Ahead of the release of The Beach Boys’ 20th studio album, 15 Big Ones, in 1976, Brian Wilson sat down for a revealing interview with broadcaster Bob Harris. By this time in his career, Wilson was – to put it lightly – a bit of a mess. Three years earlier, Wison’s father and one-time band manager Murray died quite suddenly, prompting the musicians to retreat from view and while away the days hauled up in his bedroom, smoking, drinking, overeating, and refusing to talk to any of his bandmates, feeling utterly unable to relate to them.
Two and a half years later, however, Wilson decided to return to the studio and put together a new record. Perhaps the reason this interview makes such fascinating viewing is that it captures Wilson at a time of intense vulnerability, a period in which he had started to haul himself out of the pit of grief that had consumed him for so long. What’s more, Wilson offers some incredible insights into his influences, his history with The Beach Boys and the development of the group’s sound.
After discussing The Beach Boys’ forthcoming record, Harris goes on to ask Wilson about the classic Beach Boys’ sound; one that Wilson returned to with 15 Big Ones after moving into new territory with albums such as Holland (1973). “Our forte is harmonics,” Wilson begins. “We have a harmonic blend because we’re a brother and a cousin; we’re a family – like The King Sisters, you know. There’s a certain family blend. Our throats are similar, I don’t know what the case is, but, nevertheless, our voices blend well”.
Wilson then goes on to describe the period, following the release of Holland, during which the singer was effectively a recluse: “I was confined to my bedroom. I was taking drugs, I was snorting cocaine – which I don’t, uh, agree with. I don’t get behind anyone snorting cocaine, it’s a very bad drug,” he admits. “I had a lot of money. I’m a millionaire, and I was able to get a hold of all these drugs and they screwed me up. They messed my mind up.”
In order to get her husband back on his feet, Wilson’s wife sought professional help. “My wife called a doctor, Dr Eugene Landy,” Wilson begins, referring to the American psychologist known for his unconventional 24-hour therapy sessions. “And I began a series of experiments with him for rehabilitation and social control and social grace, and a series of therapy meetings. And, uh, it’s done me a lot of good. I’ve stayed off the drugs and come back into my own.”
Brian Wilson’s landmark interview with Bob Harris is a fascinating insight into the inner life of one of music’s most enigmatic and troubled stars. See the full clip below.