Quotes: Musicians on Brian Wilson

Paul McCartney

I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard 'Pet Sounds.' I love the orchestra, the arrangements – it may be going overboard to say it's the classic of the century – but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways. I've often played Pet Sounds and cried.

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John Lennon

This {"The LIttle Girl I Once Knew") is the greatest! Turn it up, turn it right up. It's got to be a hit. It's the greatest record I've heard for weeks. It's fantastic. I hope it will be a hit. It's all Brian Wilson. He just uses the voices as instruments. You keep waiting for the fabulous breaks. Great arrangement.

Bob Dylan

Jesus, that ear. He 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. Brian Wilson, he made all his records with four tracks, but you couldn't make his records if you had a hundred tracks today.

Billy Joel

There are moments in my life when it suddenly hits me that these monumental musical figures – people like Sinatra, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney – actually know my stuff. I always try to keep these moments in mind when the criticism stings.

Stevie Wonder

I've always been into harmonies, so I was inspired by that part of what the Beach Boys were doing. They definitely influenced a generation.

Paul Simon

Brian Wilson's music has made a lot of people happy for a long time. I love his music.

Art Garfunkel

When I heard 'Good Vibrations' on the radio for the first time, I called Paul (Simon) immediately and I said "I think I just heard the greatest, most creative record of them all.” Brian showed us all the endless possibilities in what’s been recorded and how it can be layered and combined or subtracted to create something that certainly came from his California roots, which to me, has always represented the promise and sweetness in America. With that joyousness, he became our Mozart of Rock ‘N Roll.

Neil Young

He's like Mozart or Chopin or Beethoven or something. This music will live forever. It's going to be these melodies and these words, and it's just fantastic. I can't describe it. There's very few writers I feel the emotional and spiritual contact with that I feel with Brian.

David Crosby

Brian 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."

Graham Nash

He was way advanced of what anybody was doing at that point. And I think the Beatles recognized that and I think every harmony group in the world recognized that there was some different thing going on – something very sophisticated.

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. 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)' has one of the most beautiful arcs of a melody I've ever heard. How can you sing about not talking, about silence? It's paralyzing and galvanizing at the same time.

Jimmy Webb

I don't think that the California Myth, the dream that a few of us touched, would have happened without Brian, and I don't think Brian would have happened without the dream. They're inseparable.

George Martin

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, Sgt. Pepper wouldn't have happened. Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.

Leonard Bernstein

There is a new song, too complex to get all of first time around. It could come only out of the ferment that characterizes today's pop music scene. Brian Wilson, leader of the famous Beach Boys, and one of today's most important musicians, sings his own 'Surf's Up.'

Poetic, beautiful even in its obscurity, 'Surf's Up' is one aspect of new things happening in pop music today. As such, it is a symbol of the change many of these young musicians see in our future.

Philip Glass

Pet Sounds became an instant classic when it first appeared. Listening to it today, it is, perhaps, easier to see why it was one of the defining moments of its time, along with the music of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Greatful Dead – its willingness to abandon formula in favor of structural innovation, the introduction of classical elements in the arrangements, production concepts in terms of overall 'sound' which were novel at the time, all these elements give Pet Sounds a freshness that, thirty years later, is immediately there for the listener.

Burt Bacharach

Pet Sounds is brilliant. Brian Wilson is one of the greatest innovators of my decade or any decade.

Keith Richards

"Round, round get around / I get around" – I thought that was brilliant. Brian Wilson had something. "In My Room," "Don’t Worry Baby." I was more interested in their B-sides, the ones he slipped in. There was no particular correlation with what we were doing so I could just listen to it on another level. I thought these are very well constructed songs.

Pete Townshend

I love Brian. There's not many people I would say that about. I think he's a truly, truly, truly great genius. I love him so much it's just terrible – I find it hard to live with. 'God Only Knows' is simple and elegant and was stunning when it first appeared; it still sounds perfect. 

Roger Daltrey

Brian deserves his place in the history books. The Beach Boys were one of the greatest groups ever full stop. And, in a way, probably under-appreciated. I really loved so many of their albums, so from that point of view, this is all a good thing, listening to it with fresh ears. I hold him in such awe that I get incredibly nervous when I meet him, but he's a really warm human being. Everybody identifies with his courage.

Roger Waters

… Along with Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds completely changed everything about records for me.

David Gilmour

Even in those very early days of the Beach Boys, songs like “In My Room” and “Don’t Worry Baby” were giving indications that Brian Wilson wanted to paint with a much more colorful palette than was offered by the surf music that he was so adept at. His brilliance leapt from strength to strength over a very short period and in a little over four years, he mastered the art of songwriting, record production, orchestral arrangements and every form of studio trickery to culminate with the wonderful songs on Pet Sounds.

Eric Clapton

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.

Elvis Costello

Last summer, I heard 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)' played on the cello. It sounded beautiful and sad, just as it does on Pet Sounds. So now you know, if all the record players in the world get broken tomorrow, these songs could be heard a hundred years from now.

Bono

The genius of his music is the joy that’s in it. I know that Brian believes in angels. I do too. But you only have to listen to the string arrangement on "God Only Knows" for fact and proof of angels.

Lou Reed

Will none of the powers that be realize what Brian Wilson did with the chords. Deftly taking from all sources, old rock, Four Freshman, he got in his records a beautiful hybrid sound – Let Him Run Wild, Don't Worry Baby, I Get Around, Fun, Fun, Fun – ‘and she had fun, fun, fun ‘till her daddy took her T-bird away.

John Cale

What Brian came to mean was an ideal of innocence and naivety that went beyond teenage life and sprang fully developed songs. Adult and childlike at the same time. I thought how it was difficult for me not to believe everything he said. There was something genuine in every lyric. That can be a very heavy burden for a songwriter.

Patti Smith

I can't say how wonderful it is just to see one of our great people still amongst us, doing great work and having a good spirit. I felt all range of emotions (seeing Brian perform) tonight – I felt real joy, I felt real sorrow, and I had a really good time.

Tom Petty

I think I would put him up there with any composer – especially Pet Sounds. I don't think there's anything better that that, necessarily. I don't think you'd be out of line comparing him to Beethoven – to any composer. The word genius is used a lot with Brian. I don't know if he's a genius or not, but I know his music is probably as good as any music you can make.

Lindsey Buckingham

The first time I heard Pet Sounds, I have to admit that I did a little bit of knee-jerk in the same way probably the record company and some other people did because it wasn't as accessible as Brian's songwriting approach had been up to that time. I'm not sure I fully appreciated that until years later (when) I started making records myself.

Ann Wilson

I am of the generation that fell in love with the Beach Boys as children. It was sunny, happy music that was like perfect for a 10-year-old girl. I think Brian’s magic lies not only with his recording prowess – he’s unafraid to try new things.

Don Was

In the fall of 1989, I was working with a band who turned me on to the bootlegged recordings of Brian Wilson's legendary, aborted SMiLE sessions. Like a musical burning bush, these tapes awakened me to a higher consciousness in record making. I was amazed that one, single human could dream up this unprecedented and radically advanced approach to Rock 'n Roll.

Brad Mehldau

In its brevity and air of wonderstruck innocence, Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows", the finale here, presents itself as a pop song. Yet it has a weight and depth to it that makes it feel epic, even Wagnerian. Imagine being able to write a tune like that! They don't come along that often; they couldn't. (from Brad Mehldau's career-spanning box set, 10 Years Solo Live)

Henry Rollins

Brian Wilson, is a true, not-up-for-debate musical genius. There are moments on SMiLE that are so astonishingly good you might find yourself just staring at your speakers in unguarded wonder, as I have. Both the Beach Boys and the Beatles were aware of the other, and both were incredibly driven. The major difference was hands on deck; the Beatles has two Godzilla songwriters in Lennon and McCartney, and a great one in Harrison. The Beach Boys had Brian Wilson.

Questlove

He's a modern day Stravinsky, the way he constructs his music. He was doing stuff (40 years ago) that modern people do now, looping his work and stuff. There's a track on SMiLE with a whole bunch of tubas having a conversation with trumpets. It's great.

Pet Sounds is gonna last forever because everyone's gonna know Brian Wilson was a genius.

M. Ward

It’s a dream come true to be able to share a stage with one of my biggest musical heroes of all time. (On opening for Brian Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl)

Robin Pecknold, Fleet Foxes

Hearing the Beach Boys and getting into Pet Sounds in Junior High, that record just totally changed my life as far as what I thought was cool. And just like the different avenues that that record can sort of lead to – and SMiLE as well.

Nate Reuss, fun.

Recording with Brian Wilson is as good as it gets. He was responding so well to my voice in a really special way, that he would – on the spot – just keep writing these harmonies and having me sing them. We just had a great time stacking vocals. Brian Wilson is in my Mount Rushmore of artists – I can’t think of anything that’s just been a bigger honor.