By Scott Meeker
Mike Love remembers looking at the lyrics for the then-newly written song “Kokomo” and being disturbed by them.
Off the Florida Keys
There’s a place called Kokomo
That's where we used to go to get away from it all
“I thought, ‘Oh no. This sounds like some old guy lamenting his youth,” said Love, the lead singer of the Beach Boys. “My thought has always been to try to think about how (a song) is going to communicate what we want it to communicate to the widest possible group of people.”
At his insistence, writer John Phillips changed the line to “That’s where you wanna go.” The song would go on to be one of the band’s biggest hits.
Songs celebrating youth, young love, fast cars and good times are at the root of many of the Beach Boys’ greatest hits which the audience can expect to hear when the band perform Sunday at Downstream Casino.
Love said that the music has come to embody the title of his favorite release by the band, the 2003 greatest-hits package “Sounds of Summer.”
“We actually haven’t had a summer off in about 40 years, but that’s OK,” said Love. “Musicians love performing. And if you don’t, you better get out while the getting is good.”
That’s what Brian Wilson — the band’s founder and chief songwriter — did in 1964, being replaced on tour first by Glenn Campbell and then Bruce Johnston. Johnston still performs with the band today.
But it’s not a dig at his cousin, because Love credits Wilson as being “incredible” when it comes to music arrangement and a “master of harmonies.”
Love said that he can’t help but be amazed sometimes at how so much of Wilson’s music has found an audience with each successive generation.
“Three years ago, my daughter who was 13 years old at the time said that ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ was her class’ favorite song.
“That song, the lyrics appeal to a young generation of kids who are in love. We may look at it nostalgically, but every successive generation has that boy-girl attraction.”
After Brian stepped back from touring and a combination of drugs and mental illness took their toll on his songwriting, the band struggled to find their footing and their place in the music world. Their constant touring helped the band find popularity as a live act, and the nostalgia inspired by their greatest hits helped secure them the title of “America’s band.”
Drummer Dennis Wilson died in 1983, and Carl Wilson succumbed to cancer in 1988. Brian Wilson eventually severed his ties with the band, as did original vocalist and guitarist Al Jardine. Lawsuits among the surviving members are not uncommon.
In reading what has been written about the band over the years, Love is not always portrayed in the most flattering light. There are plenty of allegations of condescension toward the direction Brian’s music was taking and a domineering nature when it came to how the band was run.
But Love said that those accounts aren’t accurate and that he feels he has been unfairly portrayed.
“A lot of that is just hearsay by people who weren’t even there,” Love said. “Some writers get all caught up in that and lose sight of the music.”
Much of the rumored acrimony, he said, came from a tumultuous time during the band’s history, when they fired Murry Wilson — the Wilson brothers’ father — as their manager.
“And then there was a time in the late ‘60s when the Wilson brothers got into drugs, and Al and I got into meditation,” he said. “There was definitely a division there, which led to some people making comments.
“But that’s pretty much in the past, and my personal relationship with Brian is great.”
Still, the surviving members of the band continue to tour separately — Love and Johnston as the Beach Boys, while Wilson and Jardine perform with their respective bands.
But Love said that fans of the band can take heart: with a milestone in the Beach Boys’ history approaching, there is a strong possibility of a reunion of some sort to come about.
“We’re looking at doing a 50th anniversary celebration in 2011, and that would entail seeing what we could get together and do recordingwise,” he said. “And the PBS show ‘American Masters’ is interested in doing a documentary about the band. There are a lot of interesting possibilities likely to manifest in the near term.”
Reunion or no reunion, though, Love said he believes that the Beach Boys’ legacy in the world of American music is already secure.
“I think the band’s legacy is already being realized to a pretty good degree,” he said. “Our music has been part of the soundtrack of America, and I think it will always be a super positive legacy because of the good feelings it has made people enjoy over the years.”