Steven claims he wrote the song in his parent's basement on or around his 20th birthday, which was June 22, 1990. The first known recording of the song was made later that year for the aborted cassette release Barenaked Recess, which didn't surface until March 2010 when a bootleg was leaked on the internet.
The song was first released publicly in 1991 on Barenaked Ladies, better known as The Yellow Tape. It was then re-recorded in 1992 for the band's debut album Gordon. This is the version that peaked at #18 on the Canadian Singles Chart and for which a music video was made in 1993 by Toronto-based filmmaker Stephen Scott.
The song regained popularity in the United States between 1996 and 1998, when the live recording from the album Rock Spectacle became popular on American radio stations; this version peaked at #23 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts and at #68 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another music video was released for this version on February 12, 1998 and was also directed by Stephen Scott.
Another re-recording of the song (known as "Brian Wilson 2000"), which replaced the first two verses with an 8-bar instrumental intro and featured Kevin on accordion, was released in October 1997 at the insistence of the band's record label, who believed that a live recording almost five minutes long would have limited traction on traditional rock radio; the live version ended up being far more popular anyway and was the version included on Disc One.
The songs title and lyrics refer to Brian Wilson, the legendary co-founder of The Beach Boys, known for his reclusive nature, eccentricity, and mental health struggles. The lyrics also reference Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychotherapist who is said to have exploited and abused Wilson, implementing a 24/7 treatment program and assuming control of most aspects of his life from 1975 to 1992.
The song's first bridge references playing guitar in a sandbox; in real life, Wilson installed a sandbox in the dining room of his house in order to simulate a beach and put his piano in the middle of it.
- The "late night record shop" in the lyrics refers to Sam the Record Man, an iconic record store that opened on Toronto's Yonge Street in 1959 and closed in 2007.
- The effect of the camera moving around frozen people in the 1998 video was achieved via what Ed has called "people standing still"; things like water, confetti and food suspended in the air were CGI elements added in post-production.
- Brian Wilson himself visited the band during the Maroon sessions in Los Angeles to show the band his own cover version of the song from his album Live at the Roxy Theatre. Reportedly, his parting words to the Ladies were "Don't eat too much!"