The Beach Boys: The Harmony Is Endless After All

Jun 2, 2012
Originally published on June 2, 2012 5:05 pm

The Beach Boys are in harmony again. The group is recording and performing together, after years of disputes and estrangement.

Brian Wilson and Mike Love tell Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that they're not surprised at the reunion.

"We've had 50 years' practice," Wilson says, "not just in music but in being guys."

Love says once they got back in the studio and started writing again, it felt like they had never left.

"It was nuts," Wilson says. "It was a nutbuster."

Though the Beach Boys' voices have matured, Love says at moments on their new album, That's Why God Made the Radio, they sound like it's still 1965. Their new songs celebrate how sweet it was back in the day. Wilson says he gets emotional onstage when the band plays along with videos of his brothers Carl and Dennis, who have died, singing.

"We do Dennis' song 'Forever' and Carl always does 'God Only Knows,' " he says. "It's a very sentimental experience."

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And if you're just joining us, you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

And it's time now for music. And if you're hearing this...


RAZ: must be summertime.


THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long.

RAZ: For 50 years, The Beach Boys have provided the soundtrack to summer. But after the success of their now-legendary 1966 record "Pet Sounds," the band began to splinter. Mental health issues plagued Brian Wilson, and his involvement waned while other members carried on The Beach Boys name, not without frequent legal battles.

The band also suffered the deaths of Brian Wilson's brothers Dennis and Carl. But now, founding members Mike Love and Brian Wilson have gathered all the surviving original Beach Boys to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a brand-new album, their first together in over two decades.


BOYS: (Singing) We've got beaches in mind. Man, it's been too much time.

RAZ: The new record is called "That's Why God Made the Radio." Mike Love says it all started during rehearsals last year to re-record one of their old hits from 1966.

MIKE LOVE: When we were in the studio doing "Do It Again" at Capitol Records, Brian had some stuff that he showed us, and we went to the piano and then we did some vocal parts to it and, you know, added to what he had already started. So it was really cool because those - you could hear that knack for chord progressions and vocal arrangements that Brian's always had. It was just like there was never any lapse in time, really.

RAZ: How about for you, Brian? What were those rehearsals like when you got back?

BRIAN WILSON: It was nuts.


LOVE: Yeah.

WILSON: We had - Mike's band leader Scott is a slave driver.

LOVE: He is. But that's cool. He's really...

WILSON: He's a slave driver.

LOVE: He's into every single note and chord and everything.

WILSON: He wants it perfect.


BOYS: (Singing) Ooh, ooh...

RAZ: I mean, obviously, your voices have matured. They're different. And so how do you think about taking your voices now, you know, Beach Boys 50 years later?

LOVE: Well, I don't think we've changed that much. I mean, we all have the ranges in which we sound the best. In fact, back in the studio, it sounded like it was 1965 again to me.


BOYS: (Singing) Sometimes I realize my days are getting on. Sometimes I realize it's time to move along. Then I want to go home.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Brian Wilson and Mike Love of The Beach Boys. Their new record is called "That's Why God Made the Radio." We've been speaking, of course, about one kind of harmony, and I want to ask about the other kind of harmony. Brian, you, of course, spent a lot of time away from The Beach Boys. There were many tough years and disputes between the - members of the band. Talk about the band today. I mean, is there harmony within The Beach Boys now, Mike and Brian?

WILSON: Of course. Of course, there is. Of course.

LOVE: Yeah.

WILSON: You know, we've had 50 years practice.


WILSON: Not just in music but as being guys, you know?

RAZ: Yeah.

LOVE: Yeah.

WILSON: In fact, just being a guy, you know?

LOVE: Well, Brian and I go back to childhood together. The first time I remember him singing was on Grandma Wilson's lap singing "Danny Boy" and Christmas carols and singing doo-wop and Everly Brothers together. So we go way back. And so although there might have been separation for periods of time or might have been getting hung up on a dispute over something, those things are way in the past.

And right now, we're in the moment. We're doing some great music together. We're doing fantastic concerts. I mean, the public has responded amazingly to seeing us all together.

RAZ: Do you sometimes think, God, why did we waste our time ever fighting?

LOVE: Yeah, I do. I think of definite mistakes made because of ego and whatever reasons and I just didn't - wasn't thinking clearly enough. And so I'm glad all that stuff is in the past, and we're on the same page together harmony wise. So we're all about harmony these days, both individually and musically.


BOYS: (Singing) Isn't it time we danced the night away? How about doing it just like yesterday? Every time I think of you...

RAZ: There are a lot of references on this record to nostalgia, to sort of remembering the good old days and wishing it could be that way again. Did you go into writing with that theme in mind?

LOVE: Brian got the ball rolling with the tracks. And what I thought about is the nostalgia part and whatever contributions I made. It definitely influenced me in writing these songs, being back together and maybe not having been together for a while.


BOYS: (Singing) The good times never have to end. And now good times will let them happen again. We can have ourselves a blast, good times (unintelligible) aren't only in the past.

RAZ: Brian, when you're on stage with your bandmates, are there moments where you are - they're emotional just, you know, being there and being back and...

WILSON: Yeah. When they fixed up a video of Carl and Dennis singing on screen - we do Dennis' song "Forever" and Carl always does "God Only Knows." And it's a very sentimental experience.

LOVE: Oh, heck, yeah. Yeah. But it's really great, though, to include Dennis and Carl on this tour.

WILSON: They're up on a huge screen behind us up against the wall.

LOVE: Yeah. So it is an emotional experience. There's no doubt about that.


BOYS: (Singing) I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it. I'll make you so sure about it. God only knows what I'd be without you.

RAZ: How do you guys respond when you hear many, many modern bands and acts say "Pet Sounds" is the greatest record ever made?

WILSON: No, not the greatest. One of the greatest, though.


WILSON: It was a special album. It really was.

LOVE: Oh, yeah.

RAZ: What was the greatest ever made?

WILSON: Oh, I have to say "Sail Away" by Randy Newman.

RAZ: Wow.

LOVE: Wow.

WILSON: But of course, I don't know if anyone agrees.

LOVE: "Pet Sounds" has been a favorite of a lot of people. In fact, Paul McCartney once said something about "God Only Knows" being the perfect song or the best song ever made or something.

RAZ: Yeah. And apparently, when John Lennon heard it, he was - they were terrified about releasing "Sergeant Pepper's" right?


LOVE: I don't know about terrified. I think there was a mutual admiration society going on there back in '65, '66.


BOYS: (Singing) They say I got brains but they ain't doing me no good. I wish they could.

RAZ: A lot has been made, you know, over the years, of the differences that the two of you have had. But what do you share? What do Mike Love and Brian Wilson share?

WILSON: Fifty years of music.


LOVE: Make it 70.

WILSON: That's a lot of odd years of - you know, to be together.

LOVE: Yeah.

WILSON: And we still love each other.

LOVE: That's right.

WILSON: And we're about to do another concert tonight.

RAZ: Well, Mike Love and Brian Wilson are two of the founding members of The Beach Boys. They've reunited for a new record. It's called "That's Why God Made the Radio." Mike Love, Brian Wilson, thank you so very much.

LOVE: You are welcome.

WILSON: You're very welcome.

RAZ: And if you're lucky enough to go to tonight's concert, it is, where else, in Los Angeles, California. You can hear a few tracks from The Beach Boys' new record at our website, Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.