Brian Wilson’s work with The Beach Boys has been endlessly influential in the music world. In their early, sun-soaked days, the group managed to bottle up the very essence of the West Coast and inject it into their hits. The result was an era-defining catalog that has them marked as a large contributor to the soundtrack of the ’60s.
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As the years went on and psychedelia became all the rage, The Beach Boys (largely heralded by Wilson) began to experiment with their sound, adding in rich layers and dipping their toe into themes that would’ve had an early iteration of the band blushing. The magnum opus of that era, Pet Sounds, failed to produce as many hits as their early work but is arguably more consequential in the grand scheme of the band.
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Wilson will always be known for his contribution to The Beach Boys and the surf rock movement as a whole, but he also applied his skills elsewhere, producing equally as inviting pop hits for his peers. Find four songs you didn’t know Wilson wrote for other artists, below.
1. “Guess I’m Dumb” by Glen Campbell
Written by Brian Wilson and Russ Titelman
Glen Campbell famously took over for Wilson in The Beach Boys while the frontman was momentarily relieved of his duties. Making album after album, and squeezing in a seemingly impossible amount of tours in between, caused Wilson to suffer a nervous breakdown in the mid-’60s. Campbell stepped up to the plate, joining the band on the road between December 1964 and March 1965.
Following Campbell’s short tenure with The Beach Boys, Wilson wrote a song called “Guess I’m Dumb.” Wilson’s bandmates ended up rejecting the song, pushing it into Campbell’s lap instead. Wilson then produced the song for the “Southern Nights” singer.
“When I was finished, no one from the band wanted to sing it,” Wilson shared in his 2016 memoir. “The message was okay, but maybe it was just the idea of being dumb.” Perhaps his fellow Beach Boys were on to something, as the song failed to chart upon release.
2. “Surf City” by Jan and Dean
Written by Brian Wilson and Jan Berry.
The first No. 1 hit credited to a Beach Boy wasn’t recorded by the band. Instead, it was the duo of Jan Berry and Dean Torrence that got to launch surf rock on a national scale with “Surf City”—penned by Wilson and Berry.
Wilson wrote the first draft of what would become “Surf City” under the working title “Goody Connie Won’t You Come Back Home.” While at a party, Wilson played Berry and Torrence a version of “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Like the rest of America, Berry and Torrence were blown away by the track, suggesting they take it on as a single. Since Wilson had already promised the song to The Beach Boys, he suggested they pick up where he left off with “Surf City.”
The song took the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in 1963. The single saw some cross-over appeal, peaking at No. 3 on Billboard’s R&B Chart. The song is credited as the first surf rock song to go No. 1 in the U.S., inspiring a movement that the Beach Boys would go on to dominate the following year with their first No. 1, “I Get Around.”
Fun Fact: After moving to Huntington Beach, California in 1991, Torrence petitioned for the town to be officially nicknamed “Surf City, USA” as a nod to his and Berry’s hit. Huntington Beach finally won the trademark in 2006, after a lengthy battle with Santa Cruz, California.
3. “He’s a Doll” by The Honeys
Written by Brian Wilson
Following his success with Jan and Dean, Wilson began to act as a sort of impresario of surf rock. On top of continuing his work with the duo, he also oversaw his own girl group, The Honeys.
The Honeys originally performed under the moniker the Rovell Sisters. Formed in Los Angeles in the late ’50s, the group was comprised of sisters Marilyn, Diane, and Barbara Rovell, who was eventually replaced with their cousin, Ginger Blake. In 1962, Wilson met the group and rechristened them “The Honeys” after a line in The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.” He began producing and writing for the group in an effort to make them a female counterpart to The Beach Boys. Wilson penned “He’s a Doll” for the group in 1964.
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“Brian would always notice when we saw a cute guy we would say, ‘He’s such a doll’ so he picked up on it and wrote one of the great songs for us,” Marilyn (who also became Wilson’s first wife) once shared about the song. “We feel it’s a classic with The Wrecking Crew jamming too. That track and arrangement are amazing!”
The Honeys also lent their vocals for The Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School” and Jan and Dean’s “The New Girl in School,” “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”
4. “Good Time” by American Spring
Written by Brian Wilson and Al Jardine
In the early ’70s, Marilyn Wilson and Diane Rovell broke off from The Honeys to form American Spring. As with the Honeys, Brian Wilson played an integral part in the writing and producing of American Spring’s music.
“Good Time,” which featured on the group’s album Spring, was originally intended to appear on the Beach Boys’ Sunflower album. Written by Wilson and Al Jardine, the song was released by American Spring first, but The Beach Boys did deliver their own version on their album The Beach Boys Love You a few years later.
Despite Wilson being credited as the only producer, most of the production actually fell on Minnesota-based songwriter David Sandler after Wilson was absent from sessions. The frontman’s struggle with schizoaffective disorder had begun to take a toll around this time.
“I knew right from the start something was wrong,” Wilson once recalled. “I’d taken some psychedelic drugs, and then about a week after that, I started hearing voices, and they’ve never stopped. For a long time I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I can’t deal with this.’ But I learned to deal with it anyway.”
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