“Every now and then I hear voices in my head, but not very clear,” Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson told the New York Times Magazine in 2004. “I can’t understand what they are saying. It’s a mental illness. I have been diagnosed as a manic depressive.”
Wilson, the mastermind of the Beach Boys, is a musical genius.
The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is listed at number-two on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Highly influential on today’s indie pop, the 1966 record was way ahead of its time, a masterpiece bathed in layers of sound and the band’s signature vocal harmonies. The songs “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows” are touchstones in rock-‘n’-roll history.
Wilson is notorious for his flawless Wall-Of-Sound-inspired pop production style – Pet Sounds is nirvana for audiophiles. He used the recording studio like a musical instrument and composed and produced Pet Sounds without the help of the rest of the band, except to incorporate their vocal harmonies. Wilson is also credited with inventing the California Sound, a style of music known for its sunny disposition and references to surf culture and teenage-hood.
Pet Sounds was the inspiration for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that beat out the Beach Boys’ release for the number-one spot on the Rolling Stone list.
The Beach Boys’ earlier material is equally significant as songs like “California Girls” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” proved that rock and pop can go hand in hand to reach tremendous results. The band enjoyed enormous success, with more than two dozen songs reaching the Billboard Top 40 singles chart.
But it wasn’t all smiles for Wilson. He was somewhat of a recluse and has bipolar disorder. He reportedly suffered through frequent nervous breakdowns and therefore distanced himself from the rest of the band. He was also a heavy user of cocaine, in addition to amphetamines, marijuana, and psychedelics.
In the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, Wilson entered a psychiatric hospital, according to biographer Peter Ames Carlin. He was given high doses of lithium as well as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
When Wilson’s father died in 1973, the frontman became a hermit, drinking to excess and experimenting with heroin in addition to his other drugs.
In a manic moment, sometime in 1974, Wilson interrupted a set by jazz musician Larry Coryell at The Troubadour in LA, crashing the stage and singing “Be-Bop-A-Lula” wearing a bathrobe and slippers, according to Newsweek.
There was an intervention by controversial therapist Eugene Landy, who falsely diagnosed him as paranoid schizophrenic.
By 1982, Brian weighed over 325 pounds and continued to use drugs heavily.
At one point, Brian overdosed on a combination of alcohol, cocaine, and psychotropic drugs.
Coming up for air, Wilson rejoined the band for Live Aid in 1985.
In the late ‘80s, The Beach Boys – without Wilson – continued to record some pretty cheesy music (see 1988’s “Kokomo,” written for the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail).
According to The Washington Post, Wilson’s mental health has improved in recent years. While he still experiences auditory hallucinations, his relationship with his wife and a new regimen of psychiatric drugs and therapy have boosted his musical performance.
Now that Wilson is mentally stable and drug-free, it appears that he is cranking out some decent tunes again, as can be seen in this trailer for his upcoming new album No Pier Pressure, due out April 7. Great job, Brian. Bravo.
And no matter what the future holds for this next album, I will always bow at the altar of Pet Sounds as one of my favorite albums of all time, too.
Enjoy the full Pet Sounds record below.