Beach Boys: Behind The Hits

Mike Love talks to ClashMusic
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“It’s a remarkable landmark, to do something for fifty years. The nice thing about it is that our music is still appreciated by multiple generations, I mean children, teens, young adults, adults, seniors there’s a heck of a lot of people from a lot of age groups who like the Beach Boys music. I think the subject matter, originally anyway, is pretty youth oriented so for the older people it brings back memories and for the younger people it’s like experiencing a ‘Surfin’ Safari’ if you will. It’s a truly remarkable thing.”

It’s older, maybe even a little rough around the edges. But this is unmistakeably the voice of Mike Love, the voice which wrapped itself around countless hits from The Beach Boys. Soundtracking the adolescence of an entire generation, the California group seem to define a time and place as expertly as a Polaroid. Truly ageless music, albums such as ‘Pet Sounds’ continue to inspire anyone who aspires to do something beautiful within the confines of pop music.

Beginning as a vocal quartet indebted to the sounds of doo wop, The Beach Boys soon married this to R&B rhythms. A fan of black music – in fact, one of the few white faces at a predominantly African-American high school – Mike Love gave the group added grit. “We loved the blend of The Everly Brothers, my cousin Brian became obsessed with a group called The Four Freshman” he explains. “But all the doo-wop harmonies we were exposed to on the radio, those were a combination of influences on the radio which led to us becoming very focussed on the harmonies becoming integral to whatever we did.”

The band’s relentless rehearsal sessions resulted in some of the most beautiful harmonies laid to tape. With advancing technology, it’s difficult to imagine four young Californians struggling in a cramped room with one microphone. Powered by the imagination of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys music became ever more ornate, until the protracted sessions for ‘Smile’ nearly split the group. An outspoken critic at the time, Mike Love now has a fond, respectful view of what his cousin was attempting to achieve. “Take the ‘Pet Sounds’ album – the song ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. We must have done close to thirty passes in a particular section of the recording. In fact I began to call my cousin Brian ‘dog ears’ as he could hear things that other human beings couldn’t, apparently. We would do a pass with the four part harmonies in one section of the song and it would sound great to everybody but Brian would say ‘do it again’. There is, in fact, a box set released by Capital years ago which had a CD which contained just the vocals. That was remarkable, when you hear those songs, just the vocals, it is truly remarkable.”

One of the many sonic tricks employed by Brian Wilson was the mixing of different textures. Throwing different elements into the pot, the songwriter was able to create lush tapestries of sound despite the restrictions of the studio. Mike Love explains that this interest began very early on in the band’s career. “The vocals I have to give credit to our cousin Brian’s skill as an arranger, he was a brilliant arranger. Of course, cousin Carl, Al Jardine and myself harmonised together. We took it very seriously” says the singer. “It wasn’t just about the notes involved but also about blending together at the same time. In the very early days of forming the group I would sing the bass part, Brian would sing the falsetto part, cousin Carl would sing a part but then that extra part it became hard to find someone who could sing the note. Finally, Al Jardine stepped in and fit the bill. That was the blend in the group which made that distinctive sound we became known for.”

It’s difficult to listen to The Beach Boys without being drawn into a particular time and place. Sure, the lyrics might pin a song such as ‘Surfin’ Safari’ down to California but the sheer sound of the record reeks of days spent by the beach, watching your adolescence pass by. Reminded of an anecdote, Mike Love explains that the lure of the surf was never far from the minds of The Beach Boys. “A matter of fact our song ‘Do It Again’ – in the later 60s period – we went to Brian’s house, literally got him out of bed and went down to the beach, walked along the sand, went back to the house and sat down at the piano and wrote the song ‘Do It Again’ in a matter of minutes” he says. “But that was literally reminiscing about all the great times, great weather, great girls, great environment that had to do with the surfing, Southern California culture. Not only did we literally go to the beach and come back and write that song, those songs could transport you to another time in life, another place in life.”

Unusually for many groups of the time, The Beach Boys refused to be lured into politics. While some musicians became caught up in America’s problems, the band remained outside of contemporary struggle. “The specific point of view for the Beach Boys music has always been positive. We knew that there were a lot of negative things going on in the world – whether it was economics, personal relationships or the war in Vietnam or integration issues – there’s plenty of issues in life which are problematic and pretty rough but we always felt that to create music which takes your mind away from problems and becomes a sort of sonic oasis. A place in music where people can play an album, play a CD, play a single and enjoy life”.

Set to return to the UK this summer for a one off show, Mike Love will lead a new version of The Beach Boys through the band’s golden back catalogue. Containing original members, close friends and even his son the line up is dedicated to preserving the spirit of those original recordings. With their 50th anniversary now looming, fans have been speculating about a possible re-union which could even include Brian Wilson. “Well, y’know, I just had a conversation last night and due to follow up today with a producer who wants to do a 3D documentary as well as a performance including the Beach Boys. We’re even talking about having some guest artists involved in the performance, celebrating our 50th. There are lots of conversations that are taking place. I’ve had a couple with my cousin Brian about getting into the studio and working together again, which would be a lot of fun I think. There have been many suggestions. I think the Grammy awards next year may have a 50th anniversary recognition for the Beach Boys, and there’s one or two other big events that we have been talking about” explains Mike Love. “There’s been a couple of outreaches too. I think you’ll see some pretty good stuff in 2012 and beyond centred around the Beach Boys 50th. There’s been a lot of conversation but I can’t tell you that on such and such a date we’re going to play here, tour there. We’re working on it but hopefully we’ll be able to announce the main things that we’ll be doing pretty soon.”

Pausing once again, Mike Love reflects on the timeless nature of The Beach Boys music. “It’s pretty cool, because the music of the Beach Boys in many cases will be very pleasing to hear as it reminds you of a different time in life, a different place in life or if you haven’t yet experienced that much life. If you’re a very young person it might give you something to look forward to, or imagine. Imagine what it would be like to go on a ‘Surfin’ Safari’ – or even ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’: ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long’. Those songs could be nearly forty years old since you first heard ‘em but they bring you back to that time and place when you were in love with that person in the sixth grade. That’s the beauty of music.”

The Beach Boys will be performing on Thursday 7th July as part of the Epsom Live! music nights. For ticketing information please call 0844 848 0197 or visit www.epsomdowns.co.uk.

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