Today (December 4th) marks what would've been the 76th birthday of Beach Boys co-founder and drummer Dennis Wilson. For most of his life, Dennis was overshadowed by his older brother Brian, who wrote most of the group's hits, and by his younger brother Carl, who sang lead on songs such as “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations.” As a youngster, Dennis was considered the least musical of the Wilson brothers, but it was his idea for Brian and cousin Mike Love to first write about surfing which resulted in their 1961 debut single “Surfin'.” It was the Wilson's mother Audree who urged the group to include Dennis, who was then forced to play drums because, according to legend, he couldn't play anything else.
Dennis' good looks and powerful live drumming provided the group with a much-needed boost in the wake of the “British Invasion.” Brian Wilson often used direct instances from Dennis' life as the foundation for Beach Boys songs, including “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Let Him Run Wild,” and “Surfin' U.S.A.” Dennis sang lead on the group's 1965 remake of Bobby Freeman's “Do You Wanna Dance.” He began contributing songs to Beach Boys albums beginning with their 1968 album Friends, and everyone in the group was surprised at the spiritual quality of his work.
In the late-1960's, while older brother Brian Wilson slowly retreated from the group in a haze of mental illness and drug abuse, it was Dennis' songs on albums such as Friends, 20/20, Sunflower, Carl & The Passions – So Tough, and Holland that kept the band's artistic vision advancing. Songs such as “Little Bird,” “Be Still,” “Celebrate The News,” “Be With Me,” “Forever,” “Cuddle Up” “Only With You,” and “Baby Blue,” rank among the most revered of the band's catalogue.