• Image about Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys performing in the T.A.M.I. Show, a concert film of various music acts made in Santa Monica, Calif., in October 1964.
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Driven by Murry Wilson, his domineering father and the Beach Boys’ early manager, Brian began recording his soaring falsetto on a reel-to-reel home tape recorder. Soon, younger brothers Carl and Dennis harmonized with him; they were joined later by their cousin Mike Love and high school classmate Al Jardine.

“It just clicked,” Jardine says. “We were singing these complex jazz tunes, but for some reason our voices blended like magic.”
“It sounded like a choir of angels,” Love says. “That was our main ingredient.”

Inspired by California’s vibrant beach culture, Brian Wilson and Love wrote and recorded “Surfin’ ,” which was released by L.A.’s tiny Candix Records. Capitol Records snapped up the band in 1962, and over the next two years the Beach Boys ruled the radio with hits like “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Be True to Your School.”

“We had a specifically Southern California view of the American experience,” Love says. “But we also touched upon basic feelings that transcended America. I mean, who isn’t true to their school? Who hasn’t been dumped by a girlfriend like in ‘Help Me, Rhonda’?”

But just as his band was going global, Brian Wilson was growing withdrawn. Suffering severe anxiety attacks — caused, he said later, by mental and physical abuse he received from his father — Wilson decided to retire from the road in 1964, and the band reluctantly replaced him on tour with future “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell, who was again replaced in 1965 by Bruce Johnston.

The split turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to the band. While the other members traveled the world performing, Wilson immersed himself in what he loved best: writing, arranging and producing the Beach Boys’ records.

Surrounding himself with L.A.’s top studio musicians — informally called the Wrecking Crew — Wilson crafted lush, complex tunes like “Don’t Worry, Baby” and added voices from his bandmates when they returned from touring. He took a cue or two from Phil Spector’s famous “wall of sound,” but he was fast becoming the architect of his own unique production style.