Brian Wilson’s 1970 Country Album Will Finally Be Released

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Country music had a huge commercial year last year, and now big pop stars like Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey are prepping their own country albums. Brian Wilson, the troubled sonic mastermind behind the Beach Boys, probably isn’t going country right now. (Wilson is mourning the recent loss of his wife Melinda, so he probably isn’t doing anything right now.) But Wilson did attempt to go country in 1970, recording a legendary-among-fans unreleased and unfinished album that’s been given the name Cows In The Pasture. Next year, that album will come out.

In 1970, Brian Wilson had the idea to record a country album with Fred Vail, the Beach Boys’ manager at the time. Vail had no singing experience, but he was booking Beach Boys shows in the early ’60s, when he was still in high school, and he’d sing along to the local country station whenever he picked the group up at the airport. That’s where Wilson got the idea. Vail tells Rolling Stone, “I said to him, ‘Have you written any country songs?’ And he said, ‘Well, no.’ I said, ‘Do you have any idea who you’d like to use as musicians?’ He said, ‘Well, no. I’ve only worked with the Wrecking Crew for the most part. You find the songs. You select the musicians. We’ll go into Wally Heider’s Studio. We’ll start working on the album.’”

Wilson and Vail tracked 14 songs for this album, including versions of Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” and Burt Bacharach’s “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me.” Eventually, Wilson, whose life was awfully chaotic at the time, apparently lost interest. At the time, the record didn’t have a name, and Vail only recorded scratch vocals for it. But now Rolling Stone reports that the album will come out next year, along with a four-part docuseries on Vail’s life. In a statement to Rolling Stone, Wilson says, “Fred always loved country music, and he was a big rodeo guy. He’s a hell of a guy, one hell of a promoter, and I’m glad his album is coming out.”

Fred Vail got the tapes for the album about 10 years ago, when the Beach Boys’ management found unlabeled reels in the studio. Around the same time, Sam Parker, a Nashville music-business person who’s also a huge Beach Boys fan, found Vail on Facebook and started talking to him. Right now, Parker and Vail are working on finishing Cows In The Pasture, bringing in a group of unnamed guest vocalists to sing over those tapes. Parker says that T Bone Burnett will be involved, and Fred Vail is apparently putting down new vocals of his own. Parker says, “The idea was to take this kind of Johnny Cash approach. Late in his career, when he didn’t have the twang he used to have, they reinvented his voice with a sort of spoken-work approach. That’s sort of what Fred is doing in the studio.”

The plans for a final release haven’t been finalized yet, and the announcement of the album might be a bit premature, but it’s cool to know that this mysterious record will finally, at least in some form, see the light of day soon.