BY Linnda Durre
Listening to the Beach Boys sing some of my favorites: “God Only Knows,” “The Warmth of the Sun,” “In My Room” and “Don’t Worry, Baby”- I’ve always been impressed by the spiritual sounds in their music. Hearing an instrumental version of each song sounds like church choir music or Gregorian Chants – blended harmonies, counter point, and heavenly music.
Mike Love, lead singer of the Beach Boys for 50 years confirmed my intuition in my recent interview with him.
Photo Credit: David McClister
“We started out singing in the choir and on Sundays in the Angeles Mason Presbyterian Church,” he recalled. By “we”, Mike meant the core of the original Beach Boys, Mike and his cousins Dennis, Brian, and Carl Wilson. Mike’s supportive mother, aptly named Glee Wilson Love, was the sister of Murry Wilson, the strict and reportedly highly abusive father of Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson.
“We would all sing together at family gatherings, holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and birthdays. My mother organized it and she would make a big deal,” Mike continued proudly.
Mike’s sister, Maureen Love, who grew up to be the harpist of Pink Martini, and the boys all sang and harmonized together, their golden voices blending ethereally to make such heavenly sounds. What were their other early musical inspirations, I asked him.
“I loved Chuck Berry and the Doo Wop groups – their clever lyrics, the hooks, the alliteration, the harmonies, and the syncopation,” he mentioned.
The boys were also influenced by the Everly Brothers harmonies, and Brian was particularly fascinated by The Four Freshmen, making his own sounds and harmonies even more intricate.
And so the singing, which started in church, blossomed into songwriting. Murry seemed to be a frustrated songwriter himself. In 1952, he had one song of his performed on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” Murry may have been living vicariously through them, envious of their immense musical abilities, their youth, and their whole lives in front of them, but at least he had the vision to spot the talent in his sons, his nephew Mike Love, and the boys’ friend Al Jardine. He rehearsed them repeatedly as a band. Soon, through the boys’ talents and Murry’s efforts and connections, they landed a record
contract with Capitol Records and the rest was history.
From what I’ve read in the biographies and what I’ve seen in the biopics, Murry was a man whom you couldn’t seem to please. It must have been like jumping endless hurdles – he’d raise the bar a bit each time and demand you jump it again. The boys’ resentment grew and grew until they rebelled and removed him as their manager. Murry’s bitterness continued, but the boys were adults and able to sign their own contracts. They needed to get away from his verbal and physical abuse. The recent movie, “Whiplash” starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the abusive band teacher and conductor, may be similar.
Mike described Murry as “mean-spirited, tough, and not a nice man.” If Murry’s mental, verbal and physical abuse was true as reported and portrayed, Murry would probably be in jail for child abuse if he repeated today what he did to the boys then. Unfortunately, there were not sufficient child abuse laws on the books in those days. Claims have been made that Brian’s loss of hearing in one ear was because Murry hit him so hard. Thank God it didn’t damage Brian’s other ear, or the world would be less blessed by their music. But even hearing loss didn’t stop Brian’s genius for song-writing. Brian wrote “Surf City” for Jan and Dean – Jan Berry and Dean Torrence - and Dean who was majoring in advertising design at the USC School of Architecture, reciprocated and did the logo for The Beach Boys.
In 1961, as the band’s lead singer, Mike wrote the lyrics to their first hit, “Surfin’.” In five years,Mike co-authored eleven Top Ten hits with his cousin Brian Wilson including, “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “California Girls,” and the Grammy nominated “Good Vibrations.” It seems Murry deliberately eliminated Mike from songwriting credits on many Beach Boys songs, and he refused to relent when Mike confronted him.
“Brian wanted to rectify it,” Mike stated. But it seemed that Murry was against it, hence the law suit that Mike filed in court, which he eventually won. His back songwriting royalties were finally paid to him and his songwriting co-authorship credited to him.
When people say it was all Brian Wilson’s songwriting abilities, they unfairly omit Mike’s contributions. Further proof of Mike’s musicianship is “Kokomo”, which was featured in “Cocktail,” starring Tom Cruise. “Kokomo” was #1 on the top ten list and Mike, Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son), Scott McKenzie (“If You’re Going to San Francisco”) and John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas all shared writing credits on it. Brian had no part in the writing of that song at all. There is a 22 year span - one of the longest periods between #1 hits – from “Good Vibrations” in 1966 to “Kokomo” in 1988, and Mike Love was the co-author of both songs. He has been lead vocals for the Beach Boys over five decades, which also signifies the appeal that the Beach Boys have all over the world.
They appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand,” “The Tonight Show,” and many other national and international TV shows.
“One of my biggest thrills was performing in ‘Live Aid’,” Mike stated. “We were in Philly and there were thousands in Wembly Stadium singing along to our songs. It was something!” That was in addition to multiple performances at various Farm Aids, plus the 100th Anniversary Salute to the Statue of Liberty, the Super Bowl, and the White House. One July 4th in 1985, they played to almost 2,000,000 eager listeners at shows in Philly and Washington, D.C. Mike is also particularly proud of his contributions to the “Tribute to George Harrison” in 2001, the video, “All This is That” taken from Vedic Scripture.
It was Mike’s idea to perform free Independence Day concerts on the grounds of the Washington Monument beginning in 1980. I recall the controversy that erupted when then Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, banned The Beach Boys for the event. But then First Lady Nancy Reagan intervened and they returned on July 4, 1984, through her personal invitation. The next year, The Beach Boys played to an afternoon audience of 1,000,000 in Philadelphia and the same evening they performed for over 750,000 people on the Mall in Washington, D.C. This was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Mike and The Beach Boys did 142 shows last year and their tours have included shows in all of the Americas, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia. Mike hasn’t had a summer off in 50 years as lead singer of the Beach Boys. Odd for someone who has glorified basking in the sun and surfing during summer days!
The Mike Love’s “Love Foundation” supports national environmental and education initiatives. Mike Love and the Beach Boys raised over $250,000. for the Red Cross to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina and made additional contributions to the disaster relief aid in Haiti.
“I’ve always been sensitive to the environment,” Mike stated. “We’ve done benefits for Make a Wish Foundation and we’re in support of philanthropic groups and environmental groups, like the Surf Rider Foundation, which has 60,000 members. They do a lot of good work.”
Besides his philanthropic work, awards and accomplishments continue. Mike was inducted in 1988 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the other founding members of the Beach Boys. Love and Bruce Johnston recorded the album “Symphonic Sounds: Music of the Beach Boys” with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Mike just turned 74 on March 15. Being a vegetarian and his twice daily meditation must be working its magic since he looks like he’s 50. Since 1994, he has been married to Jacquelyn Piesen, his wife of the past 26 years and they are parents of two children. Mike has a total of nine children –six from four previous marriages and one from another relationship. He is planning on releasing his autobiography, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy, working on it with well known writer, James Hirsch.
And besides the spiritual aspect of some of their songs, they are the quintessential singers of surfer music, as well as being rockers, still going strong after 50 years. The members of the band have changed over the years and the group playing in Orlando at the Hard Rock Live on Friday, April 10th at 8:30 PM consists of Mike (lead vocals), Beach Boy veteran Bruce Johnston (vocals and keyboards), Tim Bonhomme (keyboards/vocals) John Cowsill of pop 60’s fame (percussion/vocals), Scott Totten (guitar/vocals), Randell Kirsch (bass/vocals), and Jeffrey Foskett (guitar/vocals). Their friend John Stamos (“Full House”) will be playing with them on this evening. Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks will not be on this tour.
If you’re a baby boomer, listening to their surf sounds, songs about girls and cars will transport you back to your high school days to relive your youth! Younger generations can take delight in the bouncy songs and listen to the intricate rhyme schemes, counterpoint, and heavenly
harmonies. The world is blessed with their heavenly sounds! Good sounds, good charity, and good vibrations – all thanks to The Beach Boys.
That’s Beach Boys at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live on Friday, April 10th at 8:30 PM.
The Beach Boys Tour Dates:
Mike Love's website:
©2015 Linnda Durre' , All Right Reserved