Brian Wilson, the singer-songwriter and co-founding member of surf pop-rock pioneers The Beach Boys, is undoubtedly one of the most influential composers of the last century. Given his supreme standing within the music industry, the recent discovery of his ten favourite albums of all time offered a wonderful insight into the mind of a genius.
Formed in California back in 1961, The Beach Boys combined their dreamy harmonies with the formation of surf rock and pop themes, tapping into the southern California youth culture of the era. Through Wilson’s thought-provoking songwriting, the group soon ascended from their humble beginnings to certify their mammoth influence on rock and roll.
Wilson, who wrote or co-wrote well over two dozen top 40 hits for the group, is widely considered to be among the most innovative and significant musicians of the late 20th century. While his lyrics are rightly revered as some of the greatest of time, it was Wilson’s multi-tasking musicianship that paved the way for the band’s success. While it was seemingly an unusual success, it was one that came fast and furious.
Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys drummer, co-founder and brother of Brian, was once famously quoted as saying: “Brian Wilson is the Beach Boys. He is the band. We’re his fucking messengers. He is all of it. Period. We’re nothing. He’s everything.” It’s hard to disagree; his magnum opus Pet Sounds is regarded as one of the finest albums of all time.
Often referred to as a genius of his field, Wilson successfully experimented with various if different types of production during the height of his fame, cultivating his skills from an early age and ended up repeatedly playing around with concepts of jazz, rock and roll, doo-wop, R&B and more.
What ensued was a major commercial and critical triumph, bouncing off the success of The Beatles as two of rock music’s most influential bands that not only recorded at the same time, but directly influenced each other in the process. Between the 1960s and 2010s, the Beach Boys had over 80 songs chart worldwide and sold over 100 million records worldwide, becoming a staple of America’s internal songbook. It’s a testament to their classic songs.
Numerous splits and tours later, Wilson has battled mental health issues but continues to tour Beach Boys material the world over. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds, Wilson sat down with Esquire to list what he considers to be his top ten favourite records of all time, offering a peek behind the curtain of a musical mastermind. “With a Little Help from My Friends,” he says after predictably adding The Beatles’ iconic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to his list, the first of two to be included. When discussing Rubber Soul, the sixth studio album released by the Liverpool group, Wilson added: “The John and Paul combination in certain songs just blew me away.” It was this album that inspired Wilson to write Pet Sounds. In fact, the story goes that once Wilson heard the record, he instantly began writing ‘God Only Knows’ in what would coincidentally become Paul McCartney’s favourite song.
Perhaps not shy to celebrate his own success, Wilson includes three different Beach Boys records as part of his selected list of albums. “Friends says it all… And we were,” Wilson said somewhat nostalgically about the Beach Boys’ 14th studio album. “‘Salt Lake City’ is an absolute rocker, which stands the test of time,” he added in reference to a number on Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), another selection on the list.
In total, the list sees an incredible musician lay down some of the most brilliant and poetic moments of his contemporaries and a fair heap of his own. View the entire collection below and a complete playlist further down.
Brian Wilson’s 10 favourite albums:
- Sail Away – Randy Newman
- Rubber Soul – The Beatles
- Seven Separate Fools – Three Dog Night
- Four Freshmen and Five Trombones – The Four Freshmen
- Friends – The Beach Boys
- A Christmas Gift for You – Phil Spector
- Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) – The Beach Boys
- Wild Honey – The Beach Boys
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
- Between the Buttons – The Rolling Stones
To sign things off in the words of Brian Wilson himself: “The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Phil Spector. Those were my idols.”
See the full playlist, below.