Career Killers: “Summer in Paradise” by the Beach Boys

Date
May, 28, 2021

To borrow a pro wrestling term, Mike Love has long been one of the best heels in rock ‘n roll.

Widely hated by critics, fans, media, liberals and even fellow Beach Boys (actual headline from Vice.com: “Mike Love is Kind of an Asshole”), Love is so despised that it’s arguably more rock ‘n roll to defend him rather than pile on with his many detractors. Indeed, if anyone could have an entire arena full of people chant “asshole” at him a la Vince McMahon or Roman Reigns, it’s Mike Love. A relentless self-aggrandizing self-promoter, the only thing you can say about him is that he’s not dripping with phoniness or fake sincerity like Brother Love.

In fact, like the best heels, he believes he’s justified in behaving the way he does — especially in his eternal quest for the credit he feels he deserves for the band’s success. Brian Wilson may have been the creative genius behind the band, but Love will argue that he should get as much, if not more credit than the erratic Wilson for keeping the band going and co-writing some of their best known songs. Whether it’s suing Wilson for royalties in court many times; inflating his role in the band’s great moments and minimizing his role in the less successful ones (sometimes doing both on the same thing – like criticizing Pet Sounds or Smile when they seemed like they’d be failures and then taking credit for both when they became acclaimed); or going Vince McMahon and firing Wilson and Al Jardine from the band in 2012 after what was otherwise a successful reunion tour, Love gets very little of his namesake emotion from critics, commentators and even fans of the Beach Boys. Heck, he once used the staid and formal atmosphere of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony to deliver a WWE-style promo talking trash about a bunch of bands and musicians that, until then, probably had nothing but respect for his band and everything it has accomplished.

And much like how WWE treats certain non-PG segments from the past like they never happened, that’s how the band views the Love-led 1992 album Summer in Paradise. I guess that’s understandable, considering Summer in Paradise ended the band as a creative force and turned it into a full-time touring/oldies act.

To say the 1980s were a difficult time for the Beach Boys is like saying surfing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. The band released some truly wretched albums — records that would have ended the careers of lesser artists.

And those were high points. Drummer Dennis Wilson died following a long battle with substance abuse while Brian spent most of the decade either lost in the fog of drugs and mental illness or under the Svengali-like control of controversial psychotherapist Eugene Landy.

But the band soldiered on under Love’s leadership, and as the decade drew to a close, they actually seemed to be on the upswing. Their 1987 duet with the Fat Boys on “Wipe Out,” became a surprise hit, landing at #12 on the Billboard charts. The following year, they hit paydirt, as their song “Kokomo,” from the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, went to #1, their first chart topper since 1966.

Then, in 1989, Love shepherded the platinum selling album Still Cruisin’, a loose concept album that was supposed to feature songs from movies, but ended up being a combination of covers, re-recorded greatest hits, already-released singles (like “Kokomo” and “Wipe Out”) and a few new songs that had nothing to do with the concept.

That deviation from the planned theme didn’t sit well with Love.

The theme of that album was to have been songs that have been in movies. It was basically a repackage. But then in got watered down with politics… So what happened in this instance was I was not happy that the album was half repackage and half politics. What happens when you do things politically just to accommodate the fact that if you’re in a group and you divide it by five members, and you got two songs each, it may be a nice thing to do but everybody has their own point of view that isn’t taken into consideration objectively.

Mike Love interview, Sept. 18, 1992

When the band convened in the studio for what would become Summer in Paradise, Love had a clear vision for what he wanted, and this time, he would not be denied. With Wilson now completely absent and Jardine getting “suspended” for most of the sessions, supposedly over creative differences, Love was the boss now. Working alongside longtime band collaborator and producer, Terry Melcher, Love had a vision for an album that would serve as the quintessential soundtrack of summer (after considering, and deciding against making an environmentally themed record). Like its predecessor, it would consist of originals, covers and older songs. And to ensure there would no executive meddling, the band would release the album independently rather than through a major label.

Of course, this decision had some drawbacks. For one, the band had to watch its spending, which meant there would or could be no repeat of the days when the band held marathon studio sessions with entire orchestras, world class studio musicians or famous artists who were there to be recorded chewing celery. Instead, the band took a chance on technology and proved to be years ahead of the game, recording the entire album on a Macintosh Quadra computer using a beta version of the now ubiquitous Pro Tools.

Given the circumstances, it was inevitable that the album would have primitive-sounding production. For instance, there’s the overuse of the “Kokomo”-esque saxophone and the reliance on generic dance beats and drum samples (including that Roland TR-909 drum riff made famous on Madonna’s “Vogue” that nearly every 90s dance artist or group had to have). Did you ever listen to “Surfin‘,” one of the first songs Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote together, and think to yourself: “What might a song by the guys who later wrote “Good Vibrations” sound like if it had been produced by the guys who gave us Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”? Well, here’s your chance.

To make matters worse, the production often drowns out the band’s trademark harmonies, which is kind of a mind-boggling decision. It would be like producing Eric Clapton and then burying his guitar parts in post-production. Then again, without Brian Wilson there to arrange vocals, the band sounds like they’re relying on generic-sounding harmonies (there’s a prevalence of half-hearted “oooh-wahs” and “doo-do do doo-doos” all over this album) or things they’ve done before and hoped to recreate via muscle memory. This is especially true on “Still Surfin’,” which has all the elements of a classic Beach Boys song — surf motif, narrative verses, deep polyphonic harmonies on the chorus, soaring high tenors with vocal flourishes — but never really catches a wave, so to speak. Probably because most of those elements (particularly the lyrics) are inferior compared to their more successful surfing songs — to say nothing of the distinct lack of energy on the song. It’s like even they knew they were just re-treading on ground they’d already covered before and better.

In fact, much of this album lacks originality and inspiration. I guess that makes sense, considering Love is, perhaps, most infamous for allegedly telling Brian Wilson not to “fuck with the formula” during the recording of Smile. Of the 12 songs on Summer in Paradise, two are covers of songs by other artists (lead single “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”), one is a cover with some new lyrics (“Under the Boardwalk”), one is a combination of a cover and an original song (“Slow Summer Dancin’ (One Summer Night)”), and two are new versions of old Beach Boys songs (“Surfin'” and “Forever”). The aforementioned mashup (the new part was written by Bruce Johnston, a/k/a the only member still in the band besides Love) is actually one of the better songs on the album.

The bulk of the new songs are written by Love and Melcher, and most of them feature the perfectly cromulent vocal tag team of Love and Carl Wilson. These songs range from decent to forgettable to jaw-droppingly bad. “Strange Things Happen,” one of the only songs that doesn’t really track with the album’s concept, is one of the only songs that fits into the “decent” category and features a fine lead vocal from the unsuspended Al Jardine. In the forgettable category are songs like “Lahaina Aloha,” “Walking in the Sand,” and the aforementioned “Still Surfin’.” There’s also “Island Fever,” a song Love describes as “The Cousin of ‘Kokomo.'” That’s really just a nice way of saying: “It’s not really plagiarism since we wrote ‘Kokomo’ and own the copyright.” On the title track, the band drops a bunch of references to their older, much better songs. To wit: “Way back when well our master plan/ Was havin’ fun fun fun as America’s band/ Well we came out rockin’ with Rhonda and Barbara Ann.” As far as self-referential (or should it be self-reverential?) songs go, it’s somehow not as good as the one the New Kids on the Block did two years earlier.

Then there’s the jaw-droppingly bad. Perhaps the most original song on this album is the one that has been the least well-received — and that’s putting it lightly. Have you ever thought to yourself: “Well, Debbie Harry has a surprisingly good flow for someone who had never rapped on a recording before. I bet Mike Love could do that, too!” then “Summer of Love” is the song for you! Even the title is a double entendre! “If you’re a girl appreciates her recreation/ Why don’t you let me take you on a love vacation,” he helpfully informs us on the song that was originally slated to be a duet between him and Bart Simpson. Not sure what the next line was supposed to be. Maybe: “I watch the lovely ladies as they sun and tan/ They get mad when I stare, hey, don’t have a cow, man!” At least they didn’t challenge everybody, if you can, to do the Loveman.

Of course, Bart wouldn’t have been the only TV star on this record. Given the lack of a major label behind them, the Beach Boys had to find creative ways to market the album. Luckily, Love had a friend who was a major TV star at the time who was desperate for some musical credibility to go with his good looks. John Stamos had been part of the Beach Boys family for a while, often performing with the band in concert and even appearing in the “Kokomo” music video. As one of the stars of Full House, Stamos’ character was an aspiring musician, which made for an obvious storyline involving the Beach Boys.

Perhaps as a price for his role in promoting the album, Stamos sings lead on a cover of the Dennis Wilson-penned “Forever” that would also feature prominently on multiple episodes of Full House. As a singer and songwriter, Dennis never got the love that his brother did, but he received a fair amount of acclaim and praise for his raw, soulful voice and introspective, often melancholy songs. In fact, he’s actually more highly regarded by Beach Boys fans than Love, despite the fact that Dennis ended Love’s first marriage, dated Love’s illegitimate daughter when she was 16 (he disputes paternity, for what it’s worth) and married her a few years later, and introduced the Manson Family to the Hollywood scene.

Anyway, Uncle Jesse is fine as a singer, although his polished pop voice detracts from the emotion of the piece, turning it into a pure love song instead of the bittersweet ballad it was intended to be. In fact, on the show, as well as on the album, he omits the last verse (“So I’ve gone away/ But not forever/ Gonna love you any old way/ Forever”) which gives the song its true meaning and replaces “I’ve been so happy loving you” at the end with “I’ll be so happy loving you.” It makes sense given the context of a family show (and the fact that Jesse sang the song to Becky at their wedding) but the fact they let him record the song the same way shows where their main motivation was at that point.

Additionally there was one other natural TV tie-in for the band. The Simpsons may have passed on “Summer of Love,” but David Hasselhoff and the producers of Baywatch didn’t. And how could they with brilliant lines like: “We’ll be California dreamin’/ Baywatchin’ everyday/ Just off the Malibu surfin’ USA”? All of that led to a memorably awkward guest appearance on the show that featured Mike Love rapping his lines like a creepy uncle while surrounded by bikini clad women a fraction of his age, John Stamos playing drums, and a returning Brian Wilson accomplishing the seemingly impossible and looking uncomfortable and out-of-place on a beach.

Sadly, that Baywatch appearance was likely the high point for the band during this time period. Summer in Paradise didn’t chart in the U.S. and, according to reports, sold less than 1,000 copies domestically upon release — a shockingly low figure for a major artist with an established fan base. The band re-recorded some tracks for the UK release of the album, and even called in an old friend, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, to sing and add his trademark Rickenbacker sound on a remixed version of the title track that, somehow, sounds even worse than the original. All of that was for naught, however, as the record failed to chart in the UK, as well. Eventually, their paltry sales numbers were augmented by a QVC deal where they gave away unsold copies of her album as a special gift for people who bought a Beach Boys boxed set.

And that may have been the last time they ever acknowledged Summer in Paradise. The album has long been out of print and was excluded from the band’s re-issues. It’s not available on Spotify (I had to listen to it on YouTube), it’s not listed on the Beach Boys’ official website, and none of the music videos are on the Beach Boys’ official YouTube channel. In fact, Love barely talks about the album in his autobiography, devoting as many or more pages to the likes of George H.W. Bush, the Kennedys and David Lee Roth. You could argue that this album’s enduring legacy is Stamos’s version of “Forever,” which he still occasionally performs with the band, as well as when Full House got rebooted by Netflix a few years ago.

Or you could argue that this album’s real legacy is that it killed the Beach Boys as a creative force. Over the next two decades, Brian Wilson and Jardine would leave the band while Carl Wilson would die of lung cancer. Love, as last man standing, would turn the band into a touring act and most of the band’s releases over the next 20 years would either be compilations or new versions of old songs. It wouldn’t be until 2012’s reunion record, That’s Why God Made the Radio, when the band would finally make another album with original music. Not coincidentally, Wilson was the producer and co-wrote all but one of the songs on that album.

Whether there will be another reunion hinges on whether or not Brian Wilson still has heat with Mike Love (to borrow another wrestling term). Otherwise, we’re more likely to see Love re-record Pet Sounds with John Stamos singing lead on “God Only Knows.”

theconvictor

Leave a comment