Surfin’ SA with Mike Love and the Beach Boys

The Beach Boys are all set to perform in Cape Town, says current lead singer Mike Love

Mike Love and his cousin Brian Wilson created the original spark that set off the Beach Boys. Question is; did they actually go ‘Surfin’ USA’ during the 1960s? I spoke to Mike Love, current lead singer of the reformed Beach Boys, to find out whether there’s a possibility of another hit single, ‘Surfin’ SA’.

“In high school if the surf was up then myself and a couple of buddies went surfing," says Mike, "I came up with a song called ‘Do it Again’ and went to my cousin Brian.”

Mike’s cousin Brian Wilson then wrote the music to ‘Do it Again’ and later stated that he feels it’s the best collaboration they ever did. The song was released as a single in 1968 and talks about “all the positive things about that lifestyle. We grew up just a few minutes from the beach. Surfing was an inspiration for the songs.”

“I was a pretty bad surfer but I would go.”

He fondly recalls the whole ‘cool culture’ behind surfing, how to dress, how to talk, how to act. It was the same all over the world, including South Africa, “that’s why our music resonated”.

The Beach Boys was of course also a hit in South Africa and still strikes a chord that goes beyond surfing culture. Ticket sales for their Cape Town concert at the Grand Arena on 6 and 7 December 2010 exceeded expectations: “I was worried about it as it is a Monday, but we might add a second show.”

“We’ve played in Sun City in 1981. Never played in Durban and never played in Cape Town. I personally drove around the Garden Route and briefly visited Cape Town. The coastline reminded me of Northern California.”

It will be his first time back in Cape Town since the eighties and he is curious to see how the city has changed. Mike looks forward to entertaining the beautiful people: “We’re gonna do everything from our first hit ’Surfin’ to ‘California Girls’ and ‘Kokomo’. “

“Kokomo was actually the biggest hit record we ever had. We will do all these hits that we were known for.  And then some harmonies and an a capella song [unaccompanied vocals]. We’re doing a whole range of songs.”

Something that Mike is quite proud of is a relatively new song called “Cool Head Warm Heart” which was on an album that the Beach Boys released about three or four years ago.

“We don’t try to adapt.”

While there are different trends in popular music the Beach Boys just does what feels right: “Every year or two a Beach Boys song comes out in a major motion picture.”

“My daughter came to me when she was ten and told me that her class group’s favourite song was ‘Wouldn’t it be nice’. It’s because at that time it was on the soundtrack for the movie ‘50 First Dates’. After that it was also featured in ‘It’s complicated’ with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

“We are in our own musical world. There was disco. We didn’t do disco. There was country. We didn’t do country.”

Mike is adamant about not following trends but admits that there were other musicians that influenced their music: “I went to high school in the 50s with my cousin Brian. We were just one year apart. We liked the same music, fun songs with fun stories and doo-wop harmonies.”

They liked the Everley Brothers and Chuck Berry, "the original rock ‘n roller". Brian Wilson was especially impressed with The Four Freshmen, who created modern harmonies. He “became obsessed with them and we learned some of their arrangements which were very hard. In fact, we still perform one of these songs, 'Their hearts were full of spring'."

“If I hadn’t learned this I couldn’t have dealt with the pressures”

A lifetime of fame and fortune has its temptations, but Mike found balance: “There were a lot of people who resorted to drugs but I was fortunate enough to meet the yogi Maharishi Mahesh and learn transcendental meditation”

Transcendental meditation (TM) is a form of mantra meditation which promotes a deeper level of rest and helps to combat fatigue, tension and stress. In 1967 Mike went to India to meet Mahesh and meditated together with the Beetles: “I still remember Paul McCartney coming to the breakfast table and singing ‘Back in the USSR’ which was inspired by the Beach Boys style”.

“There is always revelry and music competition in Top 40 charts. The Beatles were hugely successful. ‘Good Vibrations’ went to No.1 in the UK. We were number one and the Beatles were number two. The Beach Boys was highly regarded in England. It was not a negative rivalry. The pop sound inspired the Beatles to do Sgt Pepper. We had a lot of respect for each other and loved each other’s music”.

So, what’s the Beach Boys’ plan post-Cape Town?

“Maybe”, he laughs at the suggestion of a song about surfing in South Africa, but there is something else on the horizon.

 “Mamma Mia was a big hit internationally. There is a movie. An Academy Award winning screenplay writer has been commissioned to write a screenplay. I’m looking forward to that.”

20th Century Fox owns the rights to develop a big screen Beach Boys musical. It’s going to be a “multi-million dollar production” and Mike Love is clearly excited about this brand new adventure: “That will be fun to see.’

“If I am asked, I would be happy to participate in the soundtrack.”

By Lize de Kock

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