Beach Boys' original sound is kept alive

Mike Love
By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

The Beach Boys featuring Mike Love and Bruce Johnston; Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury; December 9, 8 p.m.; for further information, call 203-755-8483.

The ocean's roar continues to reverberate through the music of the Beach Boys. While their former leader and chief composer, Brian Wilson, focuses on the solo career that he launched in 1998, the band's lead singer, lyricist and Wilson's cousin, Mike Love, and Bruce Johnston, who replaced Wilson on the road in 1966, keep the flames of the Beach Boys' original sound alive.

"It's hard to recall every concert that we've done," said Love, who performs with the Beach Boys at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut on Dec. 9, by telephone. "I guess we've played more than five thousand concerts. We played one hundred and seventy two shows last year. This year, we're slacking off. We're only doing about one hundred and fifty."

Although they still perform tunes from their groundbreaking 1966 album, "Pet Sounds", including "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "God Only Knows" and "Sloop John B", the Beach Boys' recent performances emphasize their earliest recordings.

"We like to create that energy that came of age in the 1950s and 1960s," Love explained. "Little Richard, Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers they were the roots of the Beach Boys. We got our harmony inspiration from the doo-wop groups, as well as from the Four Freshmen."

While there are plenty of ballads scattered throughout their sets, hard-driving rock tunes dominate.

"We love to do the ballads," Love said. "Beautiful harmony songs like 'In My Room,' 'Surfer Girl.' But, there's nothing that beats the energy of rock and roll. We're doing 'Summertime Blues.' That really rocks out."

A high point of the Beach Boys' shows comes with their playing of "Kokomo." Written by Love, Terry Melcher, John Phillips and Scott McKenzie, the tune had become a chart-topping pop and video hit after being featured in the Touchstone-Disney film, "Cocktail" in 1988. It was the group's first number one hit in 27 years.

"I wrote the chorus, 'Aruba, Jamaica, ooo, I wanna take you to Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama,'" Love recalled, "John Phillips [of the Mamas And The Papas] wrote almost every word in the first verse and I wrote all the words in the second verse. It was a true collaboration."

Love was not surprised that the song became such a monster hit.

"For the people who look at the Beach Boys, nostalgically," he said, "it gave the feeling of going somewhere nice. Young kids saw us on [TV show] 'Full House' doing the song. Others saw the video with Tom Cruise and John Stamos. It's a really nice groove of a song. Along with a beautifully- lyrical verse, it had a combination of elements that are irresistible."

Love's greatest criticism of the Beach Boys' "Smile" album. Originally planned as a follow-up to "Pet Sounds" in 1967, the album was not issued until being re-recorded by Wilson and his current band in 2004.

"I had a lot of issues with that album," Love remembered of the original recordings. "There were a lot of drugs being taken by Brian and the people around him. I didn't approve of that kind of behavior. So, it became a 'them and us' kind of thing. Bruce, Al Jardine and I didn't do drugs and the Wilson brothers did."

" I like lyrics that make some kind of sense," he continued. " 'Good Vibrations' was a unique song. With the lyrics, which I came up with, 'I'm picking up good vibrations, she's giving my excitations,' everybody understands the boy-girl attraction. So, even though the track was mystical and avant-garde, the lyrics connected. My feelings about the 'Smile' album, the lyrics were so obtuse, to me, they didn't make much sense."

Despite their success, the Beach Boys have experienced a lifetime of struggle. Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983, Carl Wilson succumbed to lung cancer in 1998 and Brian Wilson's psychological bouts have been well documented. Love has sued the elder Wilson several times, the most recently after the release of "Smile," and former band-mate Al Jardine for use of the Beach Boys name.

Nevertheless, the surviving Beach Boys reunited, on June 13, at a ceremony celebrating the double-platinum designation for domestic sales of more than two million units of their 1993 compilation, "Sounds Of Summer - The Very Best Of The Beach Boys."

"It was very pleasant," Love said. "Brian asked me, two or three times, if we could get together to write."

Although they haven't released a studio album since "Summer In Paradise" in 1992, the current Beach Boys can be heard on an album, "Songs From Here And Back", available through Hallmark Cards. In addition to seven live tracks, the album includes new songs from Jardine and Wilson, as well as a new song by Love, "Cool Head, Warm Heart."

"I wrote that song about all the issues and problems going on these days," Love said, "Columbine, road rage, war in the Middle East, economic issues and everything else. It's actually something that the Maharishi said. I took that slogan and went on from there. I turned it into a contemporary pop song."