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Brian Wilson by Barenaked Ladies

Album: GordonReleased: 1992Charted:
  • Brian Wilson is the lead singer of The Beach Boys. He went into seclusion after experiencing drug problems and a nervous breakdown, and for about three years, he spent most of his time in bed.

    The song is both a tribute to Wilson and a look at his life. A few of the references:

    "Dr. Landy" - Wilson's psychologist, who was a constant presence in his life for much of the '70s and '80s.

    "Smiley Smile" - A 1967 Beach Boys album that was released as a truncated version of their highly anticipated album Smile.

    "I'll be out in the sandbox" - Around the time he was working on the Smile album, he had a sandbox constructed in his dining room and his grand piano placed in the middle. He thought the beach atmosphere would enhance his creativity.
  • Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies wrote this song and sang lead. He admired Wilson as a songwriter and visionary, and cites the Beach Boys as an inspiration. When Page left the group in 2009, performing this song without him proved challenging. They went with a simplified arrangement with Ed Robertson on lead vocals.
  • This song helped break Barenaked Ladies in America. It appeared on their first album, Gordon, in 1992 and reached #18 in their native Canada. Over the next few years, they built a small following across the border, and finally made an impact on the American charts in 1997 when "The Old Apartment" hit #88.

    By this time, "Brian Wilson" was a concert favorite, with the crowd joining in on certain lines ("record shop!"). In 1997, a live version from their Rock Spectacle album was released as a single in the US and reached #68 in February 1998. Hearing the adoring crowd on the song clued in American listeners to Barenaked Ladies live appeal, and when their album Stunt was released in July, they were primed for Stateside success. The group made a huge push to promote the album in America, playing lots of radio station showcase concerts and expanding their following one city at a time. They brought a catchy new single along for the ride: "One Week," which went to #1 in October (where it stayed for, yep, one week).
  • The song opens and closes with the same verse, which is about an impulsive late-night visit to a record shop. Brian Wilson embarked on far more unusual adventures, but by writing about a more practical outing, Steven Page shows how Wilson's eccentricities can lead to inspiration. Some may see it as crazy, but it's part of his genius.
  • Brian Wilson likes this song. He performed it on his 2000 Pet Sounds tour, usually as the opener.

    Wilson commented on a Reddit Q&A: "I was honored that they would use my name but it embarrassed me a little bit because I was lying in bed a lot haha."

    Wilson's version can be heard on his album Live At The Roxy Theatre.
  • According to Steven Page, Brian Wilson came by the studio when Barenaked Ladies were recording their 2000 album Maroon, and he played them his version of this song. Page says, "We totally freaked out."
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Comments: 16

This song and "Be My Yoko Ono" are great examples of the playful humor and creativity of Steven Page. I'm really sorry that he's no longer in the band.Marty - Cleveland, Oh
Samantha, the pedagogue reference is basically hoping that the psychiatrist is not just in it for the research and can actually help him.Indigo - Sacramento, Ca
Does anybody know what he means when he says 'Dr. Landy tell me you're not just a pedagogue'? The word seems to mean a dull teacher but in the context I thought maybe it had something to do with the idea of conditioning almost...Samantha - Livonia, Mi
It's hard to believe that no one has mentioned the opening line about the "late-night record store" is a reference to Toronto's Sam the Record Man, the Yonge Street institution now closed.Bob - Portage, Mi
We Canadians knew the love of the barenaked ladies long before our buddies down south!!!! They used to cram into the booth at speakers corner (think photo booth where for one dollar you can tell the nation what's on your mind) and sing songs.....sort of like a music video....that costs a loonie!!!Cailie - Flin Flon, Mb
The lyric "wondering where the hell all the love has gone" has a double meaning in that it may also refer to band member Mike Love.Joe - Springfield, Il
Dave is correct, Brian Wilson did NOT put sand in his bedroom. He had a sandbox 30 inches high placed in his music area in the middle of which he set his piano. His objective was to feel the sand at his feet while he composed and played music. One complication: his dogs, Louie and Banana, used the sand box to make their own special contributions. This was a troubling mine field for Brian's friends, like Van Dyke Parks. Indcidently, he cleared out his large liing room and filled the floor with tumbling mats for exercise and fun, and he also erected a tent in his house where the band members had regularly scheduled meetings. In his early 20s Brian developed schizophrenia, paranoid type, which is part of the reason for his unusual taste and eccentric, often child-like, judgment.

To my knowledge, Brian never composed a song called "castles in the sun".
Carl - Miami, Fl
This is about how he's relating to Brian Wilson. Apparently the lead singer is having a gigantic mental block, and can't really think. He's just doing things to occupy himself (driving to a record shop, counting tiles, etc.), and thinking about Brian Wilson.Annabeth - Kutztown, Pa
They were actually going to make this song about Wayne Gretzky insteadMatt - Moose Jaw, Canada
Any chance Castles in the Sun is a reference to Castles Made of Sand by Hendrix? Plausible if you're talking psychological aspects.Jon - Grand Forks, Nd
The shrink's name is Dr. Landy.
Brian did have a sandbox under his piano for a while.
Maddie - Yakima, Wa
Ok, here is a list of Brian Wilson references in this song:

1)Dr. Landing: Wilson's controversial shrink
2)Smiley Smile: A Beach Boys Album considered to be Wilson's most psychodelic.
3) "I had a dream that I was 300 pounds": Wilson's weight balooned while he locked himself indoors for three years and was "lying in bed".
4) Wilson did in fact own an indoor sandbox, inside of which sat a piano. It was there he wrote his songs.
5) "Fun Fun Fun" is a Beach Boys song.
6) I THINK Castles in the Sun is a Beach Boys song...I could be wrong.
Matthew - New York, Ny
This song was actually released as a single in the BNL's home country of Canada in 1993, and was a huge hit. It features a different video than what was used for it's release in the US several years later.Brian - Edmonton, Canada
actually, i understood he had a piano in a sandbox where he composed his material...he was a pretty strange guy(schizophrenia + sixties = acid casualty)Marvin - East Brady, Pa
I don't know about the bedroom filled with sand thing (although it sounds like a load of crap to me), but the lyric is actually "...building castles in the sun." It rhymes with the next lyric, "...and singing 'Fun, Fun, Fun.'"Dave - Edmonton, Canada
The lyric, "playing my guitar and building castles..." refers to a rumor about Brian Wilson. It was rumoured that Wilson, during his seclusion, had his bedroom filled with sand for extra motivation.Jodi - Springfield, Il
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