The Beach Boys
America's Most Iconic Band's Mike Love Still Having Fun, Fun, Fun After Five Decades
As one of the most iconic pop-rock bands of the '60s, the Beach Boys' vocal harmonies are among the most unmistakable, innovative and enduring in the history of rock and roll. They were the only group able to challenge the Beatles' success in terms of their overall impact on the Top 40. The Beach Boys had over 80 songs chart worldwide, including 36 U.S. Top 40 hits, which is the most by any American rock band. Four songs reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The GRAMMY Award-winning group is one of the world's best-selling bands of all time, with worldwide sales exceeding 100 million records. Rolling Stone magazine listed them as the 12th greatest artist of all time in 2004. The California quintet's original lineup ー consisting of the Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, as well as their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine ー was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. The group's lineup has changed over the years and two of the Wilson brothers have passed away, but in 2012, for the band's 50th anniversary, all of the surviving members briefly reunited for a new studio album and world tour. The Beach Boys are no strangers to Japan, having first performed in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka in 1966. A look at the back cover of their 1966 album, Pet Sounds, reveals photos of the group in Kyoto, outfitted in traditional samurai costumes. Half a century later, the current lineup of the Beach Boys not only returned to perform six concerts at the new venue, Billboard Live Tokyo, but they also performed for the first time ever in Seoul, South Korea. Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie talked to original member, singer, songwriter and activist, Mike Love, about the band's legendary career, his love for transcendental meditation and his fondness for Japan.
TJ: How did the Beach Boys originally get its name?
LOVE: Our first song that we ever recorded was called “Surfin’” as a result of the popularity of that sport in Southern California, where we grew up. We were calling ourselves The Pendletones — the reason being that the surfers at that time would wear a Pendleton Mills woolen plaid shirt. In fact, we wore those shirts on our first album cover, which was photographed at Paradise Cove in Malibu. We didn’t know what to call ourselves, but then a record promoter named Russ Regan said, “Well, what about the Beach Boys?” And we thought, “Wow, that sounds pretty good.” So Russ Regan, this record promoter, who went on to become the president of various record companies later in his career, was the one that gave us that name.
TJ: Is it true that you haven’t had a summer off in at least 50 years?
LOVE: That’s pretty true. There have been times when we’ve toured more than other times. Like, for instance, last year, in 2015, we did 175 performances in 170 different places. So, we were very busy last year. In fact ... that’s the most concerts we’ve ever done in one year.
TJ: What was the first big break for the Beach Boys?
LOVE: Well, I think when we first got started, being able to sign with Capitol Records and do our album. “Sur n’ Safari” was an actual hit, and that was ’62. Sixty- three was “Sur n’ USA,” which went to number one. Then we did several songs hot on the heels of “Sur n’ USA” — “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “California Girls” ... In 1965, we did our Party album. “Barbara Ann” became a hit off of that. The Pet Sounds album in 1966 was really highly regarded by so many industry people, and then “Good Vibrations” went to number one in 1966. In fact, we were voted the number-one group in England, number two being the Beatles, number three being the Stones, on the strength of “Good Vibrations.” So that was the biggest selling single of our career up to that point, surpassed only by “Kokomo” in 1988. So I don’t think there’s any big thing that happened. It was just a succession of a lot of hit records ... in the early to mid-’60s.
TJ: Toward the late ’60s you went off to India, is that correct?
LOVE: December of ’67 — I learned transcendental meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Paris. Then about a month later, a lot of us went to the Plaza Hotel in New York where Maharishi was giving lectures and meeting with people. After that, he went to Boston to do a speech at Harvard Law Forum, and I went to that. at evening I called to speak to somebody with Maharishi, and Maharishi answered the phone and invited me to go to India. So I, in fact, did go and spent February and March of 1968 in India. In fact, George Harrison and I both had our birthdays in India in 1968. It was a teacher training course — training teachers of transcendental meditation. When I got there, the Beatles were all there, Donovan was there, and Mia Farrow had gone there too. Her sister, Prudence, was the subject of the song called “Dear Prudence,” written by John Lennon. So it was a very, very fascinating time, and a pretty much life-changing, life-altering experience.
TJ: Were you close with members of the Beatles?
LOVE: I wouldn’t say that I was close, but I had a lot in common with George. I had some interesting conversations with Paul and John Lennon as well, but I had more in common with George because he really loved his meditation. He loved Maharishi. He loved the Hare Krishna people. He wrote that song “My Sweet Lord,” which is a big international hit. We’re both Pisces. He studied sitar with Ravi Shankar and was very much into all things Indian. And so I think we had a lot in common in terms of tastes. But as far as, were we best pals? No, not like that. They were in England and we were in the U.S., but we each admired each other’s work — big fans of each other’s musical efforts.
TJ: What is it that drew you to India and to the Maharishi?
LOVE: Well, if you look at the history of the world, the history of humanity is the history of war. Maharishi said that if enough people were to meditate, there could be peace and prosperity for everyone. And those were very attractive things to me. Even though there are a lot of religions that have a lot of codes of behavior and good things about them, they’ve never been able to provide peace on earth. If anything, religions have been used as a reason to go to war. Look at the Middle East — it’s been forever that way in the recorded history of humanity. I just think if meditation could provide a pathway to world peace, then it is very worthwhile, so I was inspired to learn more and do more and be more of a part of anything that could provide a better way of life for humanity.
TJ: Has meditation helped you in your life?
LOVE: Oh, absolutely. I couldn’t have done 175 performances last year without it, because with TM [Transcendental Meditation] you can drop your metabolism to a level of rest twice as deep as deep sleep, meaning the breath rate goes way down. When the mind goes to the deeper levels and transcends or goes beyond thinking, the body correspondingly settles down to a deeper level of rest. So it’s very profoundly restful and relaxing and demolishes a lot of the tension and stress and fatigue inherent in the activity. Not only is it relaxing, but it gives you clarity and energy. Clarity comes in handy because even though there might be negative things that have gone on in your life or are going on in business, which is standard procedure with the record and touring business, still you’re able to have the energy and clarity to approach the activity and not let it stick to you...not let it get you down. So it’s been a huge help in that way.
TJ: Is it true that Charles Manson wrote a song for the Beach Boys?
LOVE: He wrote a song with my cousin Dennis. Dennis had him as a roommate for a period of time.
TJ: Did you ever meet Charles Manson yourself?
LOVE: Yes, I did.
TJ: What was he like?
LOVE: Crazy [laughs]. He was into mind control. He had this group of people with him and he called them the Family. A lot of it was driven by LSD and other drugs, so it wasn’t my cup of tea. I met him because Dennis introduced us to him but that was it. I don’t remember meeting him more than once.
TJ: I understand you’ve been performing in Japan since the 1960s. What was your experience in Japan like then?
LOVE: Well, rock music was new to Japan and they called it ereki gitaa. They were very sweet. I remember learning Japanese from some fans in the lobby. They would teach me their alphabet ... they would teach me how to count ... I would stay in a Japanese-style room with the shoji doors and tatami mats. I’m just a person who likes languages and various cultures and appreciates different philosophies and stuff like that. So I’m quite happy when we’re able to go to Japan, India, Korea or anywhere. I find it incredibly remarkable how our music sung in English goes over as well as it does in Germany and Japan and other places in the world where their first language is anything but English. A lot of people, I think, have learned to speak English from listening to music from America, and England, too. A few years ago, we did this Fuji Rock Festival and ... whenever we started one of those songs that were well-known single records from the ’60s, there would be a roar coming up from the audience — a roar of recognition. It was very impressive. And the same thing [happened] in Germany when we were there just recently. The German audience doesn’t know what we’re saying in every word ... but they certainly love the music — the beat, the sound, the harmonies ...
TJ: What has been the biggest change you’ve experienced over the years with the Beach Boys?
LOVE: Well, I think the sophistication of the audience. As the generations have come along, there are multiple generations now that have been exposed to Beach Boys music — those people who were original fans in the ’60s are now in their sixties or seventies, and their children and their grandchildren [are also fans]. So their successive generations have been turned on to the Beach Boys, and the Beach Boys represent quite an important musical contribution from America, I think. In fact, we’re known as “America’s Band” by some, and I think that’s been a positive for us. One time we went to Czechoslovakia six months after the Russians had invaded it, and representing America, representing rock and roll, representing relative freedom, we were welcomed incredibly. They were subjugated and suppressed by the Russian Red Army ... so they responded to us like they were welcoming some heroes or something [laughs.] “Sur n’ USA” meant something to them — more than the average fan anywhere in the world, because of what they had been through recently. I think the Beach Boys’ music has transcended barriers and languages and geography and it’s a wonderful thing.
TJ: Where is your largest fan base outside of North America?
LOVE: Probably Great Britain ... probably Germany would be second ... or maybe tied, I don’t know. Those two have always been A) large record markets and B) very pro-Beach Boys.
TJ: Is there some place that you really want to travel to that you’ve never been to?
LOVE: Russia and China. We’re doing Hong Kong. I guess you could say that’s China, but mainland China — we’ve never been to Beijing, Moscow or St. Petersburg. I would like to be there someday and, hopefully, do it with a symphony orchestra.
TJ: What is the key to writing a great song that catches on?
LOVE: Well, in my case, I’ve come up with a lot of hooks. Something catchy like, “Round, round, get around, I get around,” or “I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s givin’ me excitations,” or “Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take ya, Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty mama,” in “Kokomo.” So, in those instances, I came up with what’s called a hook ... as well as the lyrics to those songs. So there’s the lyrical message, which needs to resonate with the audience, but also there’s the musical value and something catchy that catches the ear and you can hum it to yourself. There’s, “Let’s go sur n’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how, come on and safari with me” — I came up with that and did all the words to “Sur n’ Safari.” I wrote all the words to “California Girls.” Brian did the track and harmonies and stuff.
TJ: Will you ever write with Brian again?
LOVE: I don’t know. We tried to three years ago for the 50th anniversary thing, but it never happened, which is a huge disappointment for me.
TJ: What is it you respect the most about your cousin Brian?
LOVE: His musical ability. Nobody is better at structuring harmonies and vocal arrangements.
TJ: What kind of music are you into composing these days?
LOVE: I have written a number of songs — maybe 40 or 50 songs that I’ve never come out with, which I’m in the process of revisiting and updating and in some instances re-recording to make them more compatible with what’s going on now. We’re not going to vie for any hip-hop or rap or any of that stuff. But there are quite a few classic people like James Taylor and various other people who have their following, and I’m hoping that the Beach Boys’ fans over the decades will appreciate some of the newer material that I’ve been coming out with.
TJ: What do you like to listen to these days?
LOVE: I have a daughter who just turned 20, and I end up listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse [laughs]. She exposes me to more of the modern stuff. Several years ago when she was in high school, she turned me on to Foster the People, which is cool, and then they ended up doing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” on the GRAMMYs with us three years ago. Adam Levine and his group did “Surfer Girl,” and then we all did “Good Vibrations” together. That was pretty remarkable.
TJ: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
LOVE: I have a book that we’re working on. I’m the author and Jim Hirsch is the writer — he’s a best-selling author. The target [distribution] date is September. It’s my story of the Beach Boys; it’s called Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy by Mike Love.
TJ: Do you have advice for aspiring musicians just starting their careers?
LOVE: Stay away from drugs. If you’re really good at lyrics, find somebody who’s good at melodies. If you’re really good at both, then find somebody who’s good with the keyboard to help you get them committed. Yoga and meditation are good things to keep you on a path that’s less problematic than drugs or alcohol can be. There may be a temporary relaxation factor in those things, but there’s always a side effect and sometimes it’s cumulative. Because my cousin died of lung cancer, I’d say don’t smoke cigarettes — just [do] practical, healthy things. It’s so weird to me that so many people do some serious drugs out there in the world and I don’t understand it. There’s a rumor going around that meth and heroin and all those kinds of things are not good for you, and yet people still find them attractive. So I like meditation, yoga and exercise — making you feel good naturally, with no negative side effects. Keep your lifestyle as clear and as clean as you can. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.