Beach Boys’ Mike Love Talks ‘Pet Sounds’

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mike-love-good-vibrations-book-coverWhen the Beach BoysPet Sounds had its 50th anniversary in 2016, we asked Mike Love to speak out about the album and other topics.

Love, whose memoir Good Vibrations: My Life As a Beach Boy (available here), was published in 2016, is the cousin of the band’s other co-founders, Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson. Love was born on March 15, 1941.

His relationship with Brian, in particular, has often been strained, and in the 2014 Brian biopic Love & Mercy, Love is portrayed as something of a grouchy contrarian. He didn’t take long to let us know his side of the story.

How does Pet Sounds hold up for you?

Mike Love: The original Pet Sounds album is awesome for so many reasons. There’s a lot of inaccuracies, b.s., like I didn’t like the album.

Can we put that to rest then? Did you not like Pet Sounds?

That’s completely asinine. How many ways can I say it? First of all, I named the album. Second, all of us—Carl, Al, Bruce [Johnston], myself—we all worked really hard on the harmonies. Like 20-something takes on one section of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” There is a boxed set that came out 19 years ago that had just the vocals and if you listen to that, I don’t know if there are any better harmonies, or blends, from any vocal group, ever. I just don’t know if there is. I’d like to hear them if there is. I have all the albums that the Four Freshmen put out and they were phenomenal, a big inspiration to us. In fact, to this day we do “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring.” I don’t know—sometimes people need a bad guy.

How did that rumor get started that you didn’t like the album?

[My book] deals with a lot of the reasons why. There were the hipsters who were all into “LSD is going to be the messiah,” and I wasn’t a participant in that. There were the druggies and the people who weren’t, Bruce, Alan and myself. So there was a schism and there was a whole dynamic going on that was…for some reason some people need to find fault in others. It happened with the Beatles. Some people say, ‘John Lennon was the Beatles.’ So what was Paul McCartney, chopped liver? I don’t know whether it’s human nature or just wrong thinking but every group has its constitution of individuals and as Carl Wilson said, we weren’t just a pimple on Brian’s ass.

Love and Mercy didn’t help clear that up, did it?

That was more or less a fallacy in parts. I’ve often said that it should have been done by Disney because it’s a fairy tale. I have reasons for saying that which [are in] the book. So yeah, there’s been this myth that has a life of its own. One thing I was quoted as saying was, “Don’t fuck with the formula.” But I never said that. It’s the most famous thing that I said that I never said. The one good thing is that I know what I’ve done. I’m the only person in the Beach Boys who’s never left the group. I’ve done over a hundred shows a year for 55 years, OK? I don’t let that stuff bother me but it’s unfortunate because my kids and grandchildren have to grow up reading this stuff about their dad and their grandfather, so that made me want to do a book.

What do you remember most about the Pet Sounds vocal sessions?

A lot of times we were on tour. There were two groups: the recording group and the road group. Brian Wilson left the touring group in 1964, at which time Glen Campbell filled in for six months until Bruce Johnston joined. With Pet Sounds, we were touring in Japan and when we came back Brian had done some of these brilliant tracks. I remember listening to some of the tracks, let’s say, for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or “Sloop John B” or “God Only Knows.” How could you not love those tracks? So when people say I didn’t like the album and all this crap that they say, it’s disturbing and annoying. Except I don’t let it bother me because I know some people are just crazy. They’re sitting behind their computers with several different noms de plume. With social media a little mistruth can go a long way these days and have a life of its own. So it doesn’t disturb me, but if you’re going to ask me if I disliked it, how could you dislike that music? “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is a bullseye for a young person in love.

Anyone should be able to relate to those songs.

Exactly. And we relate to it more at our age more nostalgically, but so what? It’s a beautiful time of life. It’s a beautiful song and a beautiful vocal and arrangement. And I hit the bridge…Brian Wilson did the tracks, Tony Asher did the lyrics, except where I’d come in and add my two cents. As Tony Asher said, “Mike would add his magic.” A very kind thing to say.

Related: We also talked to Al Jardine about Pet Sounds

How do you feel about the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary boxed set?

Honestly, it’s so similar to the one that came out 19 years ago, I think it’s for only über fans. If you’re going to get something out of it, that’s great, but I prefer to stay with the original album. We usually do “God Only Knows,” “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Now we’re going to add three or four more Pet Sounds songs: “Caroline, No,” “I’m Waiting for the Day” and “Here Today.”

Related: Pet Sounds at 50

Where would you rank it among the Beach Boys’ albums?

Come on, even John Lennon said, “Dear me, what are we gonna do?” The beautiful thing about competition is it makes you better. So if Pet Sounds made a statement and got John and Paul worked up, that’s fabulous. It was a mutual admiration society. So you’d have to rank it right at the top. Everyone has different taste. Some people might like Shut Down, Volume 2. I was doing a meet-and-greet backstage and there was this beautiful little girl. It was one of those Make-a-Wish things; she had some issues going on. I said, “What’s your favorite song?” She said, “409.” It came out 40-something years before she was born. It’s the B-side of “Surfin’ Safari.” What that tells me is that no matter what your age is, you’re gonna have a favorite song and it might be from the [1967] Smiley Smile album.

Related: Our feature on Smiley Smile

I loved Smiley Smile!

It was used in drug rehab situations.

[Love’s memoir takes its title from this all-time great…]

Related: “Good Vibrations” also turned 50 in 2016

Who couldn’t like “Vegetables”?

Or “Wind Chimes.” We could give “She’s Going Bald” a pass. (laughs) But there are so many beautiful songs. It’s like you have a couple of hundred children. They all have different subject matters, different tempos, different lead singers. It’s kind of a beautiful thing for us.

Any theories on why Pet Sounds didn’t sell so well when it first came out?

A lot of theories. A wonderful guy named Karl Engemann was the A&R guy responsible for the Beach Boys. Brian and I played him the Pet Sounds album off an acetate that had just come from the studio, similar to the acetate that Bruce Johnston took to England and played for John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Keith Moon hooked them up. Derek Taylor, our publicist, who used to be the Beatles’ publicist, hooked Bruce up with that thing. Anyway, we played the album for Karl Engemann, and he listened to the album and said, “Gee, guys, that’s great, but couldn’t we get something more like ‘California Girls’ or ‘I Get Around’ or ‘Fun Fun Fun’?”

“Sloop John B” was a hit.

Oh yeah, “Sloop John B” was a hit, and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows”—they’re all iconic songs. But Capitol Records really didn’t know what to do with it. They didn’t know what to do with the evolution and the change the Beach Boys were going through.

The group was only five years old when you made Pet Sounds. It really was a remarkable change.

Right! It was a huge evolution.

Do you hear an influence on young bands today from Pet Sounds?

Yeah, you sometimes do. There’s a guy in England—I forget what his name is—and he sounds so much like me and some of his arrangements are totally Beach Boys-influenced. It’s cool. But we looked back to the people who came before us: the Everly Brothers, the doo-wop people, the Four Freshmen. So we’re all products of what came before us.

Watch Mike Love and the 2016 version of the Beach Boys at a Memorial Day concert

Tickets to see the Beach Boys are available here.

Jeff Tamarkin

7 Comments so far

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  1. steve b
    #1 steve b 15 March, 2020, 17:58

    your a lying bastard Love. You didnt like pet sounds or smiley smile and now they are iconic and you try to take credit for them just like you steal the beach boys name.You’d be nothing without the rest of the band.What an a hole whiny bastard

    Reply this comment
    • nomilktoday
      nomilktoday 15 March, 2022, 10:19

      Why can’t you leave this alone ? It’s OLD hat. Time to stop the hatred and get on with life.

      Reply this comment
  2. Radio Pete
    #2 Radio Pete 15 March, 2023, 17:19

    Was it Van Dyke Parks or Mike Love that generated the trashing of “Smile” when it should be been released? Capitol execs shelved the project, and by doing so they destroyed the once in a lifetime synergy taking place between Paul McCartney and Brian. . . . UNFORGIVABLE !

    Reply this comment
  3. Neal Umphred
    #3 Neal Umphred 16 March, 2023, 05:38

    Okay—I’m here because the teaser in the Best Classic Bands newsletter reads: “Mike Love Talks Pet Sounds. For his 82nd birthday today… We asked him why the classic album wasn’t a hit when it first came out.”

    I wanted to point out that PET SOUNDS reached the Top 10 on the Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World best-selling LPs charts.

    It wasn’t as big a hit as several of the group’s previous albums and we can discuss whether that was a natural response of the market to the change in the Beach Boys’ sound or whether Capitol failed to properly promote the album and supply re-orders but that’s a conversation for an endless summer or two on the back porch with a big fan and a lot of cold beer …

    Reply this comment
  4. Da Mick
    #4 Da Mick 16 March, 2023, 12:25

    Jeff, my understanding is that Brian did scrap “Smile.” But it was because the BBs came back off a tour and said “What are we going to do with this? We can’t play these songs live –” which apparently was their primary concern since they were essentially performing road group. It’s difficult to know what actually happened, especially as there’s been so many dramatizations of the whole sequence of events, but my take was that Brian was so crushed at the band’s lack of interest or enthusiasm about this ground-breaking approach to making a record that he just blew it up in essence. I was also led to believe that it was Mike Love who led this dissention in the band about the non-hit direction that Brian was taking. But I’ve also read that Love’s biggest problem with both “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” was that Brian was writing with other people instead of him, which sparked jealousy and negativity toward this new direction to the point that Brian supposedly had to throw Love a bone by incorporating his ideas into songs. This whole issue seemed to pop up again during the 50th anniversary album and tour, where I read afterward that Love said he was promised that he’d be able to write songs with Brian again, which is why he agreed to a new record and the tour. I believe Love was a co-writer on four of the songs on that album, but was apparently cut off at some point, hence his BBs band and Brian’s orchestra, with the other original members that took part in the 50th anniversary tour, going their separate ways. Love started out being a center point in the early BBs and never seemed to be able to handle Brian’s music moving away from more simplistic music as a vehicle for Love’s vocals being integral to the growth of the BBs music. I’d say he is understandably in denial about it even today, as his attitudes and behaviors didn’t result in anything positive except for having his own BBs tribute band.

    Reply this comment
  5. FlossyMcDossy
    #5 FlossyMcDossy 23 April, 2023, 22:39

    I read over your opinion and I think it’s pretty spot on. I was able to watch the BB dynamic when I managed Westlake Studios and they came and made an album called – originally enough – The Beach Boys (1985 – Steve Levine Prod.)(Mike probably picked the name) – I wasn’t doing studio work when the early ones came out – my father worked at Capitol Records and told me things about their studio time there. He thought they were genius and loved the harmonies – they weren’t all hits but they were innovative. Brian did not allow visitors to the studios during those times – not for secrecy but due to his work ethic.
    Have you heard Mike’s touring band? I haven’t but I am pretty sure he includes hits from Pet Sounds & Smile in his playset and manages to duplicate the sound just fine as did the BB’s earlier by adding some extra players.
    Mike Love is a difficult man to have in any group situation – he needs to be the center of attention or at least consulted on everything that’s going on in the studio – he must be involved. I watched him for months at the studio and I was just glad everyone else surrounding the BB’s was very amiable including Brian. Carl Wilson was the most level-headed, hard-working musician, camp counselor I have ever met!

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