Vibrations always good for Mike's Beach Boys
BY WARWICK MCFADYEN
Mike Love is still surfing the waves of success at 68 years of age. Those waves, more nostalgic than anything else these days, will deposit him and the band in Australia this month.
Some may take umbrage at the band's name, but it depends on one's definition of a band. Some might argue: how could a group that does not include its iconoclastic genius pop songsmith Brian Wilson, who is off doing his own thing, or his brothers Carl and Dennis, who are both dead, still be called the Beach Boys? Surely, it should be the Beach Boy (Love) and guests - although Bruce Johnston, who is in the band, has been there almost from the start.
However, Love owns the name. It's for this reason that former Beach Boy Al Jardine tours with a group called Endless Summer and Brian Wilson tours as Brian Wilson.
Still, the Beach Boys name, at least, celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. In 1961, the brothers Wilson and Love recorded Surfin'. Love still has a copy of the debut single, and he often uses part of it as the introduction, in all its primitive crackling glory, to their concerts before the band segues into the rest of the song.
Pop stars can burn across the sky in an instant or they can explode, flicker or fade. That the Beach Boys - despite the ins and outs of the band members - have been doing all three for half a century is an astonishing achievement. It is especially so when you consider their rivals in the mid- '60s for title of masters of the universe, the Beatles, lasted but seven years. Only the Rolling Stones, led by the Peter Pan of music Mick Jagger, can boast similar staying power.
Love allows himself a slight laugh at their longevity, and of their music's popularity. ''We never could've foreseen still doing music going on 50 years later,'' he says. ''That's pretty remarkable.''
Retirement isn't in his vocabulary. He looks to two giants in the industry, B.B. King and Tony Bennett, both of whom don't know the meaning of the word. Love is on the road for 150 shows a year - ''We've been watching B.B. very closely,'' he says. ''If people ask if I'm going to retire I say, 'Well, I'm going to ask Tony Bennett, he's in his 80s and he looks good and he sounds great.''
As for his voice, the more you exercise it, he believes, the better shape you keep it in. That voice, the instruments and the four-part harmonies will be enfolded in a multi-stringed symphonic lushness this month. If there is a band's oeuvre that is perfect for such treatment it is the Beach Boys' and yet, says Love, the Beach Boys in concert previously played with a symphony orchestra 20 years ago in Denver, Colorado. The same orchestral charts will be used for Australia.
Part of the genius of Brian Wilson was to bring four-part harmony into the world of pop. Phil Spector, who was king of the pop world when the Beach Boys were starting out, famously described his productions as ''a Wagnerian approach to rock and roll: little symphonies for the kids''.
Wilson wasn't so much Wagner as Bach on a surfboard - not so much The Ride of the Valkyries as the Well-Tempered Clavier. Until the drugs and mental health problems surfaced and Wilson swapped the metaphorical board - he didn't actually surf - for a sandpit, which was real. He covered a floor in his house with sand and put a grand piano in it.
The harmonies, says Love, are what set the group apart. ''Others can do two or three, but not many can do four.''
The four-part harmony is a distinguishing feature in the vocal structure of hymns. The Beach Boys turned songs of praise from God-worship to adoration of the sun, surf, cars and girls.
To Love, ''it's a wonderful thing to see multiple generations discover the Beach Boys. We have children to seniors in our audiences - that's pretty phenomenal. We, as musos, feel validated doing songs from 40 years ago. It's pretty special and it's like that when we go out and do these songs regardless of who's there and who isn't there.''
As to contact with Wilson, Love says there's not a lot of that - ''He's on his own surfing safari doing his own touring and albums and I'm doing 150 shows a year''.
But even if Wilson is not in the band in which he crafted pop jewels, his spirit through the songs will always be in the room. This time around, there'll be strings attached.