Mike Love Shares Beach Boys Stories, Talks New Music
Jacob Uitti-May 7, 2020
At 79-years-old, you might not expect to hear of Mike Love, co-founding member of the famed group, The Beach Boys, writing new music. But that’s exactly what the long time surf-rocker has been up to. On May 1st, Love (along with John Stamos of Full House fame on drums) released his latest song, “This Too Shall Pass,” a rollicking little ditty about maintaining patience during the pandemic that assures the listener that will be a light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel.
We caught up with Love to ask him about the origins of the new single, what he’s been doing while social distancing (hint: meditation), what it was like growing up in a musical family, and much more Beach Boys-centric history.
Well, I’ve been singing all my life. My mom was fanatical about music. I grew up in a home overlooking Los Angeles in a place called The Baldwin Hills and in the living room we had a Steinway baby grand piano, a Hammond organ and a Lion & Healy harp. I have two sisters that play the harp and every birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, every cause for celebration was all about music.
Of course, the older folks would have their standards from the 40s, and so on. And my cousin, Brian [Wilson] and I, being only a year apart, we loved the Everly Brothers and all the doo-wop stuff and a lot of the R&B stuff. We would sometimes sit out in the car and listen to the R&B radio stations. In fact, that influenced us a lot, particularly the doo-wop style. We recorded our version of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and a couple others, too, like, “Come Go With Me,” Al Jardine did the lead on that one.
But there’s never been a time in my life when there wasn’t music. My mom would wake us up to go to school in the morning to opera music, which was her favorite. So, I’m traumatized by opera music. But, yes, it was always about music. My mom sang opera when she was in high school. My dad was a good sport, he sang along and he could carry a tune, but it was really my mom’s side of the family. Her brother was Murry Wilson, who is the father of Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, my first cousins. Of course, myself along with Brian and Carl and Dennis, we started the Beach Boys.
Did you spend time developing your voice growing up?
I never took any voice lessons, per se. But we always got together and sang harmonies. I would gravitate to the bass part and Carl would be above me and then Brian would be on the top. We emulated the Four Freshmen. In fact, we learned a few of their arrangements. The Four Freshmen are just amazing artists and singers. We have a fellow in our group nowadays who was 18 years with the more modern incarnation of the Four Freshmen. We actually do one of their songs called, “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring” a capella. We also loved the Everly Brothers and their blend and their harmonies and their great songs. We loved the doo-wop songs of the day. But the Four Freshmen really influenced us and really distinguished the Beach Boys harmonies with those four parts. That distinguishes our sound from so many other groups, I believe.
Did you look into barbershop quartet stuff at all in those days?
My uncles on my mom’s side, they were big into boogie-woogie and some barbershop quartet-type singing, as well. We liked that, we liked groups like the Mills Brothers and the Hi-Lo’s and stuff like that. So, we were very much attracted to that style of singing, mainly the a capella stuff, or the [music] without much of a track, just [enough] to support the vocals. So, that was a big influence on us. We didn’t try to do the barbershop, per se. But the influences were similar.
You come from a big musical family, many of whom went on to great fame. But what was it like to sing together before you became famous?
The first memory I have of my cousin Brian singing, he was on my Grandmother Wilson’s lap, singing, “Danny Boy.” And his voice was just amazing! Just a beautiful voice. Then we would get together when we got a little older and do our music that we gravitated to from the radio. The Everly Brothers really stood out. But we’d also go to church, Wednesday night youth night at the Presbyterian Church, and we’d go sing the songs that they’d have you sing, gospel and spiritual songs. Then we’d walk home from there, Brian and my sister, Maureen, who plays the harp and played on “In My Room” and “Catch A Wave,” back in the early days. We would sing Everly Brothers in three parts.
Then when we finally got to Brian and Carl and Alan Jardine and myself, we loved it. Particularly Brian and I. We would sometimes sit out in his Nash Rambler [car]. We wrote a song called, “Brian’s Back,” many years ago. Carl Wilson sang the high part on it and I sang the lead. In the song, I reminisce about sitting in Brian’s Nash Rambler. He would come over to my place and we got kicked out of the house because it got a little late and we were playing music or singing and stuff – my dad would throw us out of the house because he had to get up so early to go to work. So, we would go out to Brian’s car and tune in to the, you know, a lot the R&B stations or anybody playing rock ‘n’ roll or blues.
We were passionate about music. Brian gravitated towards the piano and was able to sit down and craft these great chord progressions. But before we became a group, before we even recorded, we would just sing, like I said, Everly Brothers songs or the doo-wop songs of the day or Chuck Berry songs. It was just taking what was in our musical environment through the L.A. radio scene and singing along to them and doing our own versions of songs like, “In The Still Of The Night.” There was a song called “Bermuda Shorts,” which we sang back in the day and it’s kind of embarrassing, but it was fun.
Do you have a favorite memory from the early Beach Boys recording days, a lyric or guitar part that fell into place at 2 o’clock in the morning?
The most dominant memory would be when we did our first recording, “Surfin’.” We had gone to a producer in Hollywood at the suggestion of my Uncle Murry, and we sang a song or two but they wanted something a little different than just a guy singing some song that preexisted. So, we came back to them with a song called, “Surfin’,” which I wrote, like, 90-percent of. Brian sat at the piano and did, “Surfin’, Surfin’! Surfin’ is the only life, the only way for me now. Surf with me! Bom-bom-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit!”
So, we just hammered that song out and when we went to record, Al Jardine came up with some money from his mom to buy some equipment. We had a snare drum, a standup bass. Carl Wilson had his guitar. It was very rudimentary. Very, very basic. But it was catchy and had the harmonies and a little bit of a doo-wop influence. So, that was the first song.
When we first heard it on the radio, we about freaked out. There was a radio station that played it and they said they’d play about five songs and the one that got the most requests, got to be the song of month, or some time period. And they’d play it several times a day. We had a huge extended family. My mom was one of eight kids and everybody’s cousin and brothers and friends all called in. So, we easily won the contest and we became the featured song.
It went to, like, #1 in Vegas, #2 in L.A., you know, something in Minneapolis. But it was with a little independent record company and they even declared bankruptcy later so he didn’t have to pay us. A couple years later we signed a long-term contract with Capitol Records and the very next year we had “Surfin’ Safari,” which was a reasonable hit, and “Surfin’ USA” the next year.
Did you ever think in your entire life that you’d be doing a Zoom recording during quarantine with a famous sit-com star for a new song about social distancing?
First of all, I’ve never spent this much time at home in the last six decades! The longest time I ever had off was when I went to a six-month long meditation course in 1977. But this has definitely been, you know, an interesting time because I’ve never had this much time off. I was thinking about the stress that people are going through. I mean, so many people, what is up to over 30 million that are on unemployment and funds are low and rents are high and, you know, food is a tremendous issue.
So, we decided when I did this song, “This Too Shall Pass,” hoping to give a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel and raise some spirits, we’re also hoping if we sell any of them through Spotify or Amazon or iTunes, we’re going to donate the entire proceeds and so is the record company, BMG, we’re all donating the entire proceeds to FeedingAmerica.org, which is an amazing organization. They have a couple hundred affiliates around the country that endow many food banks, which are extremely needed these days.
The first few verses of the song deal with what we’re going through – you know, shaking hands is a thing of the past because of social distancing, we have to wear gloves and a mask and it isn’t even Halloween. The second verse gives a shout out to all the first responders and the National Guard and the doctors and nurses working real hard. So, I was able to just sit down in my studio in my home in Lake Tahoe and I just started writing out thoughts.
I came up with many more lines than I needed for a song, but nonetheless, I had a lot of great help from our keyboard player. I called him up to get the key and the tempo and went sent that on to our musical director, who’s been with us for almost two decades, and he put a track together. John Stamos [from Full House] did the drums and he also helped put the video together. And everybody sent in their parts from different locations, from Florida to Nashville, Vegas, Santa Barbara and Lake Tahoe! We all did our part.
The song has some very signature Beach Boys harmonies. Was that fun to lay down and coordinate?
Yeah! Well, I wanted to say, “We’ll get back to having fun, fun, fun in the sun.” And that goes for us too. Not only the public at large who can’t go to a concert or game anymore, temporarily. But I’m looking forward to getting back to – I really miss being able to do what we do. It’s so uplifting. We always have such a great time at our concerts. I’d say the majority of the audience does too, you know? For six decades almost, we’ve been doing what we’re doing. Doing these concerts, we love it! Our lifetime has been music and it’s been a real joy to hear back from people what our music has meant for them.
Meditating has been an important part of your life and, I imagine, now especially during quarantine. How has meditation helped your creative spirit these days?
It’s been helpful to me for about 50 years. I learned meditation directly from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, it’s called “Transcendental Meditation.” I learned from him in Paris in December of 1967 and I’ve been doing it ever since. In fact, I went to a month-long TM course and then two-and-a-half-month teacher training course and a six-month meditation course in ’77. So, it’s been a big part of my life. At home, my wife and I will maybe go down to the lake and we’ll walk along the lake. Or, maybe I’ll walk our dog, and stuff like that.
We have plenty of time off – I’ve had more time at home in the last couple of months than I’ve had in, you know, 50 years! So, it’s different. But meditation – see, with TM, what happens is you sit and you close your eyes and you’re taught a certain mental technique, a way of calming the mind. It goes to finer and finer, deeper levels of thought. And you transcend, which means go beyond – you go beyond thinking to the source of thought. You go inwards.
Maharishi talks about how you “draw the arrow back” before you release the bow. So this going within, it gives you more rest and relaxation, but it also makes you more dynamic outwardly when you’re actually in activity, whether thinking or acting and doing stuff. So, it’s been an enormous help in terms of keeping stress level down and fatigue levels dealt with. Because your blood chemistry actually changes when you do this form of meditation. So, you’re very, very relaxed and able to deal with stressful situations. And now is a stressful situation, when the agent calls up and says 60 concerts have been cancelled or postponed, I say, “Oh, thanks!” But rather than jump off the building [Laughs] I decided, well, let’s put this time to some positive use and create a song called, “This Too Shall Pass.”
I have to ask, I’m an NBA fan and you have a famous basketball player nephew, Kevin. Did you ever try to teach him how to sing?
He can sing! But he’s too shy. He can be on television in front of millions of people and be in a packed house with 20,000 people. But he’s shy when it comes to singing. But he loves music, as we all do.
You weren’t there during the finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers won, were you?
No, we were at home and we were all watching from the comfort of our home in our family room. And we were all screaming and yelling and shouting. It was exciting! So, he’s still in Cleveland so we’ve got some roots out there with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
I lived in Cleveland for a short time and I think it’s actually a nice, hidden gem.
You had a long and famous and illustrious career with the Beach Boys. When you think about it, is there an emotion or memory that comes to mind when you think about all the years you had together?
Back in the mid-80s, a guy named James Watt, who was the Secretary of Interior for Ronald Reagan said that rock music wasn’t appropriate for July 4th. We had already done three concerts in Washington D.C. before he said that. So, we actually came back the following year – he was gone from his job, Nancy Reagan took care of that, I think – and we stepped out on stage, probably three-quarters of a million people in front of us. And they gave us a standing ovation before we did anything. I said, “Wow, that is incredible!” There were, like, 40,000 calls to the Department of the Interior complaining about his decision not to allow us to play on July 4th. It messed up their phone system for a good week. President Reagan made fun of it
But it showed us how much music means and how much our music has meant to so many people in our country and around the world, as well. We’ve gone to places that I never thought I’d see but our music preceded us through the radio. We’ve had #1 records in Australia, South Africa, Israel, the Philippines, Japan and Germany and all over Scandinavia. It’s been an amazing thing. I think that’s the thing. “Good Vibrations” came out in ’66 and in November went to #1 and we were voted the #1 group in England, #2 being the Beatles. So, that was an amazing thing that we were regarded that highly.