The Beach Boys: The truth about Brian Wilson and Mike Love's feud

For a band known for their surf-drenched California sound and soothing harmonies, there is a tremendous amount of bad blood among the members of the Beach Boys. Namely, it's between songwriter and vocalist Brian Wilson and his cousin, also a songwriter and vocalist, Mike Love. 

Co-founded in 1961 by Wilson, his brothers Carl and Dennis, Al Jardine, and Love, the Beach Boys have sold over 100 million records worldwide, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and 1966's Pet Sounds still ranks number two on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums list. Suffice it to say, both Wilson and Love are rock royalty and are sitting on millions. But, that hasn't stopped ego, creative differences, and good ole ideological disputes from getting between them. 

Many Beach Boys fans highlight Brian Wilson's genius and think of Mike Love as an interloper — and Love's aware of it. "For those who believe that Brian walks on water, I will always be the Antichrist," Love once quipped, per Vanity Fair. It all came to a head after a 50th-anniversary tour soured in 2012, and when, in 2016, both Brian Wilson and Mike Love came out with dueling tell-all memoirs. It was, well, less than good vibrations. So, what's really at the center of the Wilson-Love feud?

Mike Love reportedly didn't like "Pet Sounds"

The origin of much of the hate surrounding Mike Love all starts in 1966. The Beach Boys were recording Pet Sounds, and it was an artistic departure with new chord progressions, structure, and recording techniques straight from the mind of Brian Wilson. It's rumored that Love undermined Wilson's talents and was disgruntled for getting cheated out of key vocal parts.

Per Rolling Stone, when Wilson played Mike Love the tracks, he purportedly said, "Who's gonna hear this s***? The ears of a dog?" While harsh, this story accounts for the title of the iconic album. And the criticism didn't tarnish the final product: This was a record that led John Lennon to personally call up Brian Wilson to explain how it was the best album of all time.

While Mike Love would later deny these quotes, he was also known to have gone on to criticize Wilson's next effort, Smile. "The fable is that I'm such an a******, but a lot of that stuff is skewed by the crazies," Love said. "I might have complained about some of the lyrics on Smile, calling them acid alliteration," Love conceded. Discouraged, Wilson would go on to shelve Smile for 37 years until it was released in 2004.

Mike Love has sued Brian Wilson multiple times

Much of the derision aimed at Mike Love, according to him, is because many fans mistakenly believe Brian Wilson did all of the songwriting in the group. However, Mike Love has contested this again and again in court.

In the 1990s, Love gained retroactive songwriting credits for 35 Beach Boys songs, including "409" and "I Get Around." As reported by the Herald-Tribune, Love claimed the band's former manager (and Wilson's father), Murry Wilson, had purposely excluded him from getting songwriting credit. Wilson was forced to give Love a $5 million settlement for his share of the song royalties.

Perhaps one of the biggest sources of contention was the band's name. In 1998, Mike Love became the sole licensee of the Beach Boys' name after negotiating with Brother Records Inc, per Billboard. While Brian Wilson was largely absent from the band after 1967 due to drug and alcohol issues, Wilson, Love, and Jardine managed a reunion tour in 2012. However, the tour seemed to end abruptly, and with Love holding the name, he was free to kick Wilson out.

In fact, the only legal dispute Brian Wilson has won, per Rolling Stone, was a "ridiculous lawsuit" that claimed a 2004 promotional CD of re-recorded Beach Boys tracks that had been given out with a London newspaper had cost Love millions of dollars in profit. According to Melinda Wilson, "After Mike's deposition, he turned to his cousin Brian and said, 'you better start writing a real big hit because you're going to have to write me a real big check.'" The judge rightfully threw out the lawsuit in 2007.

Brian Wilson condemned Mike Love's 2020 Beach Boys show

The tension between Mike Love and Brian Wilson has bubbled up as recently as 2020. Touring with a separate band under the Beach Boys name, Mike Love was set to headline a show at the Safari Club International Convention in February. What's the big deal? The SCI is a hunting club that has been condemned by the Humane Society for promoting the senseless killing of wild animals.

"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," Wilson said in response to the show, per Brooklyn Vegan. "This organization supports trophy hunting, which Both Al and I are emphatically opposed to. There's nothing we can do personally to stop the show." He encouraged his fans to sign a petition to boycott the show and stop attending further concerts under the Beach Boys name.

Mike Love released a response that the show would go on and that, "[We] support freedom of thought and expression as a fundamental tenet of our rights as Americans," according to Brooklyn Vegan. Mike Love did perform — completely ignoring the petition — further engraining the ideological split between him and Wilson. After a boycott, are there any chances left of a reunion tour featuring the surviving members of the Beach Boys? God only knows.