Mike Love: “We love Ocean City. I’m not just B.S.ing you because we’re coming there – for decades we’ve gone to Atlantic City and played numerous casinos. We played the Borgata and the Trump Taj Mahal, and before that we played where they had a woman jump off a tower on horseback into a hot tub. So we go way back with Atlantic City. But you know what? Ocean City is like what Atlantic City was 50 years ago. I love that families can come there, it’s just so clean and so nice. No smoking, no drinking. For children of all ages it’s just a great place. The boardwalk there is smaller but it’s great. I fell in love with it when we came there. We performed a couple shows last year and we’re doing a couple more this time around. Last time we stayed in Atlantic City but this time we’re staying right in town. We’re going to have a really good time.”
When did music start to look like a viable career for you and what was that realization like?
“The first song we recorded that was played on the radio was called “Surfin” in fall of 1962. My cousin Brian and I had sung together since infancy. All our lives we’ve been surrounded by music. My mom and his dad were brother and sister, so we’re first cousins. But both of our mothers were very musically gifted. My mom sang on the radio which was very big in the ‘30s. She sang light opera. I would wake up for school to the tune of these operatic singers, which was pretty brutal in the morning. It was rough. But there’s never been a time in our lives that we weren’t around music. So what was a family hobby, we were blessed and fortunate enough to have it become our profession. When our first recording was played on the radio it became a hit on this small label. It didn’t get international exposure, that would have to wait until we signed with Capitol Records.
“Our second hit which was called “Surfin Safari,” had the B-side “409.” “409” was a car song and I figured it this way – everyone doesn’t have an ocean across the U.S.A., but everybody loves those cars. We had these powerful cars in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The next year came “Surfin U.S.A.” and “Shutdown.” We had “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Little Deuce Coupe.” So we have our beach songs and our car songs. How are you going to get to the beach? Probably by car. And how are you going to get those “California Girls”? With a car. So we just chronicled our family passion and our hobbies.
“We’d go to youth night at the church and sing Everly Brothers songs and doo-wop songs of the day. Then my cousin Brian got obsessed with this group called the Four Freshmen. They did these beautiful and complicated four-part harmonies. It inspired us to do these harmonies and vocal arrangements and chord progressions that weren’t really typically found in rock or pop music. So that’s always been what’s distinguished the Beach Boys from other groups in rock and pop – the sophisticated, close harmonies. That sound, that blend; the object was not only to sing the note, but to blend with each other seamlessly.”
“There’s never been a time in my life without music, it’s just been my reality my whole life. People ask me, why do you still do it after so many years? I guess it’s just become second nature because it’s something we would have been doing anyway. We’d still be doing it at family get-togethers were we not to become famous. Last year we did 172 concerts, four of which were in Ocean City. But we went to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, all over the world. Of course the majority of our dates are in the United States. But we wouldn’t be doing all this if it weren’t for A) we like doing it, and B) people like hearing what we do, which is a blessing because five-and-a-half decades after we started people still enjoy the Beach Boys’ music which is a tremendous blessing for us.”
Rock was new and still being defined, what was it like being at the forefront of a new sound?
“It was amazing. It was really interesting – when we were first starting out, now that you bring it up, I’m reminded of how bad the production was. At these concerts we played armories, we played roller rinks, we played teen centers, we played churches and high school gyms. The sound was rotten, terrible, it wasn’t good at all. The ballrooms we’d play in the Midwest sounded like they were designed to call wrestling matches. There were rock and roll guys – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Charlie Lewis, of course Elvis. But those guys were individuals mainly. And there were doo-wop groups we loved because of the harmonies and all their fun songs. The Everly Brothers had great songs. When they came through at first the production was awful; and we’re a group that does four-part harmonies behind a lead. So that means you better have good microphones and a good sound system, otherwise your songs aren’t going to come across very well. So we invested a couple hundred thousand dollars in the mid-sixties to travel with a good sound system so that we would sound good. At the same time, because rock music became such a big industry, there began to be these companies all over who would provide the production. They would do the sound, the mixing, the stage, everything, so you look great and sound great. But that didn’t happen before the mid-sixties.”
Change in sound in mid-sixties, less pop surf songs. “Warmth of the Sun,” “Pet Sounds.” Natural evolution or conscious reaction to what was going on in music and in America?
“Both. It was natural from a group that can do everything from an a capella ballad like “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” by the Four Freshmen, which we learned before we became the Beach Boys. We still do it to this day if the venue is a good place to do it – it’s venue-dependent.”
“We did ‘Warmth of the Sun’ in November 1963. We woke up in the morning after having written it to hear that President Kennedy had been taken to the hospital in Dallas. We know what happened there. That was a beautiful four-part ballad, very mystical. And because of how it happened – we wrote it in the wee hours of the morning and knew Kennedy was in Dallas getting ready for what he had planned that day, when we recorded it a month later it was charged with a lot of emotion. I think if you listen to that song you can definitely hear that.”
“But all that didn’t deter us from doing ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘I Get Around,’ ‘Help Me Rhonda’ and things like that. So we’ve been stereotyped but in actuality we’ve never been pinned to one type of music. Whether it’s an a cappella ballad or ‘In My Room’ or ‘Surfer Girl’ or ‘Warmth of the Sun,’ the beautiful ballads or the up-tempo stuff like ‘Surfin U.S.A.’ or all the rock stuff.”
“This year is the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds and we’re doing more of those songs in our shows these days. We always do ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Sloop John B’ and ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice.’ Now we’re also doing several more in recognition of the 50th anniversary. But it’s also the 50th anniversary of ‘Good Vibrations’ which went to number one in Great Britain in fall of 1966. We were voted the number two group there, number one being the Beatles and number three being the Walker Brothers and four the Rolling Stones. So even at the height of Beatlemania the Beach Boys had a number one hit with ‘Good Vibrations.’ And that song is so unique, it’s unlike any other song. It was avant-garde at the time and it still is. It’s such a great song and I actually wrote all the words. It’s a beautiful little flowery poem about a girl who is really into peace and love and all of the things that were going on in California, the Haight-Ashbury scene. Flower power and the Summer of Love, I tried to condense all those images into a poem that would relate in a way people could understand. You might not understand psychedelic anything, but everyone can understand boy-girl.”
“Early in ‘66 Barbara Ann became a hit. So we had ‘Barbara Ann,’ ‘Pet Sounds,’ and ‘Good Vibrations.’ There’s not much more diversity in music than is contained in those.”
A few year ago you guys got together for the reunion album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.” What did it mean not only for you to be able to get back together, but for the record to turn out like it did?
“Well it was great touring because a lot of fans got to see us all together. Brian has his own band and is touring now with Al Jardine. Bruce Johnson and I, and John Cowsill our drummer – from the family group the Cowsills that did really well in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – is an awesome drummer. So we’ve been doing our own things for year. We got together for a tour and I think it was really good. I think it was great for the fans and it was nice to get back together. However, there were issues that weren’t so great about it. I go into it more in my book that’s coming out Sept. 13 – “Good Vibrations: Life As A Beach Boy.” What I would say, though, is that just Brian and I alone, we’ve done such great things together. We go back to childhood together, but our lives have taken divergent paths. He went into things in his life that maybe he should not have gotten into. I chose transcendental meditation from September ‘67 on. Unfortunately my cousin went off into all kinds of other stuff. So there were good things about that tour but then there were some not-so-fun things. I don’t like to belabor it because I’m a guy that tries to stay mostly positive.”