Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942) is an 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 unorthodox approaches to pop composition and mastery of recording techniques, Wilson is known for his lifelong struggles with mental illness. He is often referred to as a genius and is widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative and significant songwriters of the late 20th century.The Beach Boys were formed by Wilson with his brothers Dennis and Carl, 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. In 1964, he suffered a nervous breakdown and stopped touring with the group, which led to more personal work such as Pet Sounds (1966) and the unfinished Smile. As his mental health deteriorated, his contributions to the band diminished, and over the next decade, he was reputed for his reclusive lifestyle and substance abuse. Following a 1992 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 Inc.
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 the first rock producer to use the studio as its own instrument. The unusual creative control Capitol gave him over his own records effectively set a precedent that allowed other bands and artists to act as their own producers or co-producers. Wilson’s success also led to a proliferation of like-minded California producers who helped supplant New York as the center of popular records. The zeitgeist of the early 1960s is commonly associated with his early songs, and he was a major influence on the retrospectively-termed “sunshine pop” and Flower Power music that proceeded.
In later years, Wilson became influential to the spirit of punk rock and was regarded as “godfather” to an era of indie musicians who were inspired by his melodic sensibilities, chamber pop orchestrations, and recording explorations. His honors include being inducted into the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class 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”. His life was dramatized in the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy.