‘Good Vibrations’ resonate at MACC
The Beach Boysâ sunny sound delights generations
Hawaii has long held an almost mythical fascination for the Beach Boys. The legendary band first began singing about their love for the islands in 1963, with “Hawaii” and “Surfin’ USA,” where they dreamed of surfing at Waimea Bay.
“All my life I wanted to see the island called Hawaii,” says Beach Boys’ co-founder Mike Love quoting lyrics from the song “Hawaii.”
On the “Smiley Smile” album, the quirky “Little Pad” featured the Beach Boys singing about wanting a “little pad in Hawaii,” while Carl Wilson played ukulele. They also immortalized their affection for Hawaii with the unusual instrumental “Diamond Head,” complete with ukulele, steel guitar and lapping wave sounds, on the “Friends” album.
And in 1978 they recorded the fun Al Jardine/Love composition “Kona Coast,” where they sang, “at Lahaina look out for shooting stars.”
Love recalls how he used to fly to Hawaii for long weekends.
“I’d get on Western Airlines who flew there for $200.04 roundtrip. Those were the days.”
Having produced 36 U.S. Top 40 hits, more than any other American rock band, the Beach Boys’ massive popularity began in the early 1960s with a stream of teen anthems from “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Surfin’ USA,” to “I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda,” all espousing the joys of fun in the sun.
It’s Love who sang the lead vocal on many of the band’s biggest, early hits, including, “Surfin’ Safari,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “I Get Around,” and “California Girls.”
What does he think accounts for their enduring popularity over five decades?
It’s likely a combination of those extraordinary harmonies coupled with joyful themes.
“When we started making music, it was for the sheer love of singing those harmonies,” he says. “That’s the unique feature that distinguishes the Beach Boys from many other groups — the sophisticated, beautiful harmonies. I think it’s the quality of the heart in the music, along with the beautiful harmonies and the sheer joy that some of the themes bring.”
Beginning their career as the most popular surf band in the nation, by the mid-60s they had evolved into America’s greatest pop group, rivaling the Beatles for creativity, producing masterpieces like “Pet Sounds,” which was later praised by Rolling Stone as the second greatest album of all time, after “Sgt. Pepper.”
Initially conceived as an effort to top the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul,” “Pet Sounds” included the No. 1 million-selling single “Good Vibrations” — subsequently hailed by many critics as one of the greatest songs of all time.
Love singles out “Good Vibrations” and “Kokomo” as two of the band’s proudest musical moments.
” ‘Kokomo’ was a huge hit for us, our largest-selling single,” he notes. “But ‘Good Vibrations’ is the one you have to say you’re most proud of. My cousin Brian (Wilson) did the amazing track over a few months time. I came up with lyrics to complement the work he had done — ‘I’m picking up good vibrations / She’s giving me the excitations.’ It was unique and creative and successful.
” ‘California Girls’ is not a bad song either. I wrote all the lyrics to that — ‘I dig a French bikini on Hawaiian island dolls / By a palm tree in the sand.’ That was 1965, another reference to Hawaii.”
Into the late ’60s and early ’70s, the band released a series of stellar albums such as “Wild Honey” (“probably the funkiest Beach Boys album,” reported Bruce Johnston), “Holland,” “Carl And The Passions — So Tough” (Elton John has praised its “moments of breathtaking genius and experimentation”) and the critically-acclaimed “Surf’s Up,” which featured the stunning masterpiece title track, later proclaimed by the music magazine Mojo as the Beach Boys’ greatest song ever.
The original members final full album together, “LA (Light Album)” in 1979, included the vocal gem, “Good Timin’, “ and Dennis Wilson’s extraordinarily soulful, “Angel Come Home.” It also featured a shocker for fans — an 11-minute disco song.
In 1988, they returned to the chart with the Grammy-nominated, No. 1 hit, “Kokomo,” co-composed by Love, featured in the Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail.”
Since the death of Carl Wilson in 1998, the Beach Boys have been led by Love, with Johnston intermittently performing. Brian Wilson has toured and recorded with his own band and with Jardine.
To mark their 50th anniversary, in 2012 the surviving original members reformed for a historic tour and returned to the studio to produce the remarkable album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio.”
It marked their highest charting studio album of new material since 1965. The Los Angeles Times praised it, “contains a number of elegant, shockingly beautiful moments that not only do justice to and expand on the sound of Southern California in the 1960s, but serve as a bittersweet and, at times, heartbreakingly brilliant coda to five decades in music.”
“It was pretty darn nice,” says Love about reteaming for the album. “Brian (Wilson) and I were in the studio listening to a playback of the song ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio,’ and we remarked that it’s still like 1965 all over again. The Beach Boys have had different periods of music. In ’62 we had ‘Surfin’ Safari,’ and then by ’65 it was more like ‘California Girls’ and in ’66 it was ‘Good Vibrations.’ Getting together felt like deja vu and sounded like deja vu. Sadly we were missing Carl and Dennis (Wilson), who were both huge losses for us, but they live on in the music.”
Will there be a follow-up to “That’s Why God Made the Radio”?
“It would be nice, but everybody seems to be doing their own thing,” he says.
Love recently released the solo album, “Unleash the Love,” which features 13 new songs and 12 re-recordings of Beach Boys’ classics like “Help Me Rhonda” and “Good Vibrations.”
“My voice is still in good shape and I co-wrote the songs with my cousin,” he says about re-recording Beach Boys’ classics. “I thought it would be fun to revisit several of them.”
The album also includes his George Harrison tribute, “Pisces Brothers,” which was inspired by a trip the Beach Boys co-founder and the Beatles took to India in 1968 to learn from the spiritual teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
“There’s new songs like the title song and ‘Getcha Back,’ which gets a big hand every night (in concert),” he adds.
For their Maui show, Love will be joined by Beach Boys’ veteran singer/keyboardist Johnston, along with his son Christian Love, guitarist Jeffrey Foskett (who played on the Boys’ “Kokomo hit”), keyboardist Tim Bonhomme (a band member since 1996), bassist Keith Hubacher, guitarist Scott Totten and drummer John Cowsill (of The Cowsills).
“It’s really rewarding,” Love concludes, reflecting on their continuing concert popularity. “These songs have created so much happiness for so many people for so many years. Were it not for the fact that audiences express so much pleasure, I doubt we’d be doing it. It’s wonderful to see multiple generations enjoy the Beach Boys together.”
Congratulations to the more than 20 Maui bands and solo artists who were just nominated for a 2019 Na Hoku Hanohano Award. We’ll have coverage of all the nominated Maui artists in the next Maui Beat.