Mike Love and Brian Wilson may be both cousins and two of the founding members of one of the greatest bands in pop music history, The Beach Boys, but they have a long history of arguments and feuds. The latest disagreement is over Love’s choice to play a fundraiser for President Donald Trump, something the two other living members of the band, Wilson and Al Jardine, disavowed in a statement to Variety. Wilson and Love's disagreements go back decades though.
It’s just a fact of nature that family members argue. It’s also a fact of nature that bands argue a lot too. Combine the two and at worst, you end with an Oasis situation where two brothers are always so angry at each other that it seems like they’ll never get over it. All of this is true for The Beach Boys, who, when they formed, were three brothers, Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, along with their cousin Mike Love and childhood friend Al Jardine. And almost from the beginning, there were intra-band arguments, usually between Mike Love and Brian Wilson. It seems little has changed in the almost 60 years since.
If you want to trace back to where the disputes between Brian Wilson and Mike Love began, you can point to the recording of The Beach Boys most celebrated album, Pet Sounds, in 1966. The history of Pet Sounds is well-documented, but if you aren’t familiar with it, it almost caused the band to break up at the height of their career.
Brian Wilson, who was never very comfortable playing live, made the decision that he would no longer tour with the other four members. Instead, he would concentrate completely on writing and recording new music for the band. As Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, and Mike Love toured Asia, Brian stayed behind in LA, laying down the tracks for Pet Sounds with the legendary Wrecking Crew group of studio musicians. When the rest of the band returned to the States, they recorded the vocals.
When they heard the new music, they were all taken aback, and Mike Love in particular immediately disliked it. Pet Sounds was a major departure from the early hits about surfing and cars, both in the intricacies of the compositions, but in the lyrical subject matter as well. Love was vocal about his distaste for the lyrics. He specifically thought they were too druggy. The song “Hang On To Your Ego” was especially egregious to the musician. The straight-laced Love thought the lyrics were offensive, so he helped Brian rewrite it and come up with a new title, “I Know There’s An Answer." In an interview with Goldmine Magazine in the early '90s, Love said of the song, “That used to be 'Hang On To Your Ego' and then it became 'I Know There's An Answer.' I changed the lyrics because I thought it was too acid for me.”
Love added, “When it got to that period of Brian's life, that's when he started doing a lot of drugs. We were touring a lot and we'd come back in and do an album like Pet Sounds, for instance, and some of the words were so totally offensive to me that I wouldn't even sing 'em because I thought it was too nauseating.” More than that, Love insisted that Pet Sounds was not what the Beach Boys were all about and if they were going to reach the top of the pop charts again, they needed to stick to the formula that got them there — something Pet Sounds definitely did not do.
Pet Sounds was initially a commercial flop, but when “Good Vibrations,” the one song Wilson was not ready to put on the album, was released a few months later, it became one of the biggest songs in the band’s repertoire. Wilson intended to make the song, which he called his “pocket symphony,” to be the centerpiece for his next masterpiece that would be called Smile. Sadly though, the album’s recording disintegrated as Wilson’s mental health declined quickly.
Wilson not only stayed off the road with the band, he rarely left his house. He would lock himself in his home, doing drugs and gaining weight. It would take decades for him to recover. In the meantime, some of the songs intended for Smile were released as Smiley Smile and the band continued to tour without their leader. Of course, Love didn’t understand Wilson’s health situation and was resentful of his drug use. That anger only grew over the years as Brian would have moments of inspiration and occasionally would play with the band as they continued to tour throughout the '70s and '80s, even after the drowning death of Dennis Wilson in 1983.
The 1990s were a tough decade for the band. Brian Wilson had spent the '80s in a prescription drug haze as a result of his personal doctor, Eugene Landy, providing dubious and controversial treatments for Wilson’s various physical and mental health problems. In 1992, Brian Wilson released an autobiography and was promptly sued for defamation by Mike Love. That case was settled by Wilson’s publisher, which paid Love $1.5 million.
A far more destructive lawsuit was also filed by Love that year when he sued Wilson for what he claimed were lost royalties after not being properly credited for some of the band's biggest hits dating back to their earliest days in the 1960s. Love again prevailed in court, winning $12 million in the suit.
In 1998 Brian’s youngest brother, and a founding member of The Beach Boys, Carl Wilson, died of lung and brain cancer. It was a devastating blow for the band and especially for Brian. The remaining members broke up and went their separate ways, with various offshoots of the band performing separately under various names.
Eventually, Mike Love took control of the name “The Beach Boys” and toured for the rest of the '90s and '00s under the moniker with limited participation from the other remaining original members, Brian Wilson, and Al Jardine. The resentment from the lawsuits and the tours only made the animosity between the former bandmates and cousins worse.
The band temporarily set their differences aside in 2012 and staged a world tour in honor of their 50th anniversary, but the good vibrations of that tour wouldn’t last. Despite great reviews and playing a number of high-profile gigs that exposed their legendary music to a younger generation, including a set on the main stage at Bonnaroo, the band members would again go their separate ways at the end of the tour, which brings us to today.
The latest spark in the feud erupted over the weekend after it was announced The Beach Boys would be playing a fundraiser for big-ticket donors in Orange County, California, for President Donald Trump. Immediately, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine denounced the decision. In a statement to Variety, the two original members said,
We have absolutely nothing to do with the Trump benefit today in Newport Beach. Zero. We didn’t even know about it and were very surprised to read about it in the Los Angeles Times.
Jardine and Wilson can’t stop Love from playing the gig, as he legally owns the name, but that doesn’t mean they are happy with the band’s name being associated with President Trump. Love has been a friend of the president for years and has spoken in support of him in the past. The Beach Boys, sans Wilson and Jardine, played President Trump’s inauguration in 2016.
Wilson and Jardine have criticized Love for similar decisions as well. Earlier this year, the former bandmates signed a petition urging a boycott of Love’s Beach Boys after he signed on to perform a gig at the Safari Club International Convention, an organization known for its support of big-game hunting. Donald Trump Jr. was the keynote speaker at the event.
So really, none of this is new. Brian Wilson and Mike Love haven’t seen eye-to-eye on things for many, many years. The band’s 60th anniversary is just two years away, and speaking on behalf of Beach Boys fans everywhere, Gossip Cop hopes they can patch up their differences long enough for one last tour.