|Studio album by|
|Released||July 12, 1988|
|Recorded||April 1987 - May 1988|
|Label||Sire/Reprise/Warner Bros. Records 25669|
|Brian Wilson chronology|
|Singles from Brian Wilson|
Brian Wilson is the debut studio album by Brian Wilson released in July 1988 on Sire Records. It was voted one of the best albums of 1988 by NME, and as part of its acclaim, garnered the nickname "Pet Sounds '88" among some critics. The album has since been reissued on several formats with bonus tracks, and cited by some as a standout in Wilson's solo oeuvre.
The album, which cost $1 million to produce, was the first written and produced by Wilson since The Beach Boys Love You (1977). Working with an array of collaborators including his therapist Eugene Landy, Wilson accordingly themed Brian Wilson around love and spirituality exemplified by its lead single "Love and Mercy". Although the album's sessions were contentious, where some participants demanded a progressive artistic statement versus conventional pop songs, nearly a quarter of the LP is devoted to "Rio Grande", a piece which was intended to rekindle Wilson's experimental drive from the mid 1960s and early 1970s.
Two follow-ups were planned but ultimately discarded: Sweet Insanity (1991), co-produced with Landy, and an unfinished 1990s album, co-produced with Andy Paley. Wilson would not release a second solo album of new original material until Imagination (1998).
During the 1980s, Wilson was under high-profile around-the-clock medical care by his therapist Eugene Landy after spending several years participating in little-to-no work with the Beach Boys. According to co-founder and cousin Mike Love: "Neither his [Brian's] brothers nor his mother nor I nor most anyone else could reach him. Landy controlled all access and appeared to control Brian's career as well. ... Landy claimed that the Beach Boys had prevented Brian from being part of the recording. Actually, we wanted Brian to be part of the group, and the funny thing is, Brian wanted that as well." In 1988, Wilson said: "Although we stay together as a group, as people we're a far cry from friends. One time we were doing an interview together, and the interviewer asked [my brother] Carl what it was between him and me. He goes, 'Well, Brian and I don't have to talk to each other. We're just Beach Boys, but we don't need to be friends.' And that's true. Although, whenever I think about him, I feel rotten."
Starting in 1983, Wilson made infrequent trips to recording studios, amassing a hefty amount of songwriting collaborations between him, Landy, and childhood friend Gary Usher, and only exerting marginal involvement with the Beach Boys' 1985 eponymous album, making it unforeseeable for some time that Wilson would ever work as a seriously productive musician or composer again. The initial single released that April, "Let's Go To Heaven In My Car", was co-written with Usher, and was included in the soundtrack for Police Academy 4, although it flopped.[a] Despite all odds, Wilson was signed to a multi-album solo recording contract with Sire Records in early 1987 after label president Seymour Stein saw Wilson perform an a cappella version of "On Broadway" while inducting Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Los Angeles record producer Lenny Waronker recounts,
Brian's speech [for Leiber & Stoller] was so wonderfully sweet. I remember thinking, "My God, maybe there can be more stuff like he used to do ... maybe he should do a record. It was clear that Brian was on the way back; this wasn't the Brian Wilson of the 'Brian's Back' hype of 1976. [I remember] when I was just starting out as a producer, and Brian was working with my good friend Van Dyke Parks. I loved the things they were working on, like "Heroes and Villains" and "Cabin Essence". I had never forgotten how great that music was, or how much I loved "Cool, Cool Water", another incredible piece of music. ...
Flying back from the Hall of Fame dinner. I was thinking how wonderful it would be if Brian could do a record, and he could do a bunch of things like "Cool, Cool Water", and we'd get 'em played on all those wave stations, a new age record with Brian Wilson. When I got back to L.A., Seymour called me and said, in passing, that he was thinking of signing Brian. I said, "Great! That's a brilliant idea. As a matter of fact, I've been thinking about the same thing." And I told Seymour what I thought, about how I wanted to make a record filled with "Cool, Cool Water" type of tracks. And Seymour said, "Why don't we do half songs and half," what I call "arts and crafts."
Stein imposed one condition on Wilson for the recording of his approaching solo album: that he would be allowed to appoint his own co-producer to help him stay organized and on-task. The condition was agreed upon, and Stein called up multi-instrumentalist record producer Andy Paley, a devout Brian Wilson fan who had previously gained some success and notoriety producing artists ranging from Madonna to Jonathan Richman. Wilson ordered two conditions of his own: that Landy would be appointed executive producer and business manager, and that he would be allowed to work at his own pace. Wilson proceeded to record a full album composed largely of new material while working mainly with Andy Paley, Eugene Landy & wife Alexandra Morgan, and a few other guest musicians.
Wilson's material on the album was gathered from the previous five years of songwriting, which amounted to about a hundred songs. According to Paley, "My job was to kick him in the ass and get him going... It was difficult because he was medicated, and that slowed him down a bit. He was also in mid-career and didn't have anything to prove anymore." Similar to Wilson's previous collaborators Tony Asher or Van Dyke Parks, some of the tracks' rough outlines sprang largely out of conversations about whatever was on their mind at the time. On the lyrics, Wilson said "I like to write for young people, 'cause they understand what I'm saying in my music, understand where I'm coming from. But, I think this album should appeal to people in their twenties, thirties and forties. ... I write more about ideas, now. Before, I wrote about tangible kinds of things; now, I'm writing about ideas, love songs again. I'm back to love songs: 'Melt Away' and 'Love and Mercy' and 'One for the Boys' and 'There's So Many'. There are four or five love songs on the album."
The recording sessions, mainly supervised by veteran producers like Russ Titelman and Lenny Waronker, were said to be contentious. Wilson's collaborators reportedly clashed with Landy and his medical staff. As Paley expounds: "The guy was saying something like, 'Brian, don't you think the lyrics would be better if Alexandra fixed them?' And Brian said, 'No, I like them the way they are.' Then the guy's like, 'Well, what did you tell me last night when I said you could have that milkshake if you switched the lyrics?' And then Brian said, 'Oh, okay. The new lyrics are better than the old ones.'" Landy made repeated attempts to modify lyrics and arrangements by interrupting sessions, sometimes confiscating master tapes to assert his control. According to Paley "Anything good we got out of those sessions was done totally on stolen time... Landy was always checking in, phoning in directions, basically never wanting to give Brian any breathing room. It was a hassle and many times heartbreaking because we'd do something good, finally, and then Landy would swoop in and dive-bomb it."
Titelman, who had previously collaborated with Wilson in the 1960s on the songs "Guess I'm Dumb" and "Sherry She Needs Me", was brought on board after Wilson reportedly expressed desire to make the record more modern. Titelman says, "My job was to egg him on, make him do stuff that maybe he wouldn't have done, hope we shared the same taste. In that way, I was helpful, a catalyst. ... I was sensitive to Brian's quirkiness and to his feelings about certain things, but after a point, he knows what's good and he knows what to do. And I know what to do. We're both professionals. So if he was going off track, I would say 'This is no good.' I was very tough about what I thought, made no bones." Landy praised Titelman's impact on the work, explaining "[Titelman] brought [Wilson] from four track to forty-eight track". Waronker remembers, "Russ did a real good job of helping Brian realize the beauty of his music, helped it stand up. Brian hasn't done this in a long time, and he needed help with the technology. And where it needed some small fixing, Russ was able to show Brian how to do it in a simple way. ... The idea that Brian was able to do this after so much time away was really shocking, beyond what anybody could expect." Waronker believed that the final product continued the efforts started by Pet Sounds, resembling an updated version of the album.
In 1997, Andy Paley looked back on Brian Wilson as "a pretty good record, but it wasn't as good as it could have been because there were too many cooks, and Brian wasn't really calling the shots." He expanded upon his comments to say "there were a lot of people helping on the record ... These people aren't bad people. ... and if anyone tried to force anything out of me or Brian, it would have been a failure." Paley added that the album's production, writing, and musician credits were all published inaccurately, and that he had written the middle part of "One for the Boys", but was uncredited.
"Love and Mercy", according to Wilson, was written as "a personal message from me to people ... because there's no guarantee of somebody waking up in the morning with any love." "Walkin' the Line" was co-written with Nick Laird-Clowes of dream pop band the Dream Academy. "Let it Shine" was co-written with Jeff Lynne of symphonic rock group Electric Light Orchestra, another devout Wilson fan who had just finished producing George Harrison's album Cloud Nine (1987). In 2015, Lynne intimated:
I hadn't known him at all, but Brian asked me if I wanted to write a song and produce it with him. "Yes, please - I'd love to." I went to his house in Malibu and wrote it with him right by the seashore; his place was only a couple steps from the sea. Him playing piano and me strumming guitar and we came up with the song, 'Let It Shine'. ... Anyway, we got to the session and I played lots of the instruments: bass and rhythm guitar and keyboard, and he did some keyboard, and we co-produced. Despite our production backgrounds, there wasn't a lot on it actually. It's a nice tight-sounding record.
Certain portions and ideas of Brian Wilson harken back to Wilson's earlier work with the Beach Boys. The song "Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long" is a spiritual sequel to "Caroline, No", as Wilson explained: "It is, of course, a sexual song, a song about sexual ideas. At first, when I wrote the melody, I thought maybe it should be a love song. ... Most of the lyrics were romantic, but then I put in a couple of sexual lines. And then I said, 'Wait a minute. Let's get rid of some of the love aspects, the romantic aspects of this song, and put in more sexual lyrics' ... It's like when girls whack their hair off short, and they don't give a shit. Sometimes, if you prompt a girl, prompt someone to hit the road and get on the stick and let your hair grow long and try harder. ... [Hair] exemplifies beauty in a girl."
At the behest of Titelman, the album's eight-minute-long closing suite, "Rio Grande" was purposely developed as a continuation to the modular recording experiments Wilson had begun with tracks such as "Good Vibrations" and "Cool, Cool Water", and bears traits similar to Wilson's aborted Smile project. The song tells a story of a man running away to find his home, which Wilson believes, "That's symbolism right? God cannot be conceived of, so therefore we give him a literal meaning, and he's in the sky so that people can understand what is being said."
At times when Landy wasn't around, Wilson was reported to have worked with "amazing speed and precision, often dreaming up and singing complex, multipart vocal arrangements while standing alone at the microphone". Vocal sessions were strenuous on Wilson, and he was assigned a vocal coach during sessions. Comparing with the new recording technology, Wilson commented, "It makes it faster, speeds up the process a little bit. We did this album differently than I used to. I used to get a group of people out there in the studio and produce the band live. Now, everything's done on synthesizers. I played most of the album, but now and then, we'd call in musicians for specific parts. ... There are a lot of reasons I like working with emulators rather than live musicians." Michael Bernard who was employed as a synthesizer programmer explained his perspective,
He already had in his head the whole picture of what it was going to be like, and he would put down the different sounds. The way he would go about layering things, his choice of sounds and instrument was different from what I was used to, but it was really interesting to watch him work. Most people put down drums, bass and chords first, but Brian might go from the drums to horns to strings to a lead vocal. One of the first sounds he asked for was a nuclear explosion ... I explained to him what could be done, and he got the idea, thought it was neat that you could get any sound you wanted. Just to get him familiar with the synthesizer, I showed him how to do certain things. He has a DX-7 at home, so he was aware of some of the capabilities of the equipment, but I went through my sound library to give him the ideas of the possibilities of it. ... Once in a while, he would get to a point where he would say, "I've got another line; I want you to come up with an interesting sounding patch on the keyboard." And I would go on my own and try to figure out what might work that Brian would like. That's where it became difficult because sometimes he would be conventional and other times he would want off-the-wall sounds. Whatever he picked, it came out great.
Most of the album was recorded by Christmas 1987. After several months of mixing, Brian Wilson was assembled in April 1988 and ready for release.
Two singles from the album, "Love and Mercy" (#40 Mainstream Rock) and "Melt Away," sold poorly. They were backed with "He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body to Move" and "Being With the One You Love", both tracks which were not included on the album. A third, "Night Time," was released for promotional use only. Although the Beach Boys' #1 hit "Kokomo" may have stolen some of the album's attention, Wilson's restricted promotion of the album, which was overseen and controlled by his controversial psychologist Eugene Landy, was more likely the reason for the limited sales. Initially, Landy and his girlfriend, Alexandra Morgan, even had their names included on some of the songs on Brian Wilson, but once he was successfully removed from Wilson's life in 1991, the credits were later revised to reflect their lack of involvement in Wilson's songs.
A music video was produced for the lead single "Love and Mercy" featuring Brian and engineer/producer Mark Linnett in the studio. The clip was not frequently broadcast, possibly because of the failure of the single to make any impact on the top 40 charts. However, Sire Records did release a promotional disc with an interview of Brian Wilson intertwined with various tracks from the album. Additionally, Sire released a limited edition CD with a leather-bound jacket.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Brian Wilson was released in July 1988 to favorable reviews, and reached number 54 on American record charts. Its completion came as a shock to many. Biographer Peter Ames Carlin would later note that, upon release, "[the album] succeeded at giving Brian Wilson the forward-looking perspective of a legitimate comeback. Brian had finally delivered on his oft-given promise to 'really stretch out and blow some minds' with his sheer ambition. When the needle finally lifted at the end of side two, it was easy to imagine that he really might be back on his journey to the distant frontier."
In contemporary reviews, Stereo Review said the album would likely appease those whose expectations were "Pet Sounds II", writing "Yes, it's true. Brian Wilson's back ... [and he's] clearly at work again with talent intact".David Fricke wrote for Rolling Stone: "Brian Wilson is a stunning reminder of what pop's been missing all these years. It is also the best Beach Boys long player since 1970's Sunflower, although Wilson is the only Beach Boy on it. The songs are full of sunshine choirboy harmonies and sing-along hooks, while the rich, expansive arrangements echo the orchestral radiance of Wilson's spiritual mentor, Phil Spector."Sun-Sentinel reviewed: "Wilson's clever, mostly upbeat ideas flow magnificently throughout the record, easily transcending his emotional madness. His introspective poems and barbershop harmonies are framed in a series of bouncy melodies that never take a trite or simple path. ... Just when you think you know where one of his songs may lead, he dips into another spacey progression, and the tune is launched again on a separate plane. In particular, the closing six-part piece, 'Rio Grande', is the kind of immensely fulfilling progressive pop with which art-rock bands such as Yes and Genesis formerly toyed, but rarely brought to satisfying completion."
Reflecting on the album's release years later, Richie Unterberger referred to the album's use of the Yamaha DX7 digital synthesizer as a detracting element, elaborating, "While he retained his gift for catchy melodies and dense, symphonic production, there was a forced stiffness to both the songwriting and execution. Much of the blame for the album's mixed success can be laid upon its sterile, synthesizer-laden arrangements and echoing percussion, which epitomized some of the less attractive aspects of late-1980s production."
In 2000, Sire re-released the album through Rhino/Atlantic Records with non-album single tracks, non-album b-sides, demos, instrumentals, and interview clips. On its 25th anniversary in 2013, Friday Music Records reissued the album on blue 180g vinyl. A further 2015 reissue on Rhino follows the 2000 track listing, adding additional material to the accompanying booklet.
Writing credits to Eugene Landy and his wife Alexandra Morgan were removed after the album's 2000 reissue. For historical purposes, all tracks are as they were originally credited, albeit with a strikethrough for credits that are no longer officially recognized.
|1.||"Love and Mercy"||Brian Wilson, ||Brian Wilson, Russ Titelman||2:52|
|2.||"Walkin' the Line"||Wilson, ||Wilson||2:37|
|3.||"Melt Away"||Wilson, ||Wilson, Titelman||2:58|
|4.||"Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long"||Wilson||Wilson, Titelman||3:15|
|5.||"Little Children"||Wilson||Wilson, Titelman||1:48|
|6.||"One for the Boys"||Wilson||Wilson||1:47|
|7.||"There's So Many"||Wilson, ||Wilson, Titelman||2:46|
|1.||"Night Time"||Wilson, ||Wilson, Titelman||3:34|
|2.||"Let it Shine"||Wilson, Jeff Lynne||Jeff Lynne||3:57|
|3.||"Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight"||Wilson, Paley, Andy Dean||Andy Paley||3:05|
|4.||"Rio Grande"||Wilson, Paley||Paley, Lenny Waronker||8:12|
All tracks written by Brian Wilson, except where otherwise stated. Tracks 17-25 were previously unissued.
|2000 Rhino/Atlantic Records edition bonus tracks|
|12.||"Brian Wilson on "Love and Mercy""||2:23|
|13.||"He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body to Move"||Lindsey Buckingham, Brian Wilson||2:36|
|14.||"Being With the One You Love"||2:36|
|15.||"Let's Go to Heaven in My Car"||Gary Usher, Wilson||3:40|
|16.||"Too Much Sugar"||2:38|
|17.||"There's So Many" (demo)||1:53|
|18.||"Walkin' the Line" (demo)||2:51|
|19.||"Melt Away" (early version - alternate vocal)||2:03|
|20.||"Night Time" (instrumental track)||Andy Paley, Wilson||4:05|
|21.||"Little Children" (demo)||2:01|
|22.||"Night Bloomin' Jasmine" (demo)||2:20|
|23.||"Rio Grande" (early version - compiled rough mixes)||Paley, Wilson||6:07|
|24.||"Brian on "Rio Grande""||1:20|
|25.||"Brian on "The Source""||1:59|