Mike Love: An American poet

Mike Love, original lead singer of the Beach Boys, will be at the Four Bears Casino on Nov 16, 2019. Photo courtesy

Since their initial inception in 1961, nearly every American has made at least one memory in the vintaged annals of their mind that has been backlit by the lush and, at times, erratic music of the Beach Boys.

On Saturday, Nov. 16, “the Midwest farmer’s daughters,” and all other North Dakota Beach Boy lovers, can catch the group, led by Mike Love, as he, along with longtime member Bruce Johnston, musical director Scott Totten, Brian Eichenberger, Christian Love, Tim Bonhomme, John Cowsill, Keith Hubacher and Randy Leago continue the band’s beloved legacy at the Four Bears Casino and Lodge, in New Town, N.D.

Propagators of the postwar American Dream, Mike Love, neighborhood friend, Al Jardine, along with the Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis, began their careers trumpeting the sweet life filled with surf boards, fast cars and fun times and have for the past six decades, remained true to that carefree spirit by always abiding to a little artlessness in their art.

Setting the scene for the coming frenzy of Beatlemania, their soaring, luxurious harmonies which swung to ruckus rhythms, compelled young people scream and faint and stamp and holler as Mike Love’s natural poetry conceptualized the images and mythos of teenage America in the early 1960s.

But make no mistake, the Beach Boys were no mere boy band.


To truly understand the musical aspects of the Beach Boys’ music, fans are encouraged to listen to the exquisite sounds of The Four Freshman, a late-40s jazz harmony troupe based out of Greencastle, Ind., that all but floored the rock band’s musical powerhouse, Brian.

“I couldn’t get enough,” Wilson said in his biography, Inside the Music of Brian Wilson: The Songs, Sounds and Influences of the Beach Boys’ Founding Genius. “I bought every album and single I could find. I played till the grooves wore out. Transfixed. Fascinated. I absorbed every note of every song, figuring out how the lush, intricate harmonies were woven together, discovering how to do it myself.”

Although Brian’s comprehension of complex vocal harmony was exhuberantly animated by his cousin, Mike’s, obession of rhythm and blues and doo-wop and, although a whirlwind of melodic and tonal magnetism erupted when the boys practiced the songs of their heroes like the Everly Brothers, something was still missing from their overall aesthetic.

“I’ll admit, my interests were poetry and literature,” Love told the Press. “ I was terrible at math and science, but I was pretty good at languages and literature, so I would read poetry and all kinds of American Literature. I used the influence from the structure of poetry and I learned that — absorbed that — by reading tons of Emerson, Whitman and even old English stuff like Chaucer.”

Indeed, it was Mike Love, the group’s main lyricist at the time, drawing inspiration from the innocent and adolescent attitudes of those classic tunes written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (“All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Bye Bye Love”), as well as from the great American writers like Twain and O. Henry, that sculpted the group’s carefree, springtide, Golden Coast image that we’ve all grown to love.

“I combined that appreciation of language and poetry with the observation of where we grew up — the Southern California experience — and I came up with “Surfin,” “Surfin Safari,” “Surfin USA,” “I Get Around,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun,” Love told the Press.

“I came up with an idea with my cousin, Brian, to say, ‘let’s do a song about a girl who borrows her dad’s car and tells him she’s got to go to the library to study, but she doesn’t — she goes out and cruises with her friends, to see and be seen’,” he said of the latter song’s conception. “That was just part of Americana growing up.”

Love also credits his artistic capacities and general attitudes to his household. Always occupying the role as joker of the group, fans have for decades, doted upon the singer’s humorous ad-libs and vocalizations, honks, hoots and tootles that have added liveliness and character to even the most abstruse of Brian’s heady compositions.


“It’s a family tradition,” the frontman said in that iconically comic tone of his. “We used to sit around the dining room table and crack jokes. It’s just how we grew up, you know? My dad was a very hard working guy, but he was capable of some pretty cut and dry observations. He had a sense of humor and all my brothers and sisters would all have at it at each other. It just became a way we communicated.”

“I think (having a) sense of humor played a big part as a release of stress,” he added.

In addition to imparting a strong sense of whimsy to his everyday demeanor, Love’s family ties have also positioned the American Midwest to a special place in his heart, a fact embodied by those classic lines the group’s 1965 anthem to American maidens, “California Girls”: “The Midwest farmer's daughters really make you feel alright,” Love croons on the record. “And the Northern girls with the way they kiss/ they keep their boyfriends warm at night.”

“We’ve always appreciated the history of the West,” Love said, also pointing to a song entitled “Heroes and Villains,” the lead track off their 1967 album, “Smiley Smile,” the lyrics of which were inspired by Marty Robbins’ 1959 country and western hit, “El Paso.”

“My mother was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, and the Wilson brother’s mom was born in Minneapolis to German parents, so yeah, we have those Midwest connections,” the singer told the Press before he admitted to hastily penning the lyrics to “California Girls.”

“My cousin Brian was doing the track with the Wrecking Crew (an ensemble of renowned studio musicians which included the likes of Glen Campbell and Carol Kaye) and I stepped out in the hallway and I came up with the lyrics,” he confessed. “Brian had the chorus, but he didn’t have any of the verses so I went out and wrote the verses.”

“It came together beautifully,” the musician said with a timbre of satisfaction in his voice.


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