BeachBoys on stage 1971 1500

was beach boy mike love one of rock & roll’s greatest frontmen?

OPINION QUESTIONS are big on Quora and I try to pro­vide an­swers that are ac­cu­rate but some­what off the beaten path. The ques­tion I re­ceived this morning was, “Who are the all-time great frontmen in music?” I read the ques­tion as who are the great lead singers of rock groups, as both vocal and vi­sual per­formers.

In an in­stru­mental group, the frontman would be the in­di­vidual who is out front leading the band, re­gard­less of the in­stru­ment he plays. For­tu­nately, most of the better-known dic­tio­naries agree with me, defining frontman as “the lead per­former in a mu­sical group” (Merriam-Webster) and “a per­former, as a singer, who leads a mu­sical group” (Dictionary.com).

But the ques­tion was about “great” frontmen, and for me, that would mean a singer who was not only a ca­pable singer but a ca­pable en­ter­tainer, someone who kept the au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion on the stage and the band when they were per­forming.

 

From 1970 to 1975, Mike Love may have been the most ef­fec­tive frontman in rock & roll, helping the Beach Boys out of ob­scu­rity and making them hip.

 

This would rule out such great singers as Chuck Berry, James Browne, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Richard Pen­niman, and Elvis be­cause they are all solo singers. The ones who were great singers and great frontmen—the singers who kept us watching while lis­tening to the group of which they were a member—included such singers as Mick Jagger, Van Mor­rison, Mark Lindsay, Roger Dal­trey, Janis Joplin, Jim Mor­rison, and Robert Plant. 1

A singer who rarely gets the credit he de­serves in ar­gu­ments such as this is Mike Love, once the lead singer of the Beach Boys, now the lead singer of a group he calls the Beach Boys. Love has been called the “most hated man in rock” by some (lots) of his de­trac­tors. Whether or not this is true is be­side the point when it comes to fronting a band on stage.

So without fur­ther ado, my posted an­swer to the ques­tion “Who are the all-time great frontmen in music?” is in­dented be­tween the first two im­ages below:

 

BeachBoys on stage MikeLove 1971 600 crop

They blew the crowd away

In the ’60s, the Beach Boys sang beau­ti­fully, of course, but on stage or in person, the only one who had any “pres­ence” was non-singing drummer Dennis Wilson. The other mem­bers were prac­ti­cally non-entities on stage, in­cluding nom­inal frontman Mike Love. 2

This was typ­ical of many rock & roll bands in America at the time, s many of them were just kids. But the Beach Boys got better and by the end of the decade, they were putting on good shows. But they still had no real pizazz as en­ter­tainers.

Com­pare any film clips of the Beach Boys in 1964-1965 with any of the Bea­tles and George, the so-called “quiet Beatle,” had more charm and pres­ence on a bad day than all five Beach Boys had on the best day of their ca­reers!

Skip ahead to 1975: after the to­tally un­ex­pected suc­cess of the End­less Summer album top­ping the charts and selling mil­lions of copies in 1974, the Beach Boys quickly turned into an oldies jukebox on stage. Their shows be­came a rou­tine of the band cranking out the hits of their early years as re­flected on the hit album.

 

In the early ’70s, the Beach Boys were trying their damnedest to con­nect with and win over the coun­ter­cul­ture and they were often quite suc­cessful.

 

Ahhh, but in be­tween, they were some­thing else! In the early ’70s, when they were trying their damnedest to con­nect with and win over the counterculture—the people who went to the big con­certs then—the Beach Boys were often rather amazing and quite suc­cessful. More than the others, Mike Love had come into is own as a frontman, making every show an event.

His com­pet­i­tive­ness drove him to a level of show­man­ship that seemed to in­di­cate he wanted to make people forget Mick Jagger! During a con­cert, he was all over the stage, doing what­ever it took to give the au­di­ence a great show and to en­courage them to be a part of the show.

I saw them sev­eral times during those years and most of the time they were the opening act for an­other cur­rently more pop­ular group. The over­whelming ma­jority of the au­di­ences had not come to be for the Beach Boys.

But each and every time, Mike and the band took the crowd to places they had never ex­pected to go when they had paid for their tickets to the show. This often made it dif­fi­cult for the head­liners to follow them. 3

So, as crazy as it may sound now, for a few years, Mike Love—the guy that everyone (in­cluding the other Beach Boys) loves to hate—was the un­ques­tioned leader of the Beach Boys on stage. He took the un­hippest band in the world and made them stars, win­ning over au­di­ence after au­di­ence.

That is one hell of an ac­com­plish­ment. 4

For those few years (say, 1970 to 1975), Mike Love was ar­guably the greatest frontman in rock & roll.

 

BeachBoys EndlessSummer 600

The End­less Summer album was a two-record com­pi­la­tion of hit sin­gles with a few album sides from the Beach Boys’ glory years 1963-1965. Es­sen­tially it re­cy­cled pre­vi­ously re­cy­cled ma­te­rial, but for some reason the record caught on in 1974 and went to the top of Bill­board’s LP chart, selling sev­eral mil­lion copies. It in­spired a huge in­flux of young fans to their con­certs de­manding that the group pro­vide them with an end­less summer of fun fun fun, to which the group ea­gerly ac­qui­esced.

Not such good vibrations

I am an ar­dent Brian Wilson fan of long-standing. I con­sider PET SOUNDS to be the greatest rock/pop album ever made. I be­lieve that Mike Love was at least par­tially re­spon­sible for the un­der­mining of Wilson’s SMILE album in 1966-1967.

That said, this is not the first time I have sung the praises of Mike Love, nor is it likely to be my last. For in­ter­ested readers, here are three other ar­ti­cles of mine about Love and the Beach Boys.

•  A Re­quiem For Those Time­less Good Good Good Vi­bra­tions” fea­tures re­views of two books: Re­quiem For The Time­less, Volume 1, which is Johnny Ro­gan’s on­going and epic at­tempt to present us with every­thing we could ever want to know about the Byrds! The other re­view is of Mike Love’s recent auto­bi­og­raphy, Good Vi­bra­tions – My Life As a Beach Boy, which I ti­tled “Not Such Good Vi­bra­tion.”

•  Mike Love’s Ex­ci­ta­tions And Good Vi­bra­tions” ad­dresses Love’s con­tri­bu­tions, pri­marily as a lyri­cist, to the body of songs written by Brian Wilson for the Beach Boys. There are more than five dozen songs, many of them hit sin­gles, that sold mil­lions of records world­wide.

•  Sex, Love, Hitch­hiking, And Other Ex­ci­ta­tions” ad­dresses the song and the recording Good Vi­bra­tions and man­ages to sug­gest that readers see the 1968 movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas with Peter Sellers and Leigh-Taylor Young.

From 1970 to 1975, Mike Love may have been the most ef­fec­tive frontman in rock & roll. Click To Tweet

Toklas NancyTattoo 1000 1

FEATURED IMAGE: In­stead of talking about the staid photo of the Beach Boys on stage in 1971 at the top of this page, I thought I’d in­clude a photo here from the movie men­tioned above. For those in­ter­ested readers, this is not a photo of Peter Sellers.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1    An ar­gu­ment could be made for Buddy Holly, who was the lead singer and frontman for the Crickets, but the Crickets were also his band when he recorded as a solo artist, so it could go ei­ther way.

2   Hell’s Belles, when Brian Wilson was re­placed by Glen Camp­bell as part of the touring band in 1965, most au­di­ences couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence!

3   In 1972, I saw the Beach Boys open for the Kinks at the Al­len­town Fair­grounds, so it was my two fav­er­avest bands on one stage! Everyone was there for the British band and many booed when the Beach Boys took the stage. By the end of their set, I don’t think there was a person in the au­di­ence who wasn’t earing a stoned grin. After the roadies had set up for the Kinks’ equip­ment, they came out and set six-packs of beer by each guy’s place. Def­i­nitely not the right move in fol­lowing Mike Love’s Beach Boys.

4   For younger readers, it is im­pos­sible to ex­plain to you how unhip the Beach Boys were, how far from grace they had fallen from 1967 to 1969. It’s the center of the story of their ca­reer and it’s ig­nored in al­most every book written by any of the guys.

 

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