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
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. There are situations in life that lend themselves to the more serious or somber or melancholy. Then there are the activities and situations in life that are far more upbeat and fun.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.