The Beach Boys have been blessing audience’s ears with happy and fun tunes (with occasional blasts of melancholy) for 50 years. As they embark on a 50th anniversary tour, they are preparing to release their 31st album, titled That’s Why God Made The Radio, which is also the title of the first single. Almost anyone who listens to music can think a happy thought as it relates to Beach Boy classics like “Good Vibrations,” “Kokomo,” “Surfin USA” or one of their other countless hits.
I was able to speak with Mike Love and Brian Wilson before the tour kickoff and it proved to be one of my toughest interviews to date when I spoke with Wilson.There were moments when you had to wonder why he is speaking to the press at all and others when you remembered the pure genius inside his head as he spoke about mixing harmonies on the new album and just being happy to play again with the band that made him a legend. We reached a nostalgic and introspective point as the legends looked back on a remarkable career.
The Beach Boys' 50th anniversary tour comes to Riverbend Music Center this Tuesday.
CityBeat: If you were writing “California Girls” today, how would you describe them and what are the big changes?
Mike Love: The thing about “California Girls” is that it is a riveting song saying, “I wish they all could be California Girls,” and then talk about all the places around the country. I don’t think there would be much changing to do. Of course our original fans are now California mothers and grandmothers. I believe it is all the same.
Brian Wilson: No, I would do it the same as it was.
CB: What has been your process for putting together the set list of songs for the shows coming up?
Brian: We all got together and chose the songs together and we finally narrowed it down to two hours or two and a half hours of songs.
Mike: I’ll tell you what, there are several songs that we absolutely do at every single show we do — “California Girls” being one of them, “Good Vibrations” being another, “Kokomo” being our biggest hit of all. “Good Vibrations” was our biggest hit that came out in 1966, until “Kokomo” came out in 1988 and apparently surpassed that. And then there are songs like “I Get Around” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “Surfin’ USA” and “Help Me Rhonda” — we are always going to do those big hit songs because we believe people are going to come see you for what you are known for. We are most famous for those big hit recordings we have had.
Then there are other songs we are doing on our set list called album cuts that are a little more subtle, a little more esoteric. Then there is a song called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” originally done by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers during the ‘50s. My cousin Brian came up with a really great vocal arrangement so we enjoy doing that song. Whether it is a point of view of doing a song we feel hardcore fans know or the Beach Boys music that I can recall, we like to do some songs that will please them as well so we balance the songs, the set list, the selection of songs all throughout the years, up to and including our newest record which is called That’s Why God Made the Radio.
CB: On the new album there are fun and upbeat songs, as always, but there are also songs embracing some melancholy of the past like “Pacific Coast Highway.” Why was it important to have both on the album?
Mike: I think there has always been melancholy and upbeat aspects to our songs. For instance “Surfer Girl” is slower and romantic. “In My Room” is kind of introspective, and if you will a little melancholy like ("Warmth of the Sun"), which is also a beautiful, slow ballad, but I think mainly it is the result of the collective nature of all of us.
There is the obvious sun part of life that we have here in Southern California growing up, you know with the featured years and when we recorded “Barbara Ann” and “Lookin’ For Romance” and then “California Girls” and going around the world and experiencing upbeat and positive things like car songs or surfing songs. There is that aspect of it. Then there is also that more internal, introspective aspect of things. So there are definitely both types of music in the Beach Boys catalog, definitely. There is the melancholy and the happy and upbeat.
I think that is how life is. Sometimes, people experience moods or situations in life that are not so much upbeat or fun, death of a loved one or breaking up with somebody.
CB: What is it like having three generations of fans singing along at the shows now?
Mike: It is pretty amazing. It is really wild how well people have responded to us all being together. It re-establishes the theorem from math that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Brian Wilson has been doing his own solo projects and recordings and touring for the last several years. I have been touring as the Beach Boys with Bruce Johnston and occasionally David Marks, our original guitarist. Al Jardine has been doing his own thing but we all got together because of the specialness of the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys.
That is the real catalyst that got us together. In addition to that remarkable milestone, there is the fact Capitol Records gave us an opportunity to record a new studio album, so we all got together, a lot of time had passed since we last did an album but it was kind of weird how familiar the whole process felt and how normal it sounded when we were listening to our performance coming back through the speaker in the studio. A lot of time had passed but not much had changed really in terms of Brian’s ability to structure the harmonies and chord progressions and our abilities to harmonize and perform the songs. It was really cool, the two things together, the 50th anniversary and going out to tour together along with doing the new record, those two things, gave us the encouragement to get together and do this together. And the response from the public and so many places have been phenomenal, the Hollywood Bowl in Southern California sold out 17,500 seats.
CB: Brian, are there going to be any tributes to your brothers on the new tour when you guys perform?
Brian: We have them on the screen. Carl’s face is back there and it’s all on the screen for the audience to see.
CB: How do you think the 50th anniversary tour will differ from your very first tour on the road?
Brian: There are going to be a lot of different musicians. My solo musicians are backing us up now.
Mike: On our very first tour, what we did was we would do about four sets a night in a ballroom somewhere and then we would drive in a station wagon with a U-Haul trailer in the back and drive to the next place maybe 2-300 miles away and do it all again the next night or maybe the night after with travel in between. It was very rudimentary. The sound systems at the time in 1962 were really primitive in terms of music. The places we played were ballrooms where big bands played or country bands played or places where they had wrestling matches or little sports arenas. The sound systems were so rudimentary and primitive.
But Rock music got to be so strong as an economic force because there were so many records being played and record players being bought and concerts going to that the quality of production and the sound systems grew by leaps and bounds very quickly in the early and mid-’60s and so now days there is great sound and great lighting and they have big screens in the back at shows where some video clips, one of which is of Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson, cousins who are no longer with us, but we actually have them singing with us. We are able to do that these days where the first tour was just real basic. We didn’t have all our own songs at the time either. What we did was Chuck Berry songs, Ray Charles songs or Doo-Wop songs and a combination of surfing instrumentals along with our first recordings.
It is quite a bit different these days. We have many more hits songs to do of our own and the sound is fantastic compared to what it was in the early days.
CB: Dick Clark passed away recently and he played an instrumental role with the band in the ’60s. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Mike: He was such a nice man. He really was. He was one of the most successful people in the business of music. He was really smart and really nice. There are people you meet along the way that aren’t so nice but Dick Clark was always a wonderful person to come in contact with. We were able to do New Years Rockin’ Eve and his Bandstand show back in the early days. He was always a great guy and a really nice guy. I actually met him a couple occasions outside of shows and he was such a pleasure to be with, very smart, great looking guy, very personable, treated everybody with all kinds of respect. He was a really great person and it is sad to see he passed away since he is such a part of all of us in the music business from the ’50s ’60s ’70s and ’80s to today, a focal part of our lives.
Brian: It is so sad to see him die. He was one of my favorites.
CB: I wanted to ask you about a couple of the new songs. “Isn’t it Time” was one of my favorite tracks on the new album. Can you tell me the story behind that song?
Mike: Yeah, that was a song Brian developed and didn’t have all the words together but he had all the music done and I was able to complete some of the lyrics. What I try to do is have the lyrics match the mood of the track, the musical part of it and it was a bit nostalgic you know with that title because it has been a while since we have gotten together and done what we do. So it is about time.
CB: It is a little bit introspective for you guys?
Mike: A little bit, a little nostalgic, a little introspective. I think a lot of songs get that way, maybe not nostalgic but certainly you do a lot of thinking about what you are saying or communicating in these songs and “It’s About Time” is a fun song. It was a fun song to sing and it was happier after I wrote the words for it.
CB: What was the process for you guys to write the songs? I know you came to the band with a lot of the music put together but lyrically did you sit together as a band and write or was it just you and Mike?
Brian: It is mainly me and Mike.
CB: What has been you biggest Rock & Roll moment?
Brian: When we do “Good Vibrations”
CB: What is your favorite song off the new album to perform?
Brian: I liked “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”
CB: When you were recording That’s Why God Made the Radio, were you reminiscent of the 1960’s when you started?
Brian: Yeah, we wanted them to be like the ’60s harmonies.
CB: I read an interview recently from 1967 where you guys talked about that your present (at the time) musical influences were of a religious nature, not a specific religion but an idea based on a universal consciousness about spreading goodwill and happiness. Do you think this is still true with the new album?
Brian: Yeah, we have a song called “All This is That”, and it is about universal love.
CB: So are you happy to be back?
Brian: Yeah, it is good to be back with the guys.
CB: It seemed like you guys were very happy in the performances that I have seen. You are going to be traveling all over the world on this tour. Are there any particular cities or venues that you are excited to play again?
Brian: All of them
CB: Do you have any fond Cincinnati memories from the past?
Mike: Yeah, I remember playing (Kings Island) many times and Riverbend years ago; downtown, we played there after a baseball game to a packed house. We have done some really great concerts in Cincinnati over the years and we are really looking forward to coming back. We haven’t been to the Riverbend in many, many years.
CB: What can the fans look forward to when you guys come to Cincinnati?
Brian: They can look forward to all the Beach Boys classics.