While Brian Wilson is often cited as the great mind behind the Beach Boys -- the guy who wrote and arranged the songs, produced the records, and organized their stellar harmonies -- Mike Love is clearly the body, the man who has kept the band on the road and profitable through thick and thin.
Love was the group's frontman on-stage from the beginning in 1961, as well as the lead singer on many of their hits, and after the Beach Boys stopped charting on a regular basis, he helped them evolve into a successful oldies act whose appeal as a touring attraction has made them a consistent draw more than fifty years after they first broke through. Love has been the sole constant member of the Beach Boys since their inception.
Love was born in Hawthorne, California on March 15, 1941, the oldest of six children born to Emily Love, who was born Emily Wilson. Emily's husband, Edward Milton Love, worked in his father's business, the Love Sheet Metal Company, while Emily's brother was Murry Wilson, who ran a machining company and wrote songs in his spare time. Mike grew up with a fondness for music; he played saxophone, and during family get-togethers, he would sometimes sing with his cousins Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson. After graduating from high school in 1958, Mike worked at Love Sheet Metal for a while, but the company was stuck in a financial downturn and he was soon supplementing his earnings by pumping gas. When the Wilson Brothers decided to form a rock band along with Brian's high-school friend Al Jardine, they invited Mike to join them, and in the early days of the Pendletones, he sang and played sax. In 1961, the group cut a record, and after it turned into a regional hit, they adopted a new name, the Beach Boys.
After signing a record deal with Capitol Records in 1962, the Beach Boys scored a major hit with "Surfin' Safari" b/w "409," and the band was on its way, with Love frequently singing lead on their hits and sometimes writing lyrics for his cousin Brian's melodies. Love was also the focal point at the Beach Boys' live shows, and when Brian Wilson opted to drop out of the group's touring lineup in late 1964 to concentrate on studio work (replaced first by Glen Campbell and more permanently by Bruce Johnston), Love's presence in the road band became all the more important. As Brian's production and thematic concepts grew more ambitious, it was reported that he and Love sometimes butted heads in the studio, with Mike unhappy with the notion of changing a successful formula as Brian explored new creative avenues on Pet Sounds and the long-uncompleted SMiLE project. In 1968, Love became a devotee of Transcendental Meditation, and arranged for the Beach Boys to appear on a joint tour with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with the Maharishi delivering a lecture on meditation and its benefits at each stop.
As tastes changed and Brian Wilson's mental and physical health became more problematic, the Beach Boys struggled to remain relevant and attract a new audience in the early '70s. In 1974, the Beach Boys found new life through a look into their past; a well-promoted two-LP set of their 1963-1966 hits, Endless Summer, became a major hit, staying on the charts for three years, and reminding audiences of the strength of their back catalog. A similar collection, Spirit of America, followed in 1975, and soon the Beach Boys were making albums that more clearly looked back to their past glories (such as 1976's 15 Big Ones and 1977's Love You) as the group ramped up their touring, with a stronger emphasis on their evergreen hits of the '60s. While Brian Wilson still worked with the Beach Boys in the studio at this time, Love had become their de facto leader, and he guided their increasingly profitable touring, as well as urging the band to look in a more commercial direction. (His interest in Transcendental Meditation also began popping up more in the group's music; 15 Big Ones included a number called "The T M Song," written by Brian, while 1978's M.I.U. Album was recorded on the campus of Maharishi International University in Iowa.)
In 1978, Love made one of his first gestures towards a solo career when he teamed up with several members of the band King Harvest to form the group Celebration. They made their debut that year with several songs written and recorded for the movie Almost Summer, and would go on to cut to cut two more albums, 1978's Celebration and 1979's Disco Celebration, the latter of which included a disco reworking of "California Girls." Despite this, Love kept up a busy schedule with the Beach Boys, releasing L.A. (Light Album) in 1979 and Keepin' the Summer Alive in 1980. In October 1981, Love brought out his first solo album, Looking Back with Love; the album was released by Boardwalk Records, and when the label went out of business in 1982, the LP went out of print. Following the 1985 album The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson stopped working with the band and launched a solo career in 1988 with his self-titled album for Sire Records. That same year, a Beach Boys lineup led by Love recorded the song "Kokomo" for the soundtrack to the film Cocktail; the tune was released as a single and quickly found a home on radio, as the single rose to number one on the sales charts and moved over a million copies. While the Beach Boys recorded periodically after the success of "Kokomo," their bread and butter remained touring, with Love as the group's leader and Carl Wilson as musical director. After Carl Wilson's death in 1998, Love and Bruce Johnston assumed ownership of the Beach Boys, as the band continued to hit the road each summer, still attracting a healthy following.
In 2011, Love announced a 50th Anniversary Tour for the Beach Boys, with Love and Johnston joined by Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks (who had played with the Beach Boys from 1962 to 1963). This was the closest approximation of the group's classic lineup possible given the deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson, and the tour was well received by both fans and critics. Following the success of the first leg of the tour, the band went into the recording studio, and in June 2012, they released That's Why God Made the Radio, which became their highest charting album since 1965, rising to number three on the American Album charts. In September 2012, Love and Johnston announced that the Beach Boys were reverting to the lineup that had been working prior to the 50th Anniversary tour; Brian Wilson and Al Jardine both publicly expressed their disappointment with this decision. In September 2016, Love published an autobiography, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy, written in collaboration with James S. Hirsch. In November 2017, Love released his second solo album, Unleash the Love; the two-disc set included a number of previously unreleased songs along with remakes of tunes from the Beach Boys catalog. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi