It feels borderline impossible to define the talent of Brian Wilson. ‘Genius’ is a word often given to such artists who had a lasting impact on popular music as we know it, sometimes bounded around with careless abandon. Brian Wilson, however, operates slightly in a league entirely of his own. He is the definition of a true artist.
For much of what makes The Beach Boys one of the defining sounds of the 1960s, you have Wilson to thank. His commanding presence in the studio would see the band create some of the decade’s most cherished work — and the 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds is consistently lauded as one of the finest albums ever made.
We know this probably isn’t news to you, but we wanted to be clear for all those in doubt: the great Brian Wilson knows the key elements of what makes a classic track. So when Rolling Stone asked him to compile a list of his favourite tunes back in 2015, there was sure to be a perfect playlist waiting at the end of it.
Now, we’re happy to provide you with the accompanying playlist so that you can listen along with the knowledge that Brian Wilson curated it for you. The singer picks eight songs that “made” him, and it is a beautiful listen, even if it is a little too short.
Wilson’s first pick goes way back to his childhood as he selects ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by George Gershwin. “The track from 1924 was the first song I ever heard. When I was a little boy, very young, I heard it and said, ‘Mom, Mom, play it again’,” Wilson told RS. “I just got this overwhelmingly beautiful vibe from the music,” he added.
The Beach Boys mastermind also picks The Ronettes classic ‘Be My Baby’ as it was “the song that inspired me to produce records”. Detailing further, he goes on to say that the sound the infamous Phil Spector managed to achieve meant a young Wilson “thought it was the greatest record I ever heard”. Wilson also picks one track from his past rivals, The Beatles, selecting their anthemic ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’.
When choosing The Rolling Stones’ track ‘My Obsession’, Wilson said: “’Satisfaction’ is my second-favourite song by the Stones. This one is my favourite. They invited me down to their studio in Hollywood when they were mixing it. I remember sitting there and feeling that energy and that excitement.” It’s clear that Wilson connects with songs on a different level than most, often finding the intricacies of production as beguiling as the song itself.
Wilson has also been friends with many of the people the rock and roll world considers icons, so it makes his choices far more personal. He picks Chuck Berry’s timeless rocker ‘Johnny B. Goode’, with an anecdote about meeting his hero: “I met Chuck Berry one time on an aeroplane. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Brian Wilson!’ He goes, ‘Hey’, and then he turned away. He wouldn’t talk to me. Too bad. But he taught me how to write rock and roll songs.”
One more song on Wilson’s list was a push in the direction of production, as he snaps up The Four Freshmen’s ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’ from 1954. “This is where I learned to arrange harmonies and also where I learned to sing falsetto,” he said. “Their four-part harmony was totally original.”
His penultimate pick was none other than the song that swept the globe, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and His Comets. Wilson remarks: “I remember the first time a friend of mine played this for me on the phone. I just wanted to hear it over and over.” It was a sentiment felt across the nation, with countless rock and roll icons citing it as the main reason they were pushed into being in a band.
One other such idol, but one of Wilson’s contemporaries, has also been selected by the singer. He chooses Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ as his final favourite song, sharing the same wide-eyed adoration for Dylan as we all do: “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me/I’m not sleepy, and there ain’t no place I’m going to…’ I love those lyrics, really love them. ‘Poetic’ is the word.”
It’s a timeless list of classic tracks. There aren’t many songs on here that will be a surprise, but they will all enrich your heart. What’s more, the fact that Brian Wilson picked them means you know it comes with an unbeatable recommendation. Sit back and enjoy a playlist of Brian Wilson’s favourite songs.
Brian Wilson’s favourite songs:
- ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ – George Gershwin
- ‘Be My Baby’ – The Ronettes
- ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ – The Beatles
- ‘My Obsession’ – The Rolling Stones
- ‘Johnny B. Goode’ – Chuck Berry
- ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’ – The Four Freshmen
- ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – Bill Haley and His Comets
- ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ – Bob Dylan