Mike Love is not exactly surprised that the Beach Boys are having a lot of fun, fun, fun as the iconic group celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
“You know, it just makes a lot of sense with a milestone such as 50 years to get together and do something,” says Love, 71, who along with bandmate Bruce Johnston has been the Beach Boys’ mainstay, hitting the road every year to play the group’s array of legendary and enduring hits. “I think it should be celebration and ... a party as well.”
It’s certainly all of that.
The Beach Boys have turned the group’s golden anniversary into an extended period of good vibrations for fans, and for the band itself. It’s marking the occasion with a long-awaited reunion of surviving members Love and Johnston with Love’s cousin and Beach Boys studio mastermind Brian Wilson and original members Al Jardine and David Marks. Things kicked off with a galvanizing performance at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards in February, while a well-received concert tour begun in April will run until late September with dates in Europe, Asia and Australia as well as North America.
The Beach Boys also hit the studio together for the group’s first new album since 1996, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” released on June 5. The 12-track set debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 — the band’s highest-charting studio album since 1965 and first Top 10 entry since 1976. It also gave the Beach Boys the longest career string of Billboard Top 10 hits of any band, at 49 years and one week, ahead of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
More festivities are planned — a PBS “Front Row Center” special that starts airing this week, another TV special — probably network — during the fall, a new greatest-hits package later this year and, Love says, a live album and DVD from the tour.
“I did not think, even in my greatest fantasy, this would happen because I thought it would redefine the word ‘impossible,’’ confesses Johnston, 69, who joined the band in 1965. “Especially coming from the world of rock ’n’ roll, you just don’t have 50 years. Tony Bennett certainly does, and B.B. King. So all of a sudden — and the (Rolling) Stones are going to find this out — you’re actually going to celebrate 50 years, and we can do it.
“I think that’s been the impetus to get everybody to talk about it and do it.”
Love adds that, “It’s great to have everyone together, and the audience response is amazing. We’ve been apart for a long, long time, but this (reunion) has certainly proven out to be a really great idea.”
Bringing the sound of California surf and sun to the pop mainstream during the early ’60s, the Beach Boys’ enduring impact certainly can be seen in statistics. The group is the top-selling American band of all time, with more than 100 million records sold and three dozen Top 40 hits — the most of any American group — including the chart-toppers “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Good Vibrations” and 1988’s “Kokomo,” from the “Cocktail” film soundtrack. The 22-year gap between the last two even set a world’s record.
The Beach Boys also created one album, 1966’s “Pet Sounds,” acknowledged to be one of the greatest in pop music history. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
There’s a dark side to the group’s august story, however. There also were the emotional breakdown that forced Brian Wilson off the road in the mid-’60s (though it gave him plenty of time to exercise his studio genius), the tyrannical reign of his father and original band manager Murry [cq] Wilson, the late Dennis Wilson’s substance addictions, Carl Wilson’s death from brain and lung cancer and assorted infighting and legalities that have been well documented.
Time, however, has allowed wounds to heal and perspective to be gained.
“Nobody was enemies,” Johnston explains. “Everyone’s had fake judo fights over the years, but there’s a lot of padding so no one got hurt. The part that you think would be difficult, to turn the friendship light back on and then get back into the music, that was pretty easy. People just fall right back to their original parts.
“I think when we walked into where we were gonna rehearse for the Grammys, after the first time we ran through ‘Good Vibrations,’ I knew this whole thing was going to work.”
Love, who wrote one track on “That’s Why God Made the Radio” and co-wrote three others, adds that, “Getting together wasn’t (difficult) at all.”
“It was really effortless and natural. The only thing that does differ is in the past I had an opportunity to get together directly with Brian and come up with a song from scratch, and this album ... is mostly songs that had been started, so primarily my job was to sing my part and complete some lyrics.”
The reunion process began during 2011, after several years of outreaches between the parties and missives delivered through the media. Joe Thomas, a longtime friend and collaborator of Brian Wilson’s and PBS “Soundstage” producer who refers to himself as the “quarterback” or “facilitator” of the reunion project, says he and Wilson uncovered some songs they worked on while making Wilson’s 1998 solo album “Imagination” that Thomas says “were always songs he had earmarked for the Beach Boys” — including an early rendition of “That’s Why God Made the Radio.” Carl Wilson even sang on some of the early demos of those songs, Thomas reports.
But realizing “there really couldn’t be a Beach Boys album without Mike’s collaboration,” Thomas and Wilson took the songs to Love during the spring of 2011 in Palm Springs, Calif. Love hopped on board in a hurry, and Thomas says that “we got those guys in the studio again and it was 1965 all over again.”
Thomas does, however, acknowledge that pulling the various parts of the Beach Boys together required careful handling.
“There’s lot of factions,” he says. “The thing people have to realize is this not only involves the Beach Boys who are living. It also involves the estates of Carl Wilson and Dennis and royalty accounts and all of that. The Beach Boys live on not only physically but also with monetary implications. It’s still a band.”
And speaking to that, Love notes that the Beach Boys’ high-end reunion tour has been something of a sea change from the lean ’n’ mean ship and he and Johnston usually steer. “It’s very expensive to do it the way it’s being done, with the production and the travel and all of that,” he says. “But that’s the kind of tour it is, and there’s so much positivity involved in all of us being together that we’re just going with it.”
How long the Beach Boys reunion will continue is an open issue, meanwhile. Both Love and Thomas say more new songs exist and that, according to Love, “there’s talk about doing another album” as well as “a return to the Grammys” in 2013, particularly if “That’s Why God Made the Radio” receives some nominations. Promoters have also been lobbying for more shows, although Love and Johnston are taking their band, without the other three, to South America in October.
Johnston predicts that the reunion will be a one-and-done proposition.
“I think it’s going to be one special tour and that’s it,” he says. “It’s with Al and Dave and Brian, so it makes it really kind of special. We’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.” But Love isn’t ruling anything out.
“There’s a lot of ideas being floated around but nothing definitely in stone,” he says. “We’ll just have to see what the consensus is after finishing up this year of the reunion, and then we’ll take a look at what else we can do in the future. I know I’d be happy for it to continue.”
The Beach Boys perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 30, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $69.50 and $35 pavilion, $25 lawn with a $60 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com. “The Beach Boys: Doin’ It Again” on PBS’ “Front Row Center” airs at 10 p.m. Friday, June 29, on WTVS-Channel 56 in Detroit.
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