Do It Again

13 June 2012 | 12:24 pm | Steve Bell

The Beach Boys founding member Mike Love pours over five decades of fantastic (and some not so fun) memories as they celebrate their 50th anniversary.

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About a week before Christmas, 2011 – after nearly a full year of rumours, denials and speculation – it was announced that US legends The Beach Boys would be reuniting for a world tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary as a band.

Despite the obvious milestone, there were a myriad of reasons as to why this came as a surprise to many pundits – primarily the age and varying health of the remaining members (in particular that of genius frontman Brian Wilson, who hadn't performed a full tour with the band since 1965), plus the fractious relationships between many of them in recent years – but this potential baggage was quickly overridden by the collective goodwill that had accumulated for the band, their enduring body of music and their contribution to popular culture over the past five decades.

Then it was revealed that they'd be making a new album to accompany the tour – the first new Beach Boys material featuring Wilson since the '80s – and the seeds for their new album That's Why God Made The Radio were sown.

“It's pretty remarkable,” founding member and vocalist Mike Love marvels. “When we heard the songs in the studio after we'd sung all of our parts and listened to it all back, it was pretty amazing. A lot of time has passed since we've even done anything together recording-wise, but I don't think anything's been lost in terms of the ability to harmonise, the ability to sing together, and the ability of Brian to structure those harmonies like only he can. He's one of the greatest ever at that kind of thing.”

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According to Love, The Beach Boys didn't articulate a direction for the new album; they just got in the studio together and let the magic take its course.

“I think it's more the songs dictated [the direction], but I think because of the fact that we're getting together for the 50th anniversary, there's an element of us being influenced by the perspective of having spent so many years together as a group,” he reflects. “There's a song called Isn't It Time, which is about the fact that good things don't always have to be in the past, so recreating those good vibrations in other words. Whether we've been together physically or not, we've been together as a group and in terms of a career and a body of music. One cannot escape or avoid that, nor would one want to.

“There's also elements that sound a little more [1966's classic] Pet Sounds-ish, and there are elements which sound like something a bit earlier, around the time of [1965 single] California Girls, I'd say. I think there's kind of a blend of influences on the album.”

Apparently The Beach Boys' indubitable chemistry came flooding back once they reconvened to record, especially with Brian Wilson in the producer's seat.

“Oh yeah, it was amazing when we heard the playback of all of us singing,” Love marvels. “Brian knows intimately our strengths and our voices and where we need to be put in the couple of octaves that we're dealing with: I'll sing a bass part, but I'll also sing a lead, Alan [Jardine] sounds really strong in certain registers, and Bruce [Johnston] can sing ultra-high. So it's cool – everybody has their strengths and Brian knows exactly where to ask us to fit in vocally within the arrangement of a certain song. It was very natural for us to get together. Nothing was really lost in terms of the techniques, it's just that the technology has gotten a little more advanced these days than when we used to do things on a four-track recorder.”

Love has been touring his version of The Beach Boys around the globe for years, keeping the flame alive, but he concedes that it's obviously a different live beast with the band's original line-up back in the fray.

“Yeah, it's quite a bit different with, say, Alan singing Help Me Rhonda instead of somebody else and Brian singing I Just Wasn't Made For These Times from Pet Sounds,” he smiles. “I told him before we even stepped foot on a stage, I said, 'If you do I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, people are going to cry, including probably me!' It's such a dramatic song, it just pulls the empathy out of you and the band sounds great doing it.

“We're doing two hours of music and ending the show in a way that's pretty incredible, with Good Vibrations, California Girls, Help Me Rhonda, Surfin' USA, Kokomo, Barbara Ann and Fun, Fun, Fun – it's hard to beat that ending! We're extremely conscious of doing the songs that casual fans will appreciate hearing, but we're also aware that there's a hardcore fanbase out there who might have favourites as well; it's a broad spectrum. Some of them mightn't have been the biggest hits, but they're either fun or challenging for us to do musically and are highly appreciated by the hardcore fans – we try to blend it all together and make it a really worthwhile experience for everyone.”

It's also a great way to bury a few hatchets, particularly between the cousins Love and Wilson, whose relationship in recent years had been soured by ongoing legal stoushes. Or that's how it looked from the outside, at any rate.

“The reason that some of those perceptions came about was because I was not credited for some of the songs that I wrote, including Help Me Rhonda, California Girls and I Get Around, for three,” Love tells. “I was not included in the writing credits even though I did all of the lyrics in California Girls and significant amounts of lyrics in I Get Around and Help Me Rhonda and a couple of others that I was not credited at all for. That was as a result of my uncle Murry [Wilson – Brian's father and The Beach Boys' domineering manager in the '60s] not crediting me so he didn't have to pay me. The only recourse I had was to establish my rights through the legal system, which might look like I had a problem with Brian, but Brian wanted to rectify it, he was just unable to for legal reasons. He actually called me person to person and said, 'Hey, let's work this out' and we tried to do that – but he wasn't allowed to, so the only recourse I had was the legal recourse.

“But I know where he's coming from, and he knows where I'm coming from, and inter-personally we've never had an issue – I don't think we've had any negative blood at all. So we're able to be onstage together and I get to give him accolades during the show, so everything is very cool. It feels good to get together with everybody and lay aside our individual pursuits in favour of doing something together.”