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MIKE LOVE OF THE BEACH BOYS has a reputation that has dogged him around for almost fifty—and it’s generally as one of the most unpleasant people in the world of rock & roll music. Because of this, he has been unfairly castigated for his role in the Beach Boys. In fact, many of his contributions to the group’s artistic and financial success are often overlooked if not intentionally denigrated by critics and historians swayed by his rep.
I have tried to recall anything nasty that I had said about Love in print and came up a blank. I can say that in the decades-long love-hate relationship that Mike Love shares with Brian Wilson, I have consistently come in on Wilson’s side in several articles in Goldmine magazine.
Here is what I am going to say about perennial bad-boy Mike Love’s as a creative member of Beach Boy: read the following list. It consists of songs recorded by the Beach Boys to which Lobe made a contribution, usually as the lyricist.
I have also noted each track’s peak position on Billboard’s Hot 100 survey. While I am partial to the Cash Box Top 100, for this article I have used the Billboard Hot 100 as it was more generous in its rankings to the group’s B-sides than Cash Box.
Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and David Marks in the studio, probably in 1962 for their first album sessions.
I know there’s an answer
To each recording, I have assigned a grade that reflects my personal opinion of that track’s quality. It’s a simple system where a song receives one of three grade:
One star (✮) means the song is mediocre.
Two stars (✮✮) mean the song is good.
Three stars (✮✮✮) mean the song is exceptional.
Note that a rating of one star is not negative: Brian and Mike had a lot of vinyl to cover in the ’60s—the group released ten studio albums of mostly new material in their first three years (1962–1965)—and some songs were cranked out to get the job done.
Feel free to disagree with me; that’s what the Comments section at the end of this story is for.
The first Beach Boys single was Surfin (note the lack of the apostrophe at the end indicating the missing ‘g’), written by Brian and Mike. It was backed by Luau and both sides were produced by Hite Morgan. Surfin / Luau was issued in the first week of December 1961 as Candix 331. It is a rather rare record with a suggested NM value of $500-750.
In 1961, the Beach Boys were so new that they entered and left Hite Morgan’s recording studio as the Pendletones, the name they had chosen for themselves. The guys didn’t know they were the Beach Boys—the name that Morgan had chosen for them—until their record came out. Brian and Mike wrote their first record and it made the charts! They must have felt like two young godlings.
Surfin’ ✮ #75
Within days of the release of Candix 331, Surfin / Luau was rereleased as X Records 301. Despite being a second pressing and apparently more common on eBay than Candix 331, it is worth more with a suggested NM value of $1,000-1,5000.
Surfin / Luau was issued a third time in January 1962 as Candix 301. This is the most common version but the most complicated as there are three variations on this record’s labels: (1) does not mention Era Records on the labels and is worth $100–150 in NM condition; (2) has “Dist. by ERA RECORD SALES INC.” on the labels and is worth $75–100 in NM condition; and (3) has “Dist. by ERA RECORD SALES INC.” and “AUDITION COPY” on the labels and is are worth $150–200 in NM condition.
In 1962, Brian and Mike wrote the group’s second hit record, “Surfin’ Safari,” which reached #14 on Billboard but made the Top 10 on Cash Box. Mike got his name on one other track on the first Beach Boys album, which saw the group doing other artists’ material as well as their own.
Surfin’ Safari ✮✮ #14
409 ✮✮ #76
The Shift ✮
NOTE: 409 is credited to Brian Wilson, Gary Usher, and Mike Love.
Their first single for Capitol Records was Brian and Mike’s Surfin’ Safari and it included this nice picture sleeve with the group as it was then: Brian, Mike, Dennis, Carl, and David. If you want a NM copy of this sleeve, expect to pay $75–100 for it.
In 1963, the Wilson-Love found their groove and wrote ten new songs that were recorded and issued on Beach Boys’ album, with one track being their second Top 10 hit. I think that “Catch a Wave” was a stronger song than “Be True to Your School” and would have been a bigger hit.
Farmer’s Daughter ✮
Noble Surfer ✮
Finders Keepers ✮
Catch A Wave ✮✮✮
Surfer’s Rule ✮✮
Our Car Club ✮✮
Be True To Your School ✮✮ #6
Custom Machine ✮✮
Little Saint Nick ✮✮
This picture sleeve from Capitol of Italy features cool graphics that looks like someone may have been paying attention to Rick Griffin’s Murph the Surf cartoons. Capitol in the US stuck with photos of the group for their sleeves. This is a rare sleeve with a suggested NM value of $100-200. 5
In 1964, Wilson and Love were sitting on top of the world: their new songs gave the Beach Boys a pair of Number Ones, three Top Tens, and three other chart hits! They wrote enough material to fill two albums!
Fun, Fun, Fun ✮✮✮ #5
The Warmth Of The Sun ✮✮✮
This Car Of Mine ✮✮
Keep An Eye On Summer ✮✮
I Get Around ✮✮✮ #1
All Summer Long ✮✮
Little Honda ✮✮✮ #65
Wendy ✮✮✮ #44
Do You Remember? ✮
Don’t Back Down ✮✮
The Man With All The Toys ✮
Santa’s Beard ✮
Good To My Baby ✮✮
Don’t Hurt My Little Sister ✮✮
When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) ✮✮✮ #9
Help Me, Ronda ✮✮✮ #1
Dance, Dance, Dance ✮✮✮ #8
Please Let Me Wonder ✮✮✮ #52
Kiss Me Baby ✮✮✮
She Knows Me Too Well ✮✮✮
In The Back Of My Mind ✮✮
NOTE: Keep An Eye On Summer is credited to Brian Wilson, Bob Norberg, and Mike Love. Little Honda and Wendy made Billboard’s Hot 100 as tracks from the FOUR BY THE BEACH BOYS extended-play EP album. Had the two tracks been issued as a single, Honda might have reached #1 and Wendy the Top 20. Please Let Me Wonder charted so low because it was a B-side.
For the summer of 1964, Capitol issued FOUR BY THE BEACH BOYS, their first and only EP album. Had “Little Honda” or “Wendy” been issued as singles, they would have easily reached the Top 10. A copy of this record and sleeve has a suggested NM of $50-75.
In 1965, everyone slowed down: the group was on the road regularly and Brian was becoming as fascinated with the studio. Still, he and Mike wrote one classic (California Girls) and should have ended the year with a second Top 10 hit if Capitol hadn’t sabotaged The Little Girl I Once Knew (but that’s another story).
The Girl From New York City ✮✮
Amusement Parks U.S.A. ✮✮
Salt Lake City ✮✮
California Girls ✮✮✮ #3
Let Him Run Wild ✮✮✮
You’re So Good To Me ✮✮
And Your Dreams Come True ✮✮
The Little Girl I Once Knew ✮✮ #20
For the summer of 1965, Capitol pulled two tracks by Brian and Mike from the SUMMER DAYS (AND SUMMER NIGHTS) album and pressed them up as a single. Copies of Capitol PRO-2936, Salt Lake City / Amusement Parks U.S.A., were given away to customers of participating stores of all kinds in Salt Lake City. Suggested NM value of $100–200.
In 1966, Brian realized that he wanted to work with other lyricists and found Tony Asher to create PET SOUNDS. Still Mike found his way on to the album, co-writing the hit Wouldn’t It Be Nice and a second set of lyrics to a song that should have been a hit single, I’m Waiting For The Day. One song was set aside from the sessions and got Brian and Mike’s full attention afterward, and Love crafted what were arguably his cleverest lyrics and popularized one of my favorite non-dictionary words: excitations.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice ✮✮✮ #9
I’m Waiting For The Day ✮✮✮
I Know There’s An Answer ✮✮✮
Good Vibrations ✮✮✮ #1
NOTE: Wouldn’t It Be Nice is credited to Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, and Mike Love. I Know There’s An Answer is credited to Brian Wilson, Terry Sachen, and Mike Love.
As expected, Good Vibrations was a hit all over the planet and Capitol issued picture sleeves in many countries. Unlike previous Capitol sleeves, which tended to simply offer up a posed shot of the boys, several countries designed sleeves a bit more playful. While this design from Italy is hardly daring, it’s always been my fave for this title. Suggested NM value of $30–50.
In 1967, Brian retreated into his new home studio and created a pair of albums that were virtual demos compared to what he had been doing at Gold Star and Sunset Sound a few months earlier. Mike was brought back and the two wrote and recorded an album’s worth of material, including one gem, Darlin’. 6
She’s Goin’ Bald ✮✮
Gettin’ Hungry ✮✮
Wild Honey ✮✮ #31
Aren’t You Glad ✮✮
Country Air ✮✮
A Thing Or Two ✮
Darlin’ ✮✮✮ #19
I’d Love Just Once To See You ✮
Here Comes The Night ✮✮
Let The Wind Blow ✮✮
Mama Says ✮
NOTE: She’s Goin’ Bald is credited to Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, and Mike Love.
The Beach Boys’ first single of 1967 after the bringdown of Heroes And Villains was Wild Honey. In Germany, it was issued with this sleeve, that sorta looked sorta psychedelic—it was anything but psychedelic. After the experimentation of the then uncompleted (and therefore obviously unreleased) SMILE sessions, Brian took the group back to basics with a simple, rhythm & blues-based sound and feel. Wild Honey was completely off the wall for most of us when we heard it in ’67 and it did not fare well with radio programmers or record buyers. Suggested NM value of $40–60.
In 1968, the Beach Boys as a recording group appeared to have ground to a halt. Brian came through with enough songs and energy for one album that goes beyond laid-back and approaches somnambulance (Friends). Mike had little input, despite the fact that he would become the Beach Boy most attracted to Eastern ways. He did turn in a set of boffo lyrics for “Do It Again,” one of his last touches of greatness teamed with Brian Wilson.
Meant For You ✮✮
Be Here In The Morning ✮✮
Anna Lee The Healer ✮✮
Transcendental Meditation ✮
Do It Again ✮✮✮ #20
NOTE: Be Here In The Morning is credited to Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. Transcendental Meditation is credited to Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine.
While Do It Again brought the Beach Boys back into the Top 10 in the US by reaching #8 on the Cash Box Top 100, it was a much bigger hit elsewhere. In England, Do It Again actually went to #1, their last chart-topper of the ’60s. This smart-looking sleeve was issued in Germany, where it was a Top 10 hit. Suggested NM value of $30–60.
(Just don’t) do it again
There are sixty-four songs above with Mike Love listed as co-writer. That’s enough to make five complete standard Beach Boys albums. Those five albums would boast fourteen Top 40 hits that sold millions of copies worldwide! So, the point of this article is this:
- Mike Love should be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame for his contributions musically and lyrically to these songs.
Finally, two personal things: I grew up in the ’60s hating the Beach Boys! I hated Mike’s nasal leads and I hated Brian’s falsetto leads. In fact, I used to call them the “Balls-less Wonders.”
Then something happened and I was transformed: by the end of 1970, PET SOUNDS and SUNFLOWER were my two favorite albums. Both have been with me through a lot of heartache and stress in the intervening decades.
They always pick me up.
Mike Love is an integral part of those records.
So, he has helped patch a hole or two in my soul along the way.
For that, I owe him . . .
HEADER IMAGE: Brian and Mike chatting in 1966 during the PET SOUNDS session. I had Ray Shackleford travel back in time and tape the conversation that was going on at this time.
MIKE: You wanna release that great track with me singing “hang on to your ego”?!!?
BRIAN: Well, yeah, Mike, I do.
MIKE: Are you f*ckin’ kiddin’ me?!!
And history shows that Mike got his way and wrote new lyrics and the Beach Boys recorded the brilliant “I Know There’s an Answer” instead of the insipid “Hang on to Your Ego.” Oddly, Love-haters love to point to Mike’s changing the lyrics as proof of Mike’s ego getting in the way.
I refer to Rick Griffin (in the caption to the sleeve for “Be True to Your School” above). He is known to most of us as the innovative and hugely influential artist of some of the best and most famous psychedelic ballroom posters of the San Francisco scene of the ’60s. But Rick got his start with The Surfer magazine where he created Murph the Surf and influenced other artists in other fields.
4 thoughts on “mike love’s excitations and good vibrations”
great read neal, i have many good memories of riding along in the 1953 packard tow car that was pulling my 55 and 57 chevy to the drag strip while listening to the beach boys on the radio. might i add that there was at least one beach boys “juke box” ep which i have. ---- C:UsersJerryPicturesEPDSCF0947a.jpg
Well glad you enjoyed. I hated the Beach Boys for several years, then kinda liked them, then just fell in love with them. From 1963–1973, they were as good as it gets.
I only ever drove a ’57 Chevy once as a teenager and it felt like I was in a tank! That is, if I got into an accident, I would walk away fine.
One of my faveravest car designs ever (red body/white roof with black interior) up there with a ’63 Buick Riviera (silver gray exterior with black interior) and, to keep up my hippie rep, a ’67 VW van (creamsicle exterior and dayglo interior) . . .
Wow, that’s a whole lot of insight, nostalgia, and commentary about truth.
ML will continue to be my least fav, but the Beach Boys remain in my all time top 20, on any given day. Yes, to PET SOUNDS, and SMILEY SMILE with a nod to SURF’S UP. And, SMILE, unspoken sigh...
I had two Microbuses. A ’62, barndoor/small rear window; repainted metallic BRG with read bootstripe and a white top. I put Corvair seats in front, and used a spare 12-volt battery to run the tape deck.
When climbing the NE extension of the PA turnpike, I was in third gear most of the time! Many stories in that van.
I then got a ’72 bus, which was Trouble (notice capital T). My least favorite wife burned out 2 clutches and got custody of the house, the bus, and our daughter before moving away. It wasn’t a bad truck, just a pain and the carbs wouldn’t stay in tune.
If I had a lot of money, I’d have Jonathan Ward build me a Derilect with a watercooled VW mill! Look up his website. You will drool.
If you are not familiar with SUNFLOWER, you may be missing one of the great aural events of your life! (“Oooom-bop-diddit!”)
Perhaps you should have kept least favorite wife in the back of the bus with the other wives and driven yourself . . .