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We went in to Love & Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic, with a skepticism born of too many uninspired, tick-the-boxes portrayals of unique, vital artists who deserved better. But Love & Mercy does right by Brian Wilson: It’s a bold, adventurous film that tells Wilson’s story, pulls us in to his dizzying creative process, and explores his mental illness with rare sensitivity. We were so impressed, we reached out to the film’s director, Bill Pohlad, to ask if he’d share his favorite song that he thinks most people missed out on. His answer may not exactly surprise you, but we couldn’t agree more.
Not surprisingly given the film I directed, it’s a Brian Wilson song. Indeed, it happens to be the title song of the film, Love & Mercy. Before you accuse me of shameless self-promotion, try listening to the song.
As most know, Brian’s early work with the Beach Boys, culminating with the ground-breaking Pet Sounds album, achieved incredible popular success and many of these songs have become integral to the canon of modern music. But after this period, Brian descended into a long, agonizing struggle with mental illness and drug abuse. While he still wrote some ground-breaking material, it was often presented to the world on uneven albums surrounded both by lesser material and the prevailing belief that Brian was lost as a human being and as an artist. “Love And Mercy” came out at what might be considered the nadir of this period on an album ironically titled Brian Wilson. The irony comes from the fact that at this time Brian was still under the Svengali-like influence of the notorious psychologist Eugene Landy who had virtually taken over Brian’s life.
“Love And Mercy” becomes transcendent in its most spare form
While the album showed some of Brian’s past brilliance and received a warm response from some critics, it never received anywhere near the popular and commercial success of his earlier albums. Similarly, the song “Love And Mercy” failed to make it onto the charts. I must say, listening to the track on the original album would not necessarily be enough for me to nominate it for such vaulted status. Thankfully though, while working on the film, I had access to a lot of different versions of Brian’s music. And like so many other of Brian’s songs, including the magnificent “Surf’s Up”, “Love And Mercy” becomes transcendent in its most spare form; just Brian, singing alone with piano. The beautiful, heart-wrenching melody mixed with the simple but poignant lyrics gives the song an incredible power and emotional resonance that, like much of Brian’s later work, deserves all the popular appreciation of his early work.
Love & Mercy is available to stream now. And you should. Trust us on this one.