“A lot of people are thinking that Mike Love is crazy but they've been saying that for years. Ain't nothing new about that.” -Mike Love at the Beach Boys' 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
On Friday, the remaining Beach Boys announced that they would be reuniting to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The band has promised an album of new material and a 50 date tour starting in April at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. For many nostalgic music fans this is good news. For fans of Brian Wilson — the guiding musical force behind the Beach Boys — however, this is terrible news.
Let's take a quick step backwards: For the band's first five years together in the early '60s, things were all sunshine and hot rods. They helped to mythologize southern California as a paradise for teenagers. Before Brian Wilson turned 24 they'd already released ten albums, and he was worn out, retiring from touring to focus on the recording studio.
Driven by existential and chemical discoveries, 1966's Pet Sounds was creatively leaps and bounds beyond what had come before. Lush orchestrations and a partnership with lyricist Tony Asher ushered in a new maturity. The girls took off their bikinis and put on wedding dresses. For Love, all of this was trouble.
“We were touring a lot and we'd come back in and do an album like Pet Sounds, for instance, and some of the words were so totally offensive to me that I wouldn't even sing 'em because I thought it was too nauseating,” said Love in 1992.
His mantra was “don't fuck with the formula,” and no one was more detrimental to the musical progress of Brian Wilson than he. Had it been up to him, they'd still to this day be singing about surfboards and teenage lust. Indeed, without input from Wilson, the remaining Beach Boys' most notable hit was 1988's “Kokomo,” a soulless ditty about sunny retirement destinations.
But history quickly sorted out the brilliant from the bullshit. Rolling Stone called Pet Sounds the second greatest album of all time, and the finally-unearthed follow-up SMiLE is a treasure trove of pop artistry. Meanwhile, Love and Al Jardine were separately working the casino and state fair circuit, rehashing the old chestnuts.
After being sued by Love three times in the last twenty years it is hard to fathom why Brian Wilson would want to continue to work with him.
Like a person who returns time and again to an abusive relationship, Wilson has brought Love back in to his professional life and has allowed him to celebrate fifty years of piggy-backing on his brilliance.
It is unlikely that this new tour will feature many of Wilson's “acid alliteration” songs. It is sure to be a bunch of 70-year-old boys singing about girls and beaches.
“What holds us together as a team is the music…and greed,” Love once said. It's hard to know what Wilson's true motivations are for doing this, but it's hard not to suspect cashing in to be one of them. It seems likely that, in the end, Love's influence was as strong as we all feared.