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home : opinion : opinion September 27, 2022

6/28/2022 12:01:00 AM
Guest Column
Stars Aligned To Birth Two Music Legends 80 Years Ago

Tammy Wilson
Guest Columnist

Apparently the stars were aligned in June 1942. As World War II blazed, two of the most legendary composers of our lifetime were born: Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.

You may have heard about McCartney turning 80 on June 18, but Wilson’s big day on June 20 slipped by essentially unnoticed by the media, and that’s too bad. Wilson’s might have eclipsed the Beatle’s—or come close—had it not been for drug abuse and mental illness that waylaid his career for more than 25 years.

This Friday I’ll see Wilson in concert for the second time, at the very place I saw McCartney for the second time years ago: PNC Amphitheatre in Charlotte.

Back in the 1960s, the notion that any rock musician would make it to 80 was a stretch, much less still be on tour.

As Baby Boomers know, the Beach Boys and the Beatles were rivals. After appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, the lads from Liverpool swept the charts for months, relegating the Beach Boys’ California sound to #2.

Nevertheless, such formidable competition pushed Wilson to expand his music repertoire. In time, McCartney and Wilson would form a mutual admiration society.

During a recent interview, Wilson said his favorite record album of all time was The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Likewise, McCartney has mentioned Wilson’s “God Only Knows” as one of his favorite songs of all time.

It’s been said that Sgt. Pepper was birthed from hearing the Beach Boys’ album, Pet Sounds. Wilson’s 1967 studio creation diverted his band from a traditional focus on cars and surfing. Production of the intricate harmonies and orchestration was done by Wilson alone, which placed him in the cadre of musical talent that comes along only once a century or so. At the time, he was only 23.

It’s been said that Wilson has a full orchestra in his head, not just song lyrics. It took him seven months and sessions in four different studios to perfect “Good Vibrations,” at a cost of $400,000 in today’s money. The single has long been considered a masterpiece.

The Beatles, in contrast, relied on the talent of producer George Martin to orchestrate their songs.

I should note that Brian Wilson has been deaf in one ear since childhood, which makes his musical ability all the more amazing. His life, fraught with challenges along with success, is captured in a heart-wrenching biographical film, Love & Mercy, released in 2014. I highly recommend it.

In mid-June, PBS released a documentary about Wilson’s genius, “Long Promised Road” that offers a look at him today, spotlighting his overcoming addition and mental issues. The film can be streamed on UNC-TV.

Brian Wilson was never the teen idol that Paul McCartney was. That title belonged to Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys’ original drummer, who died in a drowning accident in 1983.

But Brian’s early musical career wasn’t without stumbles. He received an “F” on an assignment for a music class at Hawthorne High School in the late ‘50s. The composition later became “Surfin’,” the Beach Boys’ first single and million-seller.

Five years ago, Brian returned to his high school where his grade was officially changed to an “A.”

By the way, he and McCartney have something else in common: extremely talented daughters. Paul’s daughter Stella is an international fashion designer. Brian’s daughters Carnie and Wendy formed 2/3 of the successful band, Wilson Phillips, that rose to stardom in 1989.

If I ever realized that Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney were almost born on the same day, I’d forgotten until I ran across that fact last week. By the way, they also share same sun sign: Gemini the Twins.

--Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Her latest book is Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World: Collected Columns, published by Red Hawk Publications. Contact her at

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