The following article / interview with Mike Love was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #12, in 1984. It was implemented and written by Mary Anne Cassata.
Whatever one may think of Mike Love, be it a voice of the ‘60s, as a follower of Transcendental Meditation, hardcore right-wing conservative, litigious instigator, or power hungry tool, there is no denying he is one of the focal points of the original Beach Boys, whose music revolutionized a genre.
Dubbed “The Boys of Summer,” The BB’s early cool breeze guitar-based melodies over intricate jazz-arranged harmonies became a symbol of all things American, or at least West Coast. The band matured in style over the years, and yet their sound became lost in the post-Sgt. Pepper’s emergence of rock; still, they became the phoenix of youth when they broke the news stations in 1983 for being banned from playing the White House. Suddenly they were everywhere, as the country collectively said, “Oh, yeah, we remember you guys!”
Back in the eye of the public as an “oldies,” feel-good vibration, they once again started recording, and even had some hits with the light “Rock and Roll to the Rescue” (a throwback to their early sound), a stunning cover of the Mamas and the Papa’s “California Dreaming” (the still-living M & Ps appeared in the video for the song, as does Roger McGuinn), and the dreadful-yet-infectious “Kokomo” (which has led to numerous bars to be named this).
Through the early history of the BB, Mike Love was one of four singers in the band, and after the Smile debacle resulted in leader Brian Wilson going into semi-retirement, Love grabbed the reins and became the Johnny Ramone of the group until their eventual and inevitable break-up.
Note that my updated comments are in [brackets]. – RBF, 2011
The Beach Boys, an integral part of rock’n’roll since the early ‘60s, still remarkably retain a forefront position. There are some that would agree lead vocalist Mike Love and cousin Brian Wilson have attributed to much of the Beach boys’ phenomenal success. Brian Wilson has been regarded somewhat of a genius by his peers and fans alike for his special ability to create musically, with instruments and arrangements, what recording engineers have done with sound effects and studio recording techniques.
Brian, with Mike, co-wrote many of the Beach Boys classics, such as “Good Vibration,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “Help Me, Rhonda.”
These songs and others were crucial to the shaping of the American pop culture of the ‘60s called Surf Music. Other contenders, Jan and Dean (Jan Berry [d. 2004] and Dean Torrence), also helped pioneer the sound that was a cross between ‘60s rock’n’roll and the British Invasion. In the splendid days of surf music, the Beach Boys often shared their stage with Jan and Dean. Sometimes, the two surfer groups received equal billing. The popular duo, most famous for songs like “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” “Baby Talk,” and “Sidewalk Surfin’,” often traded off songs wit the Beach Boys, which were equally well recorded by both groups.
After 22 years of singing songs about surfing, cars and pretty women, one might think the Beach Boys would eventually grow tired of the same old repetition of wondrous harmonies and arrangements. For over two decades the Beach Boys’ band member line-up has remained basically the same, consisting of Wilson brothers Brian, Dennis [d. 1983], and Carl [d. 1998], cousin Mike Love, good friend Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnson [who replaced Brian on many tours until eventually becoming an equal partner].
Mike Love is, without a doubt, a material element to the Beach Boys, but is also a versatile solo performer in his own right. Nearly two years ago he released his debut solo album, Looking Back with Love, and performed on tour with the Endless Summer Band to sold-out houses all over the country. In between gigs with Endless Summer, he managed to perform in a few concerts with his old cohorts.
The Looking Back album and tour were enthusiastically received by music critics and fans alike. Mike is an easily likeable person and immediately puts his company at ease. It’s not every day one is given the opportunity to talk to a Beach Boy. Recently, Mike Love has been involved in new projects, primarily with the Tandy Corporation, a subdivision of RadioShack.
Rock’n’Roll City, his latest effort, features a collection of ‘60s classics newly recorded by some of the artists from that decade. Among the few include Dean Torrence, Paul Revere, and the Association. These artists and others combined their musical talents in an effort to decrease rising record costs and developed the concepts forRock’n’Roll City. Some of the album features renditions of “96 Tears” by Paul Revere, “Wild Thing” by Dean Torrence, and a special recording of “California Dreaming” by the Beach Boys.
In his luxurious hotel suite at the New York Grand Hyatt Regency, Mike Love spoke open and candidly about his life, career, and upcoming projects. Dressed in a deep blue jogging suit, Love frequently took to the floor to exercise calisthenics. He has also been practicing daily Transcendental Meditation sessions for many years now, and feels it has allowed him to cope with the pressures and constant changes of the music business.
“I meditate every morning and evening,” Mike Love said. “I have been doing so since the winter of ’67. The Maharishi taught me.” Love indicated he is an authority on the topic and would like to write a book about it someday. “I have gone on to advanced courses in the T.M. Sidi Program. I have a perspective on being American. I think writing a book would be a very good thing to do.”
While Love contemplates the possibility of writing a book, in the meanwhile he will promote Rock’n’Roll City. The concept was actually developed two years ago by Mike, with Dean Torrence, while both were on tour with The Spring Break concert series. The two musicians tossed around the idea of possibly doing some recording together after the tour ended. The Tandy Corporation was interested in their project and signed them to the Realistic Division.
“Our production company, Hit Bound, got in touch with them. They were interested in featuring Mike Love and the Beach Boys, and Dean of Jan and Dean, because they had a pretty good success with the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean compilations. We mainly wanted to do the number one songs of the ‘60s, and eliminated the Beatles, Beach Boys and Elvis Presley, figuring that those are so heavily identifiable with those artists. We wanted the stuff that was still some of the great songs of that time period.”
A few months ago, ex-Interior Secretary James Watts, ignited a nationwide upset when he thoughtlessly banned rock’n’roll music from the Washington Capitol Mall concert on the Fourth of July. The Beach Boys, scheduled to perform that day, were outraged with Watts’ action. “Watts said he wasn’t going to allow any more rock’n’roll to be performed at the nation’s capitol,” still fumed Love. “All of us need to be reminded just where rock’n’roll came from. Its roots are here in America. It was a blending of the black music of the ‘40s and ‘50s, with the hillbilly and country music that came out of the mountains of Appalachia.
“Thirty years ago, rhythm and blues was called ‘race music,’ and white music that was joined with it was ‘rockabilly,’” he continued. “A new wave of music was born incorporating all the facets of the musical spectrum. Then along came the singers – black and white – who had something new. These singers had a lot of soul, and they called it rock’n’roll. I’d probably think first of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man,” but it was really his hit “Ain’t That a Shame” that opened the door to the rock era.”
The legend of the Beach Boys began half a decade later in Hawthorne, California. The three Wilson brothers were musically inclined and used to harmonize on songs together in their bedroom. In his early teen years, Brian became very influenced by the music of the Four Freshmen and Chuck Berry, and often would spend hours a day picking out parts of songs on the piano. Before long, Brian had assigned different voice parts to this brothers, cousin Mike, and high school friend Al Jardine – later joined by Bruce Johnson.
Of the newly formed Beach Boys, Dennis was the first to notice the surfing trend taking shape, and encouraged his fellow band members to write songs about it. In 1961, the group officially called themselves the Beach Boys and recorded their first single, “409,” on a small record label. The single, backed with “Surfin’ Safari,” became a national double-sided hit, which led to an exclusive record contract with Capitol Records. In the next few years, the Beach Boys’ songs continued to remain high on the charts with the likes of “Surfin’ USA,” “I Get Around,” and “Shut Down.”
At one point of their fascinating career, Brian Wilson found the pressures of performing and recording too intense and was forced to take a leave of absence. Although he didn’t perform with the Beach Boys, Brian still continued to direct their musical affairs. Over the years, there have been many different versions of the story told as to what actually happened to Brian. For three years the vulnerable musician remained confined to his room, and had been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. Mike was asked to comment on Brian’s delicate problem.
“He took some drugs; Brian’s a very sensitive person,” Mike explained, “There are certain people that can take drugs that can maintain and certain people that can take them and blow it bad. It is the same thing with alcoholics. There are those who drink and go crazy; then there are the drugaholics, too. Brian is one of those people that are so sensitive that he took these drugs and it messed him up for quite a while. He is still recuperating from it, too. It was the most tragic thing that could have happened to him.
“He just stopped being dynamic, productive and creative. Brian was, at one time, the most creative producer in the business. He influenced the Beatles, and other people, too. I can’t imagine the Beach Boys without Brian. It was a bit of a tragedy and a loss. He didn’t die, but OD’d emotionally. That is why I am very much against the use of unprescribed drugs. It may be fine for some people, but may destroy others. Emotionally or literally, I am totally against the use of drugs. Once in a while it’s okay if you’re sick and a doctor prescribes them. That’s where they belong. I have seen it in my own life with the Beach Boys. It can really screw up someone’s life.”
Brian has performed periodically with the Beach Boys, most recently this past summer. Mike says he is “doing fabulous now,” and is learning to be responsible for himself again. “He was very paranoid for awhile, and wouldn’t come out. He would go into the kitchen and eat, and go back into his room again. Brian had been touring with us for a couple of years and wasn’t making any progress, physically or mentally. We said, ‘Forget it; we don’t want to see you die. You’re not carrying your own weight in the group.’
“He’s much more clearer now. He’s got it all together now. Brian is much more bright and positive now. Anything he puts his mind to he can achieve. He is a very dynamic, creative and intelligent person. A couple of years ago, I wrote a song called ‘Brian’s Back.’ I’ve been saving it. It should be coming out real soon.”
In 1966, Brian supervised the production on the album Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys had no idea what an impact it would make on the music scene. The album instantly became a rock masterpiece and the Beatles acknowledged it simultaneously with their Sgt. Pepper’salbum. The single, “Good Vibrations,” was the Beach Boys’ largest selling record.
With the many changes that occurred in rock music the last two decades, Mike Love is not at all too concerned about keeping up with the times. “I am not a person who identifies strongly with current trends,” he relates. “I don’t listen to enough music constantly to be an authority on it. I tend to be like our brand of rock’n’roll: the Beach Boys. We were successful with ‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ ‘I Get Around,’ and ‘Good Vibrations.’ That’s the kind of rock’n’roll I like.”
When Mike finds the time to relax, he says he listens to the music of Marvin Gaye and other older ‘50s and ‘60s black artists. “When we were younger, we used to listen to bands like the Coasters and other great R&B artists. People like Fats Domino and Little Richard have made such a tremendous contribution to American music.”
Mike also feels that something good can come out of any form of music, and because it may propose to be different does not necessarily mean it is bad. “A lot of trends really have nothing to do with music, but everything to do with the superficial part of it,” he stated, “the look of it; the makeup.
“The beautiful thing about the music scene is that it is so diverse and there is something in it for everyone. I am in my own little world when it comes to music. That’s why I use research to see what relates to people and to me. We really research the songs we record. There’s no use putting out a song that doesn’t appeal to everyone. That’s wasting your time and subjecting you to an ego trip.”
The Beach Boys’ music is eternal and represents different meanings to their millions of fans around the world. Does the lead singer of this legendary band ever become discontented about singing the same old wonderful songs all the time? “No, it’s a lot of fun,” exclaims Love. “It’s a recreation and, you know, a lot of fun. The audience provides the spontaneity. We may sing our songs a hundred times a year, but only once a night. If you are a big fan of ours, then, maybe, you see us seven times a week. That’s good for us and good for them, too.”
At this point, Mike’s publicist entered the room with his order of watermelon and red zinger tea. This has been his steadfast diet for the past three months. Love is a strict vegetarian, too.
In conclusion to our conversation, he stresses it is “the responsibility of the entertainer to please his audience. What good does it do if you don’t give the audience what they want? My place is to entertain the audience and give them what they want.”
No doubt, Mike Love and the Beach boys will continue to give more wonderful and satisfying performances for another decade. It’s hard to get tired of listening to “I Get Around” for the hundredth time so far this year.