Among his many great songs were California Girls, God Only Knows, Don't Worry Baby, Fun Fun Fun, Wouldn't It Be Nice, All Summer Long, Do It Again, Caroline No, When I Grow Up (To Be a Man), Girl Don't Tell Me, Heroes and Villains, I Can Hear Music, Surf's Up, The Warmth of the Sun, and I Get Around.
To this day, Wilson's music moves me. It even makes me nostalgic for those wonderful teenage years -- the ones I never had.
In the late 60's, it wasn't considered cool to like the Beach Boys. They seemed to be about surfing, and cars, and being true to your school, and other things that didn't seem so hip at the time. It was considered more sophisticated to like those ersatz rebels, the Rolling Stones, or the seemingly more enlightened Beatles, or any number of other groups who seemed more in tune with the times.
But there was never anyone who was more in tune with the tunes than Wilson.
When I heard in 1996 that the Beatles and Rolling Stones themselves had actually been in awe of Brian Wilson, I felt extremely gratified.
The Wikipedia entry on Wilson has an entire section devoted to praise for Wilson, particularly in regard to his album Pet Sounds, from other musicians, most giants in their own right.
A few quotes:
Paul McCartney: Pet Sounds blew me away. It’s still one of my favorite albums. When I first heard it, I thought, wow, this is the greatest record of all time! Brian took the bass into very unusual places.... I love the orchestra, the arrangements … it may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of the century...I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried...I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence …God Only Knows is a big favorite of mine … very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On You Still Believe In Me, I love that melody – that kills me … that’s my favorite, I think … it’s so beautiful right at the end … comes surging back in these multi-colored harmonies … sends shivers up my spine.
Bob Dylan: Jesus, that ear. [Wilson] should donate it to The Smithsonian. The records I used to listen to and still love, you can’t make a record that sounds that way.
Art Garfunkel: When I heard Good Vibrations for the first time on the radio I called Paul [Simon] immediately and I said: "I think I just heard THE greatest, MOST creative record of them all."
Eric Clapton: All of us, Ginger (Baker), Jack (Bruce), and I consider Pet Sounds to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that’s ever knocked me out and rolled it all into one. Brian Wilson is, without a doubt, a pop genius.
Elton John: Pet Sounds is a landmark album. For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty. Brian Wilson has influenced me more than any other songwriter, whether it's English or American.
Linda Ronstadt: I don’t think there’s anyone his equal in popular music for this fifty years. They were really deep, profound emotions that came out of a lot of pain.
David Crosby: He was the most highly regarded pop musician in America, hands down. Everybody by that time had figured out who was writing and arranging it all. In My Room was the defining point for me. When I heard it, I thought “I give up – I can’t do that – I’ll never be able to do that." One of the hallmarks of Brian Wilson’s genius is to turn powerful emotions and terrible tragedy into life-affirming art that helps and heals. Music that in our darkest moments gives us hope and soothes our soul. I owe Brian. We all do. Everybody in American pop music owes him. He changed what was possible in pop music.
Dennis Wilson (Brian's brother and also a Beach Boy): Brian Wilson is the Beach Boys. He is the band. We’re his fucking messengers. He is all of it. Period. We’re nothing. He’s everything.
George Martin, the Beatles' arranger and producer: If there is one person that I have to select as a living genius of pop music, I would choose Brian Wilson....Without Pet Sounds, The Beatles’ next album, Sgt. Pepper, wouldn’t have happened. Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds. Hearing Pet Sounds gave me the kind of feeling that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. You say, ‘What is that? It’s fantastic!’ Brian's sounds take us into a new, beautiful countryside. No one made a bigger impact on The Beatles than Brian. His invention and creativity reached a level that I always found staggering. He gave The Beatles and myself quite a good deal to think about in trying to keep up with him. And like them, he pushed forward the frontiers of popular music. His art is that magical combination of really original compositions, a wonderful sense of instrumental colour and a profound understanding of record production. I guess you could say I'm a fan.
Don Was (who wrote for and produced the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Al Green, Joe Cocker, Willia Nelson, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and many others): I was amazed that one, single human could dream up this unprecedented and radically advanced approach to rock ‘n roll. My personal favorite is Caroline No, his paean to lost innocence. I hear the weary voice of a man who’s been hurled through the emotional wringer and yet, one can plainly discern the youthful sweetness, optimism and goodness that characterizes Brian’s soul. It’s that dichotomy that makes him one of the most enigmatic and endearing characters of these times. A lot of people just hear things like Fun Fun Fun and don’t get all this fuss about Brian Wilson the great genius. So much of it is subtle, and a large part of his genius is that it sounds simple. I was like that myself until I really started listening properly. I didn’t even understand all the fuss about Pet Sounds. But I think a lot of people who love The Beach Boys have had that experience when they first discover this music on a deeper level. Professionally, I found it crippling. Every time I sat down to write, I just thought, What’s the point? Brian Wilson did it so much better 25 years ago.