For more than 50 years, the soundtrack to the summer has come through the melodies, music and words of The Beach Boys.
Teens dreamed of the beach while listening to “Surfin’ USA” and “California Girls.” They flexed their best muscles blaring “409” and “Little Deuce Coupe.”
Even in the cold of an Indiana winter, they could throw on “Kokomo” and be “where you wanna go to get away from it all,” as the song says.
Those elements of sun, sand and surf are just as relatable to music lovers today as they were in the 1960s, when The Beach Boys were “America’s Band.” The strong connection of their music is what motivates the band to keep performing at venues throughout the world, said lead singer and original founding member Mike Love.
“You have songs about love or attraction or relationships, then you have beach and surf, cars, girls, school,” Love said. “There are a lot of common, if not identical, experiences in our song material and our lyrics. Some people call it a soundtrack to their lives. That’s an honor for us.”
Love and bassist Bruce Johnston, who joined The Beach Boys in 1965, form the core of The Beach Boys. Jeffrey Foskett, Randell Kirsch, Tim Bonhomme, John Cowsill and Scott Totten round out the rest of the band.
Longtime members Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks are not currently touring with the group.
The Beach Boys will attempt to break up winter’s monotony with a concert Sunday at Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington. In advance of the show, Love spoke with the Daily Journal about the band’s long-lasting impact.
When you started doing this in 1961, did you ever imaging it would grow the way it did?
Originally when we started, music was a hobby. My mother was a huge music culture — we had an organ, a grand piano and a harp in our living room. Every special occasion, she’d give recitals on different types of music. Our childhood growing up was hugely influenced by music.
How did you get started playing the type of music you did?
We were fortunate enough to make up songs that were rather unique. In 1961, we were asked to do a folk song. We liked Pete Seeger. We liked Peter, Paul and Mary. We like folk music, but we were weren’t really into it like we were rock ‘n’ roll. So we came back to them and said we’d do a song, but it would be a song about surfing. It was called, “Surfin’” and that was our first release. The next year, we found ourselves at Capitol Records, and the song, “Surfin’ Safari” came out. It was a big hit, and the year after that, “Surfin’ USA” was a big hit, and we were off and running.
Why have your songs remained so popular after five decades?
We’re still able to do songs centered on some subject matter that still resonates with a lot of people. They might not have an ocean, but who wouldn’t want to go on a “Surfin’ Safari”? Who wouldn’t want to check out some “California Girls” or have a great powerful car like a 409 or a Corvette or whatever it might be? We identified some of the subject matter that was near and dear to the hearts of that generation of people growing up.
The band’s most recent No. 1 song is “Kokomo,” which shares a name with a town here in Indiana. How did you come up that name?
Blame John Phillips from the Mamas and Papas. He came up with the word “Kokomo” relating to a mythical place in the Caribbean.
What does it mean to you that your music has touched so many people?
We used to do it just because it was a fun thing to do around the Christmas tree. Now, it’s become a lifelong profession and a blessing. We’ve seen parts of the world we never would have seen if it wasn’t for our music. We’ve been all over the place. All over the world, The Beach Boys music has been known as we’ve represented America to the world.
What is it about that subject matter of your songs have resonated for so long?
Every generation goes to a dance looking for romance, like we say in the song, “Barbara Ann.” Everybody has their issues with guys and gals, so many might say, “Help Me Rhonda.” There is a lot of girl watching going on on the planet, especially at the beach. How are you going to get to the beach? Well, a car would be nice. There have been some awesome cars that have been manufactured. Between the California beach life, surfing, school life, the backbone of our music people can relate to, whether they have an ocean or not.
What did you try to focus your music on?
It’s a romanticized vision of a microcosm of Southern California. I would come up with lyrics to complement my cousin Brian (Wilson)’s music. That’s always served us really well. It’s a matter of a lot of commonality of experiences and aspirations of people as they’re growing up and experience life, wanting to experience more than where they grew up.
What’s it been like playing songs that you wrote 50 years ago to a whole new group of people?
It’s not uncommon to see entire families come out together, and each generation can find something about The Beach Boys that they can enjoy. Some people do it from a nostalgic point of view: This was the music when they were teenagers growing up. Then there’s an 8- or 9- or 10-year-old child singing and jamming to a lot of our songs. It’s a multigenerational appeal that The Beach Boys have.
Do you have plans to continue touring?
Last year, we did 140 concerts, and this year we’re doing almost as many. We just finished up a six-show stay in Florida before doing a few nights at Niagara Falls. We’re going over to England and just sold out at Royal Albert Hall. Then we’ll be out West, all over the Midwest. Summer is the busiest time for us, and as long as we can do it, we’re going to keep going out.
The Beach Boys
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Indiana University Auditorium, 1211 E. 7th St., Bloomington
Price range: $57.20 to $84.75
- Mike Love: lead vocals
- Bruce Johnston: vocals and keyboards
- Jeffrey Foskett: guitar and vocals
- Randell Kirsch: bass and vocals
- Tim Bonhomme: keyboards and vocals
- John Cowsill: percussion and vocals
- Scott Totten: guitar and vocals