In 1961, Murry Wilson founded The Beach Boys, a family act consisting of his sons Dennis, Carl, and Brian, their cousin Mike Love, and family friend Al Jardine. Combining the vocal harmonies of the doo-wop era with the instrumentation of surf rock, and subject matter rooted in West Coast youth culture, The Beach Boys were an unmistakably American act.
Despite the close family ties, the history of the group is a turbulent one whose details are hotly debated and dissected by die-hard fans. Brian Wilson took the group’s recordings in creatively ambitious and experimental directions and was eventually sidelined by mental health problems. Meanwhile, Mike Love led the live band as a nostalgia-tinged act with timeless appeal.
Love still tours under the name The Beach Boys, along with Bruce Johnston and a number of hired touring musicians. They were rejoined by surviving members Brian, Al Jardine and David Marks for a highly publicized 50th Anniversary World Tour last year, but in a controversial move, Love and Johnston continued touring without them after the reunion tour ended.
Generations of fans have painted Brian Wilson and Mike Love as the two opposing faces of the group—with Wilson as the troubled genius, and Love as the savvy professional—but in truth, The Beach Boys’ multi-faceted music has always contained contradictions, and a fundamental duality represented in the talents of each of its members.
In anticipation of the upcoming Beach Boys show at the Pavilion on August 28, C-VILLE Weekly spoke to Mike Love by phone.
C-VILLE Weekly: Why do you think the music of The Beach Boys continues to resonate with people after more than 50 years?
Mike Love: Well, at the heart of it, I think there’s a peace, and a love, and singing those harmonies—that’s what initially distinguished us from other groups, our four-part harmonies. So one aspect is really the warmth of those harmonies, combined with the beat, the sound, and the melodies.
While a lot of The Beach Boys themes are universal, a lot of the subject matter is specific to early 1960s California/American teenage culture. Do you see yourself as representing that to the world?
Oh, definitely. We were Americans growing up, with everything that comes with that, and all of the experiences that you have along the way. And we completely identified with that. Specifically with the beach life and surfing culture.
You know, it’s ironic. Murry Wilson, Brian, Dennis, and Carl’s father, and my mother Glee, came from Kansas and were growing up in very desperate conditions in the Depression in the 1930s. They were very poor. And one generation later, here we are singing about beach life in California and all of its attributes.
We’ve had number one hit records in South Africa, Sweden, Germany, England, Japan—it’s amazing, that it transcends language, not only nationalities. We did a show in Paris about a month and half ago. We were singing pretty quickly in American-style English—there’s no way they could have understood everything we were saying—but the beat, and the hooks, and the way everything comes together…the whole mood carries the day, so to speak. It’s like that all around the world. We’re very blessed and very fortunate to be able to have that kind of appreciation and that kind of audience.
I’ve read that you recorded some solo albums in the 1970s, First Love and Country Love, which were never released. Have you given any thought to releasing those?
I’ve been working with the experts. We’re trying to figure out what can be done with the songs or with a particular project. There’s a minimum of three albums unreleased. There’s one called Mike Love, Not War, which has social consciousness, awareness-building songs due to my experiences with transcendental meditation and the philosophy that grows out of that. I’m certain some of those songs will see the light of day.
Last year for The Beach Boys 50th anniversary you had a lot of former members back in the band. Now you’re back to The Beach Boys touring line-up from previous years. How would you compare those two different versions of The Beach Boys?
Well, when we did that, it was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group. My main interest has been with the touring group since 1964 when Glen Campbell came in and subbed for Brian, before Bruce Johnston came on board. And now Bruce has been with us since [then]. The first song he sang with us was ‘California Girls,’ which I wrote the lyrics to. He was with us on Pet Sounds, on ‘Good Vibrations.’ That was a pretty amazing first year, for him. Al had been with us since the first single we did, he was on ‘Surfin’.’ And then he left to go to dental school, to become a dentist, and came back a few years later.
My cousin Carl passed away in February of 1998, and during that time, Bruce and I continued on. Brian had been doing his own thing, re-recording Pet Sounds, re-recording Smile. So he’s been doing his own things, he’s been busy. He has an excellent band, we just did a few shows together.
Anyway, Bruce and I have done 100 shows a year or more, give or take. The difference is that [the 50th Anniversary Tour] was enormously expansive, it was a big production with so many musicians onstage. The promoters were selling out shows in a couple of days. With shows like that, the ticket price is high and the cost of having the show is unaffordable to a lot of venues.
We like to do things kinda small— playing theaters, amphitheaters, fine arts centers as well as baseball stadiums—and you couldn’t keep doing something like the 50th Anniversary show year after year with all of the production that it entailed.
So now we’re back to: Brian’s gone off with his band, and Bruce and I have ours. We’ve gone back to touring and doing a variety of shows which I really enjoy. We’re looking forward to playing in Charlottesville. I remember that it’s a gorgeous town.
Music’s carried us far and wide, and it’s been a big blessing. There’s a lot of places we never would have been able to see. With music, we’ve reached all the corners of the globe, and we’re glad to bring it to Charlottesville.