Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson, the leader of the Beach Boys and one of the most gifted

and successful rock composers in history, was born 56 years ago today in

Inglewood, Calif. After being encouraged by his parents to

practice music, Brian, who sang and played the bass and piano, formed

the Beach Boys in 1961 in Hawthorne, Calif., with his brothers,

Dennis (drums, vocals) and Carl (guitar, vocals). The Wilsons' cousin,

Mike Love (vocals), and friend Al Jardine (guitar, vocals) were also present

from the start.

At their onset, the Beach Boys were based on Brian's

songwriting, which was derived from his love of vocal harmony and

Chuck Berry-like rock 'n' roll. The group's flood of hits began flowing in the early '60s, initially focusing on their surfer image: 1962's "Surfin'

Safari" and 1963's "Surfin' U.S.A." and

"Surfer Girl" (RealAudio excerpt). Surfer Girl was the first Beach Boys album produced by Brian, and he

would continue to fashion more and more of the group's music. In

1964 and 1965, the Beach Boys legend began to coalesce around a string of

highly infectious and popular singles that included the #1 "I Get

Around," the #5 "Fun, Fun, Fun," the #1 "Help Me, Rhonda" and the #3

"California Girls."

At the start of 1965, Brian suffered a nervous breakdown and decided to stop

touring. With time on his hands, he crafted his masterpiece, the Beach

Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds, which included "Wouldn't It Be Nice"

and "God Only Knows." Though the album sold poorly compared with its

predecessors, it was the first example of heavy studio experimentation in

pop music and was a big influence on the Beatles' watershed Sgt.

Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Brian released

"Caroline, No" (RealAudio excerpt) from Pet Sounds as a solo single.

After scoring a #1 smash hit with the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," Brian began work on an album called Smile. The album never was released (although its separate tracks later showed up on other albums, and "Heroes and Villains" was released as a single in 1967). But the media helped create a legend around Smile, making it the most famous unreleased album in history.

At this point, Brian's increasing personal problems compelled him to play a diminished role

in the Beach Boys, triggering a period of commercial and

creative decline for the band. They released mildly successful albums for the

remainder of the decade, but it wasn't until a double-LP compilation of

their early work, 1974's Endless Summer, topped the U.S. albums

chart that they began to regain their former respect. The 1976 15

Big Ones was the Beach Boys' first album in a decade to feature

Brian as the producer and contained a top-10 cover of Chuck Berry's

"Rock and Roll Music."

But the hits didn't last. Brian further retreated

into a life as a hermit, eventually living nearly full-time with

a psychiatrist, and avoided work with the group. In 1988, Brian released an eponymous solo album, his first at long last, but it failed to make a splash with

fans or critics. Ironically, around the same time, the Beach Boys had a

#1 hit (without Brian) with the Caribbean novelty song "Kokomo." That

same year, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of

Fame. In 1995, Brian and Mike Love tried collaborating again, but couldn't make it work. Love has continued to front a Brian-less -- and with the passing of Dennis in 1983 and Carl earlier this year, now a Wilson-less -- version of the Beach Boys to this day.

Subsequent projects for Brian included Orange

Crate Art (1995), a critically acclaimed collaboration with Van Dyke Parks; the Don Was documentary about Brian, "I Just Wasn't Made for These

Times"; the four-CD set The Pet Sounds Sessions, which

included outtakes and a stereo version of the 1966 release; a 1997 album recorded with his daughters, Wendy and Carnie, formerly of the

pop group Wilson Phillips; and his second

official solo album, 1998's Imagination. Whatever happens with this

album or any future works, Brian Wilson will be remembered as the force behind one of the most successful American pop/rock groups in music history and as the creator of countless classic songs.

Other birthdays: Anne Murray, 52; Lionel Richie, 49; Cyndi Lauper, 45; Alan Longmuir (Bay

City Rollers), 45; Michael Anthony (Van Halen), 43; Anton Fier (Golden

Palominos/Feelie/Pere Ubu/Lounge Lizards), 42; and John Taylor (Duran

Duran/Neurotic Outsiders), 38.