Happy 80th Birthday Brian and Paul!
Much has been written about Paul McCartney (born June 18, 1942) and Brian Wilson (June 20, 1942) - two of the more important and enduring legends of the pop and rock world - so saluting them today may be redundant. But, even though I'm a little late to the party both icons have meant so much to me that I couldn't let their milestone 80th birthdays pass without acknowledging the occasion.
Growing up, the lives of these two boys couldn't have been more different. One was raised in a suburban, middle class environment near a Pacific Ocean beach while the other one lived in government housing in Liverpool, England. One had two loving, devoted, parents and the other one barely survived a very troubled household with an abusive father. While both men often took part in the excesses of the 1960s one emerged from the decade relatively unscathed while the other one suffered long term health and mental problems that he is still fighting today.
Despite those differences, McCartney and Wilson ended up in exactly the same place - The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - as much loved stars who influenced and admired each other. Many people know the story of how Rubber Soul inspired Pet Sounds and how that LP helped give rise to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so there is no need to go tell that story again. Instead, let's briefly discuss what made the two of them great.
While their styles may appear to be as many miles apart as the ocean and continent that separated them geographically their work is more similar than you may realize. They both dabbled in the avant garde and psychedelia. The entire Beach Boys' Smile LP and The Beatles' classic" "A Day In The Life" are proof. While the latter is heavily associated with John Lennon, McCartney is responsible for the out of sync orchestra that ties the different parts of the song together.
Both men wrote novelty tunes: "Yellow Submarine" and "Chug-a lug" - an early Beach Boys song about root beer. They excelled at love songs (Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "I Will"). Both men wrote hit singles that tell stories ("Eleanor Rigby" and "Fun Fun Fun"), and both offered up indelible hooks in three minute, made for radio, rock records that you can't get out of your head. (Try to remove "Help Me, Rhonda," or "Band On The Run" from your brain once they get inside of it.)
Beautiful melodies and harmonies have always been a Brian Wilson specialty but McCartney has produced his fair share of them too.
In the end, what makes Wilson and McCartney great is they possess an insatiable musical adventurousness that keeps them artistically satisfied without losing site of the pop sensibilities that sell millions of records, and for that I wish each of them a happy birthday and a great big thank you.