Picking up good vibrations

Some of my earliest music memories involve the Beach Boys — making the three-hour trip down from Connecticut to the Jersey Shore with my surfer dad, singing along to “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Surfin’ Safari” and “I Get Around”; watching, as a 7-year-old, the famed July 4, 1980, concert in which the group performed in front of a half-million fans at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; and experiencing my first-ever live concert that same year at the Hartford Civic Center. I can still hear the hush that came over the crowd as Dennis Wilson, who would die tragically just a few years later, began to sing his classic cover of “You Are So Beautiful.”

The Beach Boys at the IU Jacobs School of Music. From L-R: Jeff Foskett, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love and Scott Totten.

The Beach Boys at the IU Jacobs School of Music, from left, Jeff Foskett, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love and Scott Totten.

As I grew older, I read just about everything I could about how Mike Love’s lyrics about surf, sun and fun, fun, fun beautifully complemented Brian Wilson’s majestic five-part harmonies. I dug out my dad’s old vinyl, beginning with greatest hits albums like “Endless Summer” and eventually gravitating to the genius of “Pet Sounds.” Like hardcore fans, I delighted in the arrival of the long-awaited “Smile” box set in 2011, and the following year’s 50th anniversary reunion tour, which featured founding members Love, Wilson and Al Jardine, along with later additions David Marks and Bruce Johnston.

So you could imagine the good vibrations I was feeling Sunday afternoon as I headed over to IU’s Jacobs School of Music, where students in senior lecturer Andy Hollinden’s “The Music of the Beach Boys” class braved the brisk Bloomington cold for a special event: a Q&A with Love, Johnston and their longtime Beach Boys tour mates Jeff Foskett and Scott Totten.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the Boys covered all types of topics, including their favorite songs to perform in concert (“California Girls” and “Good Vibrations” for Mike; “Warmth of the Sun” for Bruce), the thoughtful way they craft their concert set lists and the venues they most like playing (Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House). They also discussed their friendly “competition” with the Beatles (Bruce: “There was no rivalry, just appreciation.”) and the changes in studio and touring technology that the teenage versions of themselves, who lugged their equipment to ballrooms across the Midwest, couldn’t have begun to imagine.

“The technology, the sound, the lights, all of it barely existed in the 1960s,” Love said.

Hollinden, known for his popular classes on rock ‘n’ roll legends Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, began his Beach Boys course in 2012 while the group was celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Mike Love and Professor Andy Hollinden.

Mike Love and Andy Hollinden.

At the time he said, “To the casual listener of pop music, the Beach Boys conjures up images of surfing and cars and girls and California sunshine. And that’s all they know. They don’t realize that their music was incredibly sophisticated. Their musical maturity, artistic quality and production levels were, in America, unparalleled. The Beach Boys really were the chief rivals to the Beatles.”

Sunday night’s Beach Boys performance at IU Auditorium gave Hollinden’s students a special glimpse into what it’s like to be one of the most beloved bands in the world, to perform around 150 shows a year and to remain timeless, even as entirely new generations discover what made the Beach Boys so immensely popular when they burst onto the scene with their distinct vocal harmonies in 1961.

To illustrate the group’s ability to attract new fans and followers, Love told the story about a 10-year-old girl at a show in Kentucky whose favorite song was the classic car song and B-side “409.”

“It’s amazing how our songs can appeal, regardless of age,” he said.

Bruce Johnston and Mike Love of the Beach Boys.

Bruce Johnston and Mike Love of the Beach Boys.

For the college-age cohort, Love, Johnston, Foskett and Totten each extolled the virtues of becoming as knowledgeable as possible about the music business. “When I started, I didn’t know anything about publishing,” Love said, adding that both the Beach Boys and Beatles failed to retain publishing rights to their song catalog. “If you are serious about music, you should be knowledgeable about the music business.”

Though the class Q&A ended on a serious tone, it was clear that the music and making audiences happy mattered the most to the Beach Boys.

“It’s the audience response to our songs … the hobby became our profession, but it’s the appreciation of the people,” Love said. “[Our success] wouldn’t have happened unless there was an audience, a demand.”

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