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The Beach Boys battle: Why does Brian Wilson hate Mike Love?

The Beach Boys are one of the most iconic bands of all time, period. Defined by their harmonies, the band’s ‘California Sound’ endears them to fans worldwide, bringing a bit of that classic California sun with them on whatever radio or speaker they are played. Formed in 1961 by mastermind Brian Wilson, his brothers Carl and Dennis, Al Jardine and Mike Love, the Beach Boys have sold over 100 million records worldwide, a commercial testament to their brilliance. 

The band transitioned from sugary pop pin-ups to masters of the psychedelic avant-garde with 1966’s deeply introspective Pet Sounds. Although widely known, it was this album that cemented their status in the annals of rock. Whilst not their only significant work by a long shot, it is their most influential and innovative. Artists ranging from The Ramones to Stereolab and Neutral Milk Hotel have all cited the Beach Boys’ influence with this offering. 

However, it has never been plain sailing for the California troupe. The band are no stranger to bad blood, creative differences and tragedy. The most defining feature of the band’s darker side is the Shakesperean rivalry between Brian Wilson and Mike Love. Their rivalry is so bitter and deeply entrenched that there is almost no possibility of them reconciling.  

There is no love lost on either side. Brian Wilson has been particularly vocal about his disdain for his former bandmate. Whilst neither of the pair are whiter than white, it is not ridiculous to posit that Love has come to embody an antagonistic role for Wilson in the media. In Vanity Fair, Love acknowledged that: “For those who believe that Brian walks on water, I will always be the Antichrist.”

Using the media as their battleground, Wilson has mocked Love’s singing voice and even gone as far as proclaiming: “I don’t like Mike Love at all. I don’t like his attitude. He’s too egotistical.” It is absolute statements like this that have had fans wondering why Brian Wilson hates Mike Love so much. It turns out there are a few reasons, and the feud started all the way back in 1966 with the recording sessions for Pet Sounds.

Almost entirely composed by Wilson, Pet Sounds was clearly close to his heart, given it was such a momentous time in his personal life. Progressive pop at its finest, it was groundbreaking in so many ways, and even now, over 50 years since its release, it is hailed as a game-changer. Recording techniques, structure and chords were broken down and reworked by Wilson, who at that point was suffering from severe mental health problems owing to the effects of LSD. 

Although the album was Wilson wearing his heart on his sleeve and was widely hailed as nothing short of ingenious, one person wasn’t so keen. Who else but Mike Love? Allegedly, when Wilson played him the album, he said, “Who’s gonna hear this shit? The ears of a dog?” Love has always denied this quote. Furthermore, it claimed that Love was disparaging about Wilson’s next work, Smile. Wilson would end up leaving the album unfinished until finally releasing it in 2004. The effect that Love had on Wilson’s decision to shelve Pet Sounds’ successor has always been contested. In fact, Love said: “A lot of that stuff is skewed by the crazies.” However, he did admit: “I might have complained about some of the lyrics on Smile, calling them acid alliteration.” Surely this quip wasn’t enough to make Wilson hate Love, or least, shelve the album?

There is also the issue of who wrote all the songs. Love has taken Wilson to court on numerous occasions. In 1994, he won a suit that allowed him retroactive songwriting credits on 35 Beach Boys songs, including iconic hit ‘I Get Around’. Love later labelled Wilson’s accreditation on the majority of their songs as “almost certainly the largest case of fraud in music history”. Subsequently, Wilson was ordered to hand Love a $5 million settlement in lost royalties.

The Beach Boys have endured troubled relationships. (Credit: Alamy)

There was also the rather major dispute over the band’s name. Brian had been increasingly absent from the band since 1967 owing to numerous health issues, including drug and alcohol abuse. Somehow, after a few complicated court rulings in the ’90s, Mike Love ended up in total control of the band’s name.

Regardless of all the bad blood – and the death of Wilson’s two brothers – surviving members Wilson, Love and Jardine let the water flow under the bridge and embarked on a celebratory 50th-anniversary tour in 2012. However, it ended abruptly after rumours emerged that Love had fired Wilson from the band. In what was the Beach Boys’ version of Order 66, what followed was Love touring under the name of ‘The Beach Boys’ and Wilson, Jardine and early Beach Boys member David Marks touring as a trio.

The band would again briefly get back together in July 2018 for a one-off Q&A session at the Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles. Following on from the successful performance, in December 2018, Love claimed that he “would love nothing more than to get together with Brian and do some music.”

However, this détente would be brief. Fast forward to February 2020, and the battle would be resumed. Again touring under the Beach Boys name, Love and his iteration of the group played a show for the Safari Club International Convention. The significance of this is that the pro-hunting group has been widely criticised for promoting the killing of wild animals.  

Diametrically opposed to everything the group stands for, Wilson was outraged. He again took to the media to share his thoughts. In Brooklyn Vegan, he wrote: “It has been brought to my attention that on Wednesday, February 5, The Beach Boys touring group licensed by Mike Love are headlining at the Safari Club International Convention in Reno, Nevada”. 

He continued: “This organisation supports trophy hunting, which Both Al and I are emphatically opposed to. There’s nothing we can do personally to stop the show.” 

In a show of arms Wilson shared a link to a petition, which attracted nearly 80,000 signatures. Classically Wilson, the petition was titled “Wouldn’t it be nice if all the Beach Boys, stayed away from those who kill for fun?” Not one to back away from a fight, Love responded, “(We) support freedom of thought and expression as a fundamental tenet of our rights as Americans”. 

This ideological split would come to a head in October that year. Love’s Beach Boys headlined a California fundraiser for Donald Trump’s presidential re-election campaign. Through a spokesperson, Wilson and Jardine issued a statement declaring that they were not aware of the performance, and did not support it. They said: “We have absolutely nothing to do with the Trump benefit today in Newport Beach. Zero”.

Given that the Wilson and Love feud has taken on the guise of the deeply entrenched, ideological split that has engulfed the US for the past few years, it is not hard to see why there is no love lost between the pair. When you add this bipartisanship to an already fraught relationship, you can heed why Wilson hates Love. Whilst it would be nice to see them reunite once more, it is seemingly impossible.

Watch Brian Wilson share his thoughts on Mike Love, below.