Imagination (Brian Wilson album)

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Studio album by Brian Wilson
Released June 16, 1998 (1998-06-16)
Recorded Fall 1997–Spring 1998
Genre Soft rock
Length 39:09
Label Giant
Brian Wilson chronology
Orange Crate Art
Live at the Roxy Theatre
Singles from Imagination
  1. "Your Imagination"/"Happy Days"
    Released: May 19, 1998
  2. "South American"
    Released: 1998

Imagination is the fourth studio album by Brian Wilson, and his second release of new original studio material. It was issued in 1998 on Giant Records and distributed by Warner Music Group. The album received moderately favorable reviews upon its release, though its commercial performance was relatively weak.

Its best-known track is "Your Imagination", a Top 20 hit on adult contemporary radio. The second single,[citation needed] "South American", was co-written by Jimmy Buffett. Wilson dedicated the album to his brother Carl Wilson, who died of cancer earlier in the year.[citation needed]

Joe Thomas worked with Wilson as the album's co-producer. He was held responsible by many critics for the album's style and production.[1] Shortly after its release, Wilson filed a suit against Thomas, seeking damages and a declaration which freed him to work on his next album without involvement from Thomas.[2] They would not work together again until many years later for the albums That's Why God Made the Radio (2012) and No Pier Pressure (2015).


Main article: Andy Paley sessions

The album's recording sessions were immediately preceded by plans for a Beach Boys reunion album of new original material. According to Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas, he was involved at one point, but backed away once it became clear to him that the project was unlikely to happen, also expressing disapproval with the "middle of the road" style that producer and collaborator Joe Thomas was directing Wilson toward.[3]


Wilson covered two of his own Beach Boys songs for Imagination: "Keep an Eye on Summer" and "Let Him Run Wild". In addition, "She Says That She Needs Me" was the result of a lyric re-write by Carole Bayer Sager of an original Wilson composition from the mid-1960s,[4] while the closing song, "Happy Days", featured recycled elements of an unreleased Beach Boys track, "My Solution", from 1970.[5]

I wasn't having that much fun at the time. ... I just thought people were out to kill me. I had a fantasy in my head that people were out to murder me. I just couldn't deal with it. I just sort of flipped out.

—Brian Wilson on the Imagination era, 1999[6]

Thomas explained the differences between him and Andy Paley: "I think that Andy more comes from that historical perspective than I do. I mean he knows a lot more about the way Brian recorded stuff back in the ‘60s. ... I’ve got my guys that I really like. And the fact is that right now, I also don't like to record with a lot of people in the room at the same time. My reasoning is that I just can’t keep track of what’s going on. I think it’s a different way of recording that Brian likes this time around."[7] In 2006, biographer Peter Ames Carlin wrote: "Joe took it upon himself to make sure that the new songs sounded as adult contemporary radio as possible. Most were dominated by tinkling keyboards, with plenty of melodic interjections from a gently plucked nylon-string guitar. If Brian tried to use an instrument or an arrangement that might not fit into the soothing blend, Joe would shake his head and slice it out of the picture. And if this bothered Brian, he didn't show it."[1] Brian reportedly stated: "We call it a Brian Wilson album, but it's really a Joe Thomas/Brian Wilson album."[1]

When it came time to arrange Wilson's songs for live performances, backing band member Darian Sahanaja remembers Thomas wanting to turn "Caroline, No" into a "sexy, Sade kind of thing".[8] He added: "When liberties were taken, his [Brian's] response would be, "Uh, cool." Or he wouldn't respond at all, so you'd have to ask, and he'd say, "I think it sounds, uh, good." But as soon as we did a song close to his original arrangement, he'd go nuts: "Wow! Outtasite!" And then he'd want to hear it again. And that made perfect sense to me."[8]

Many outtakes would later be revived for the Beach Boys' 2012 reunion album That's Why God Made the Radio with Thomas' involvement.


Imagination (Giant 24703) hit #88 in the US during a chart stay of 2 weeks. It reached'#30 in the UK. To promote the release of Imagination, Brian Wilson performed a live taping for VH-1 at the St. Charles East High School auditorium in St. Charles, Illinois.[9] The live performance included guest performances from Christopher Cross, Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston, and Eagles members Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and Steve Dahl. The concert, which was later incorporated with additional interviews from Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Sean Lennon, Stevie Wonder, and Jimmy Buffett, was released on VHS in 1998 and DVD in 1999 but is currently out-of-print. "Your Imaginination" and "Lay Down Burden" were aired as music videos on VH1, with the album audio played over the video, and clips of Brian walking through the woods "thinking" and "day dreaming" and images of him and his brothers on the screen. He supported the album with a tour, beginning with the Late Show with David Letterman on August 14, 1998.[citation needed]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[10]
Entertainment Weekly B[11]
NME 6/10[12]
Robert Christgau C[13]

On the subject of fans' reactions, Carlin wrote: "Imagination bore many distressing signs. The real Brian Wilson would never homogenize his music to sound exactly like every other song on the radio, they complained."[14] In an article for Rolling Stone, Jason Fine called the album "little evidence of Brian's creative spark. Though he contributes some of his finest vocals — especially on two ballads, 'Cry' and 'Lay Down Burden' — the album's saccharine soft rock doesn't hint at the subtle magic of a classic Brian Wilson production."[15]

When Andy Paley was asked to compare his collaborations with Brian to Thomas', Paley responded: "I think that the music is very, very different. Let’s put it this way... what he and I did is not an album. First of all, it’s way more stuff than you can put on an album, it’s probably more like four albums. It was something we enjoyed doing."[7]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Your Imagination" 3:38
2. "She Says That She Needs Me" 3:59
3. "South American"
4. "Where Has Love Been?" 2:17
5. "Keep an Eye on Summer"
  • Wilson
  • Bob Norman
6. "Dream Angel"
  • Wilson
  • Thomas
  • Jim Peterik
7. "Cry" Wilson 4:56
8. "Lay Down Burden"
  • Wilson
  • Thomas
9. "Let Him Run Wild"
10. "Sunshine"
  • Wilson
  • Thomas
11. "Happy Days" Wilson 4:44


  • Brian Wilson - Drums, Keyboards, Organ, Piano and Lead Vocals
Additional Musicians


  1. ^ a b c Carlin 2006, p. 292.
  2. ^ "Bad Vibrations: Brian Wilson Sues Collaborator". Rolling Stone. August 24, 1999. 
  3. ^ Dillon, Mark (2012). Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys: The Songs That Tell Their Story. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-77090-198-8. 
  4. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 290.
  5. ^ "Beach Boys Producers Alan Boyd, Dennis Wolfe, Mark Linett Discuss 'Made in California' (Q&A)". Rock Cellar Magazine. September 4, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  6. ^ Valania, Jonathon (August–September 1999). "Bittersweet Symphony". Magnet. 
  7. ^ a b Silverstein, Robert (December 1998). "THE SPIRIT OF ROCK AND ROLL an interview with BRIAN WILSON". 20th Century Guitar. 
  8. ^ a b Carlin 2006, p. 295.
  9. ^ Brian Wilson Solo Set Produces Weird Vibrations : Rolling Stone
  10. ^ Allmusic review
  11. ^ Futterman, Steve. "Imagination". Entertainment Weekly. 
  12. ^ NME review
  13. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Brian Wilson". Robert Christgau. 
  14. ^ Carlin 2006, p. 293.
  15. ^ Fine, Jason (July 8, 1999). "Brian Wilson's Summer Plans". Rolling Stone.