LOOKING BACK IS AGREEABLE, AND ON OCCASION, SPLENDID …
By Andrew G. Doe
When I bought Looking Back With Love (pretty much on the day of release when I was in Sacramento, but that’s another story …), I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Of the previous two Beach Boys’ solo albums, Dennis’ awesome Pacific Ocean Blue, had been an equally unknown quantity that delivered in spades while Carl’s self-titled debut was conversely something of a disappointment, but they were both proven composers while Mike’s Beach Boys’ contributions were almost exclusively as a lyricist. So …
As it transpired, Mike neatly avoided said potential problem by either covering well-known songs, or by using material co-written in the main by his album collaborator, Jim Studer, and concentrating on his other forte, the singing. Early Association producer and legendary Sunshine Pop artist Curt Boettcher (spelled Becher on the LP jacket), who first worked with Mike during the 1978 L.A. [Light Album] sessions, (mostly) dialed back his usual, ornate production style to something that suited the undemanding nature of the project, and the resulting album was at worst amiable, in general, agreeable, and on occasion rather splendid.
Of course, this wasn’t Mike’s first stab at a solo album: three years earlier, during the November/December Light Album sessions, he’d recorded two solo albums in tandem, when not occupied by The Beach Boys sessions. First Love was produced by Paul Fauerso, Country Love by legendary steel guitar player Al Perkins. Neither have yet been officially released, but (inevitably) tapes leaked … but not until some years after Looking Back With Love had been released, thus, at the time I was indeed pretty much in the dark as to exactly what it would sound like.
Of the covers, the Cahn/De Paul jazz standard “Teach Me Tonight” is recast in a mellow, easy listening arrangement echoed neatly by Mike’s soft vocal (nerd point: the harmonica solo is by long-time Wrecking Crew member Tommy Morgan) creating an overall ambiance of warm contentment, while Boettcher’s Caribbean predilections were given full rein on Bobby Day’s “Over And Over” (probably better known in its Dave Clark Five incarnation). The Beach Boys had attempted Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl” during the 1978 Light Album sessions: surprisingly (or perhaps not), Mike’s insistent version differs markedly, and to some effect. Boettcher’s love of disco came to the fore on the Abba cover “On And On And On,” again to no small effect, as did the blatantly amusing “Do It Again” references (Bjorn & Benny met Brian when The Beach Boys toured Europe in the summer of 1980 and a rumor arose that he helped them write it: complete nonsense of course, as the album it was on was released a good few months previously). And then there’s “Be My Baby”…
That Brian’s favorite song of all time should surface on a Mike Love solo album seemed, to be charitable, odd: that is until tapes (remember those?) of unreleased tracks started leaking out a few years later and it became glaringly apparent that the version here made heavy use of a demo Mike & Brian recorded in July of 1980 (produced by Brian), which could account for the slightly disconnected nature of the somewhat staccato basic track/vocals and the later Boettcher overdubs. Brian’s still there on keyboards and backing vocals.
So, the new material. The title track (produced by Jim Studer with help from Boettcher) is somewhat atypical of the album as a whole, being slightly plodding and lyrically maybe trying a bit too hard (as an aside, Mike came in for much criticism for these lyrics … which he didn’t actually write): think of it as a proto-“We Didn’t Start The Fire” concentrating on the sixties. “Runnin’ Around The World” sounds like nothing more than an extended trainer commercial (and was allegedly once considered as such), inoffensive but not exactly compelling. “Rockin’ The Man in The Boat,” a slightly more muscular rocker, initially strikes the ear as equally offensive, but then the truth dawns that it’s nothing more or less than an ode of, shall we say, “self-pleasure”? Once thought, impossible to unthink!
“One Good Reason” echoes “Teach Me Tonight” in both mood and execution, gentle and reflective. The best is kept for last in “Paradise Found.” A duet with sixties songbird Joanie Sommers, Mike’s sole contribution (lyrical or otherwise) to the album, and the most Beach Boys sounding track of the entire set, completes the mellow triad of songs, and the album itself, neatly.
Released in early October 1981, the album failed to bother the chart compilers, and to date has yet to be reissued on CD, although the Abba cover was included on 1999’s ABBA: A Tribute – The 25th Anniversary Celebration.
At the time of release, and pretty much ever since, Looking Back With Love has had a rough time with most critics and fans alike, often seemingly for no better reason than it’s by Mike. Granted, it’s no great work of art, but then, that was never the intention: as a British advert has it, it does what it says on the tin. Taken at face value, with no agenda, it’s more than OK. There are worse Beach Boys solo albums.
Note: This album can be found on Amazon.
Be sure to purchase ESQ’s Fall 2019 Mike Love Collector’s Edition featuring full interviews with Mike Love; producers Paul Fauerso, Al Perkins, Sam Hollander, Josh Edmondson, and Scott Totten; and engineers Jeff Peters and Tom Gordon. Click HERE to order.