I don’t think it was a competition. I think it was mutual admiration.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you a friend of Sir Paul McCartney’s?
Brian Wilson: Yeah, I know him. I haven’t really talked much with him, but I know him.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Speaking of great musicians, we lost Glen Campbell to Alzheimer’s disease. Did you ever work with him?
Brian Wilson: I did work with Glen Campbell. I produced him on a song one time in the early 60s.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What kind of relationship did you two have?
Brian Wilson: I can’t remember. All I know is I produced this song called “Guess I’m Dumb” for him. I was sad to see him die.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Who were your first music heroes?
Brian Wilson: Chuck Berry was one of my heroes. The Four Freshman taught me harmony and Phil Spector taught me production.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Brian, if you had to list your three favorite songs of all time, what would they be?
Brian Wilson: “Be My Baby,” “Strangers in the Night” and “Walking in the Rain.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Favorite singer?
Brian Wilson: Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s your favorite record of all time?
Brian Wilson: One of my favorite records is “Gimme Some Lovin’” by Spencer Davis.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Brian, what’s the secret to your success in the music business?
Brian Wilson: It has been my group the Beach Boys. They have helped me with their good singing.
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