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Brian Wilson's five favourite albums of all time


Brian Wilson is a musical composer in the truest sense of the word. As Bob Dylan once eulogised: “Jesus, that ear. He should donate it to the Smithsonian. The record I used to listen to and still love, you can’t make a record that sounds that way. Brian Wilson, he made all his records with four tracks, but you couldn’t make his records if you had a hundred tracks today.”

As it happens, part of the reason music technology has advanced so quickly over the course of Wilson’s career is down to the man himself. Records like Pet Sounds raised the bar for stereo sound as he meddled technology with music and produced utterly thrilling results. This achievement isn’t lost on Wilson, as in a recent Spin feature, he championed his Beach Boys 1966 masterpiece as one of the five records he couldn’t live without. 

However, Pet Sounds wasn’t an album that fell into place with ease. As he once recalled of the recording process, “I would have the musicians keep playing over and over again till the sound made sense. I worked overtime on that; I worked hours to get it right. If the sound didn’t make any sense, then I wouldn’t know what to do—I’d be lost! It’s instinct that tells me. I have an instinct for music, or a feeling about it, and I’ll have my feelings guide my hands.”

As a trailblazing force of the 1960s, much is made of the secretly competitive spirit between the bands. The studio advancements made with Pet Sounds were furthered still when The Beatles and their producer George Martin picked up the mantle and crafted Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the sonic space race proved so fervent that The Beach Boys’ misfire with Smiley, Smile was condemned to the ash heap of history. 

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Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Wilson from relishing in Sgt. Peppers. He chose the album as one of his five favourites and opined, “It was the answer to Pet Sounds and made me push to do better.” While that push might have been a struggle, Paul McCartney has certainly returned the favour, declaring: “I figure no one is educated musically until they’ve heard Pet Sounds.”

Sgt. Peppers wasn’t the only Beatles album to make his list either, he also picked Revolver. While Wilson has championed Rubber Soul as The Beatles’ best album in the past, it would appear his opinion has since changed on that. “What the heck is not to love?” he said about Revolver. “It’s some of Paul’s best work. His vocals are amazing.”

It was Randy Newman who once said, “Brian Wilson is one of the greatest creative artists in the history of popular music. Pet Sounds is a remarkable achievement.” However, this influence evidently didn’t simply run one way. When celebrating Sail Away’s involvement amid his five favourites, Wilson opined: “It’s the best. I love Randy, his music means a lot to me.”

Lastly, Wilson opted to go for another key 1960s band and poured praise on Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones. “At least for today, I’m thinking about this album,” he told Spin. He then reserved special praise for one song in particular, “The song ‘My Obsession’ is, well… I’m obsessed with it.”

Brian Wilson’s five favourite albums:

  • Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
  • Between the Buttons by The Rolling Stones
  • Sail Away by Randy Newman
  • Revolver by The Beatles
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles

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