Brian Wilson is arguably the greatest American composer of popular music in the rock era. Born and raised in Hawthorne, California, he formed the Beach Boys in 1961 alongside his two younger brothers, cousin Mike Love, and school friend Alan Jardine.
Serving as the group's primary songwriter, Wilson combined the rock urgency of Chuck Berry with the harmonies of the Four Freshmen before expanding his musical imagination during the late '60s, during which time he experimented with new songwriting structures and production techniques. Wilson retreated from his dominance of the Beach Boys after 1967, yielding most of the control to his younger brother Carl. He made sporadic contributions to their records, returning only briefly as a songwriter and producer in the mid-'70s.
Following a long period of drug addiction, mental illness, and general isolation, Wilson issued his first solo album 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." 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.
During his time with the Beach Boys, Wilson had often remained at home -- or in the studio -- while the rest of the group set out on tour. Things started to change in the early 2000s, when he began touring as a solo act (often accompanied by a large backing band) and released a pair of live titles: Live at the Roxy Theatre (2000) and Pet Sounds Live (2002). Unfortunately, the cobbled studio album that followed in 2004, Gettin' in Over My Head, exhibited the same foibles as Imagination. Also, it was overshadowed by Wilson's next project: preparing the legendary Beach Boys record 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. 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. ~ William Ruhlmann & John Bush, Rovi