Rock Cellar Magazine: In detailing your inspiration as lyricist you once told me “Chuck Berry was so incredibly and beautifully descriptive with the little vignettes, word pictures that came alive and resonated so amazingly well with the masses.” But apart from Chuck Berry, what other lyricists inspired in the manner in which you wrote songs?
Mike Love: Well, I think the married couple that wrote the Everly Brothers songs, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were also an inspiration. Once again, they beautiful vignettes like Wake Up Little Susie and other songs that were very heartfelt like Devoted to You and All I Have To Do I Dream.
So they were both the fun, descriptive pictorial vignettes as well as the more sweet, romantic and devotional lyrics. I think that was quite an influence ‘cause we loved the Everly Brothers as well as doo-wop. There are clever lyrics in either fun situations or exasperating situations.
Even before that and more fundamental than that, I was always into poetry. I would read English literature or American literature and poets and poems. I would be really bad at math but I’d really be into language, for instance, Spanish or liberal arts, specifically ancient poetry like Chaucer.
Rock Cellar Magazine: I always loved your line in Good Vibrations, “softly smile I know she must be kind.”
Mike Love: (recites the lyrics) “I close my eyes, she’s somehow closer now, softly smile I know she must be kind…” What rhymed with kind is (recites lyrics) “she goes with me to a blossom world we find,” which rhymed with kind but Brian cut off “we find” to allow the bass part to be featured in the track going into the chorus, which is pretty incredible.
In fact, Michael Lloyd who is producing this Christmas single for us and who is in Southern California while we’re in a studio in Somerville, Massachusetts – he was at the session and remembers Brian eliminating the words “we find” that rhyme with “she must be kind” and that stuck in his mind. He was like, “Why did he cut off the rhyme?” (laughs) But I understand why Brian did it but that was the actual complete poem.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You’ve always been a very commercial lyricist but you seldom get the credit for your lyrics that go a bit deeper.
Mike Love: Hold on…Are you familiar with the song All I Wanna Do?
Rock Cellar Magazine: Of course, it’s from the Sunflower album.
Mike Love: Yes, it has a very poetic nature. We rehearsed it before we went to England to play the Royal Albert Hall. We do it occasionally in our shows these days if we’re in the proper venue, if we’re in a performing arts center or a theater with great acoustics we can do a song such as All I Wanna Do, which is far more subtle than the hits songs like Barbara Ann and Fun, Fun, Fun.
But All I Wanna Do is totally poetic and quite heartfelt. Funnily enough, I didn’t even remember the verse of All I Wanna Do when we rehearsed it recently. (recites lyrics) “Let these little words of love become the lamps that light your way…”
We were in rehearsals and the lyrics were written out but they weren’t right and I was struggling with it. Alan Boyd, who’s forensic with us, leaned in and said “Let these little words of love become the lamps that light your way…” And I said, “Isn’t that something when our forensic archivist who’s cataloged everything by the Beach Boys tell’ the songs;’ author what its words are?” (laughs)
It was humorous and hilarious but it was also right on. I didn’t remember that line, which I think is a great lyric. But I couldn’t remember it even when listening to the song as closely as we could. Other people would say what they think was the lyrics and it wasn’t completely accurate. Well, that was the case with the print out I had of the lyrics for All I Wanna Do; everything else was right but not that.
Rock Cellar Magazine: As a lyricist, apart from any commercial consideration, what is your watermark moment as a lyricist?
Mike Love: One of the earlier times where I along with Brian came up with something that was mystical and transcendental was The Warmth of the Sun. That song was written in the wee hours of the morning on the same day President Kennedy was taken to the hospital in Dallas, meaning he was assassinated.
We had written that song in the wee hours of the morning and went to sleep and were awoken with that news. So a couple of weeks later when we recorded that song it was charged with a lot of emotion. We didn’t change the words to conform to that horrible event but the emotion that song is charged with is palpable; just listen to the harmonies.
Even as we were writing it I felt it was mystical, the chord progression and the melody and the harmonies that we came up with were just so beautiful. And the analogy of the warmth of the sun being at least you had the memory…that even if that love was no longer there for whatever reason, at least you had the memory of it. In something hurtful and tragic and disappointing and all that, I was still trying to find the silver lining on the cumulus nimbus cloud.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In 1964, you penned the lyrics for When I Grow Up (To Be A Man), which was quite a mature and forward thinking song for someone in their early ’20s, what prompted that kind of thinking?
Mike Love: Well, Mercury and Aquarius. My Mercury is in Aquarius. In astrology an Aquarius is futuristic, altruistic and iconoclastic among other things. But meaning, when you say (recites the words in When I Grow up (To Be A Man)), “Won’t last forever,” that’s futuristic.
“Will I love my wife for the rest of my life?’ That’s altruistic. So yeah it’s just the way my mind works. I’m thinking positively primarily; it takes a lot of positivity to overcome all the negative stuff that happens in relationships, in life, in business, in the world. But fundamentally I’m primarily always looking for something positive and I think and I think that inures to our longevity and my ability to play 170 shows, which is what I’m doing this year.
But anyway, it’s Mercury in Aquarius; I blame it on that. (laughs) By the way, Pisces is known to write through inspiration and Gemini, which is Brian, writes through desperation. So they both work beautifully, even together because Brian would get completely melancholy and come up with some beautiful, beautiful music. But upon hearing that, in the case of The Warmth of the Sun or When I Grow Up, I would endeavor to complement the emotion that Brian was coming up with a lyrical component that would bring some degree of positivity and hope or inspiration even in spite of all the obvious pain or sadness that we all experience in life.
So it was a perfect marriage at the time. Life is like that; it’s sadness and it’s happiness. It’s desperation and it’s inspiration.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Brian would occasionally write a lyric himself. What is your favorite lyric that he penned?
Mike Love: I’d have to say ’Til I Die. I don’t like the line “it kills my soul” but I understand what he’s saying.
That song has a lyric he wrote by himself and it’s very enlightening because we’re all here temporarily, right? So (recites lyric) “I’m a cork on the ocean, floating over a raging sea, how deep is the ocean? How deep is the ocean? I’m a rock in a landslide, rolling over the mountainside, how deep is the valley? How deep is the valley? I’m a leaf on a windy day, pretty soon I’ll be blown away. How long will the wind blow? …these things I’ll be until I die…”
That’s pretty amazing. That is an amazing lyric and it’s kind of the reality of things. It’s about mortality.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In a recent interview, Brian Wilson recently gave you major props citing you as his favorite lyricist. Given that, I’m curious how you felt in the early to mid ’60s when Brian elected to use other writers like Gary Usher and Roger Christian early in the band’s career?
Mike Love: I was fine with it. Gary’s lyrics on In My Room stand out in my mind but not much else from him; I can’t recall anything else, that’s the one that stands out. In My Room is beautiful. I felt Roger Christian was a brilliant lyricist. He was just incredibly brilliant and diverse. He was brilliant in that gear head department, (recites lyrics for Shut Down) “Superstock Dart is windin’ out and low but my fuel injected Stingray’s really startin’ to go, to get the traction I’m ridin’ the clutch, my pressure plate’s burnin’ that machine’s too much…”
Roger could write emotional beautiful lyrics and then go pedal to the metal hardcore car song kind of rock and roll. He could write gear head lyrics like Custom Machine or Car Crazy Cutie and Little Deuce Coupe but he could also do The Ballad of Ole Betsey, which is such a beautiful song.
It’s about a car that’s getting a little older and a little raggedy but you still love it anyway. It has a relationship to anything in life. It could be about your old girlfriend or your lifelong love. There are things to be found in that lyric which are just beautiful. It took me a while when we did that song live to not choke up because I thought it was such a beautiful lyric and such beautiful harmony and melody. It’s such a beautiful combination of those things.
We just played the song the other night but again, it’s location specific. We do Their Hearts Were Full of Spring, which is four part a capella. We have Brian Eichenberg who spent 18 years with the Four Freshmen, obviously not the originals. He was with them for 18 years until about a year ago; he played with Brian for a couple of shows and then he came onboard with us.
He is an amazing singer and when we do Their Hearts Were Full of Spring it’s incredible. But you can’t do it outdoors at a fairgrounds or even an amphitheater is pushing it. But what you can sing it at a performing arts center or theater and it’s beautiful when we are able to do that. So that’s taking it down to the basics, just four parts a capella.
Stay tuned – Part 2 of our chat with Mike Love will come soon!
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