Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942), American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer who co-founded the Beach Boys. After signing with Capitol Records in 1962, Wilson wrote or co-wrote more than two dozen Top 40 hits for the group. In addition to his lifelong struggles with mental illness, Wilson is known for his unorthodox approaches to pop composition and mastery of recording techniques, and he is widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative and significant songwriters of the late 20th century.
The Beach Boys were formed by Brian, his brothers Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Brian, who grew up influenced by 1950s rock and roll and jazz-based vocal groups, originally functioned as the band's songwriter, producer, co-lead vocalist, bassist, keyboardist, and de facto leader. He co-wrote, arranged, and produced their LP Pet Sounds (1966), considered one of the greatest albums ever made. The intended follow-up, Smile, was canceled for various reasons, which included Wilson's deteriorating mental health. As he suffered repeated nervous breakdowns, Wilson's contributions to the Beach Boys diminished, and his erratic behavior led to tensions with the band. In the 1970s, he was increasingly reputed for his hermitic lifestyle and substance abuse. Following a court-ordered removal from the care of psychologist Eugene Landy, Wilson started receiving conventional medical treatment, and in the late 1990s, he began performing and recording consistently as a solo artist. He remains a member of the Beach Boys’ corporation, Brother Records Incorporated.
Wilson was the first pop artist credited for writing, arranging, producing, and performing his own material. He is considered a major innovator in the field of music production, the principal originator of the California Sound, one of the first music producer auteurs, and one of the most famous examples of the outsider musician. Only 21 years old when he received the freedom to produce his own records with total creative autonomy, he ignited an explosion of like-minded California producers, supplanting New York as the center of popular records, and becoming the first rock producer to use the studio as its own instrument. Wilson effectively set a precedent that allowed bands and artists to enter a recording studio and act as their own producers or co-producers. The zeitgeist of the early 1960s is commonly associated to his early songs, and he helped develop the sound of the wistful Flower Power era that proceeded. In later years, Wilson was regarded as a “godfather” to an era of indie musicians who were inspired by his melodic sensibilities, chamber pop orchestrations, and recording explorations. He is often depicted in media as a “genius”.
His honors include being inducted into the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and winning Grammy Awards for Brian Wilson Presents Smile (2004) and The Smile Sessions (2011). In lists published by Rolling Stone, Wilson ranked 52 for the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” in 2008 and 12 for the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time in 2015. In 2012, music publication NME ranked Wilson number 8 in its “50 Greatest Producers Ever” list, elaborating “few consider quite how groundbreaking Brian Wilson's studio techniques were in the mid-60s”. He is an occasional actor and voice actor, having appeared in television shows, films, and other artists’ music videos. His life was dramatized in the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy.