Long before Mike Love and his cousins ever considered making a career out of music, they spent countless occasions simply passing the time in each others’ living rooms playing music and creating harmonies amongst family. The presence of a Steinway grand piano, a Hammond organ, and a Lyon & Healy harp lent itself to numerous “family recitals.” As original member Mike Love explains, they did this out of the “sheer love of creating harmonies together.” Such a simple joy, yet one that undeniably spawned one of the most endeared musical groups to date, The Beach Boys. As the inventors of California Rock, they quickly became a globally recognizable sound and have enjoyed a career that has surpassed five decades. Their music allows us to feel as though time stands still and, by that token, they have established a legacy in our culture. Who doesn’t feel nostalgic when listening to songs like “Good Vibrations” and “California Dreamin’”?
So, given their ability to put smiles on the faces of millions of people from every corner of the world, what exactly is The Beach Boys’ secret ingredient? Love believes it begins with the harmonies, explaining, “I think there’s something really interesting and heartwarming about putting those harmonies together. In addition to the harmonies, there’s the subject matter which is kind of fun. The initial subject matters being surfing, the cars we liked, school, and the young ladies. If you think about The Beach Boys’ music, there are different tempos and different subjects related to people growing up in the American experience, much of it centered in Southern California. You’d go to school and hear the surf. And if it’s really good surf, you might skip a few classes or the whole day. You never know. So the subject matter, the warmth of the harmonies, the arrangements and the melodies all go together to create the body of music that we’ve got.”
The Beach Boys’ current American tour showcases two of the original members, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, and runs through the end of April 2015. They are supported musically and vocally by Tim Bonhomme (keyboard), John Cowsill (drums), Randell Kirsch (bass), Scott Totten (lead guitar/musical director) and Jeffrey Foskett (guitar and known as Brian Wilson’s right-hand man for fifteen years).
I asked Love if he ever thought they would still be touring after 50 years.
“We never looked at it in a sense of giving it a cut-off date. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Motown are three of the most performed musical genres from the 60’s still performed today. Just about every town has a Classic Hits or Oldies format, so virtually every day we have our music played somewhere. We also have our music played on Full House reruns, in major motion picture soundtracks and in commercials. So there’s many ways in which The Beach Boys’ music is being reintroduced to new generations. For some, it’s nostalgia. We’ll see grandparents bring their grandchildren to shows. The other night we had a ninety year old on stage with us and she had a little girl with her that was nine. We have a multi-generational fan base. We are fortunate to have had a really long career.”
Longevity, it seems, is something he and his band mates are very grateful for. Although their audience has changed along with the natural progression of time, the band still loves touring and performing. Love explained, “The audience response is our favorite part of what we do. To see people respond in such a positive way to our music and receive feedback in the form of applause and sing-a-longs is pretty special. You have real people in the moment celebrating music together with us. To me, that’s a huge part of what makes us want to keep going.” He approximates they do 140 shows per year. He noted that although the biggest sing-a-long at their shows is “Kokomo,” others include “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” and “Surfin’ USA,” which consequently, make them band favorites to perform as well. Another favorite they perform is “Good Vibrations,” which Love considers as their most unique and avant garde song for its time, adding that some 20 years ago, Rolling Stone called it ‘the single of the century.’ An accolade Love considers as “phenomenal.” Love is also personally excited to be performing his song “Pisces Brothers,” which is a tribute to his long standing friendship with George Harrison. He shares that the song is both spiritual (both men practiced meditation faithfully) and sentimental due to the fact that “although Harrison is no longer with us, his music certainly is.” A painting Harrison gifted Love on a celebratory birthday trip to India in 1968, still hangs in his home today.
Fans who attend their upcoming shows will be treated to video footage reminiscent of those times, as well as old footage of Dennis and Carl Wilson. Love says, “It was important to have them represented in our shows.” Yet another treat will be the resurrection of some songs recorded years ago but, as Love chuckles, “These were forgotten about in the archives.”
Over the years, The Beach Boys have experienced some pretty awe-inspiring accomplishments, from being the first American rock band to play behind the Iron Curtain in 1968 to being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988. Love recalls, “There’s certain things that stick out, like when a song goes number one. But when we went to Prague six months after the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia and represented America and Rock and Roll – well, you just can’t forget something like that.”
Another memory is a day back on July 4, 1985 when the Beach Boys played to a million and a half people in one day. Love remembers, “Philadelphia papers reported 900,000 people in the streets of Philly that day. Later that same evening we played The Mall in Washington, D.C. to another three quarters of a million people. That’s pretty significant.”
Following their tour state-side and a tour overseas in 2015, fans can expect The Beach Boys to put forth a new album in 2017, which will consist, according to Love, of both new songs and new renditions of older songs. Love also expects his autobiography tentatively titled “Good Vibrations: My Life as A Beach Boy” to be released the same year. There are also talks of revisiting their collaboration with the musical group Chicago in the future. Love says, “We’re always open to collaboration. We like a whole lot of different types of music and appreciate all kinds.”
As I listened to Love reflect upon The Beach Boys’ career, it was clear he enjoys reliving these moments and I got the feeling there’s so much more he still wants to do. As he stated, “It’s uplifting for me to see the positive effect music has on people. Some wonder if I’m thinking about retiring. Not really because we’re doing something not because we get paid to do it, but because we just LOVE doing it.” Again, a statement of such simplicity, yet it has carried The Beach Boys through the sands of time.