In a comment on my SMiLE post at the Reform Club, blogger Tom Van Dyke points out that Beach Boy Mike Love has sued for greater credit for the band’s songs. I, too, had heard about this, and here are my thoughts on the issue.
Mike Love was given co-songwriting credit on numerous songs by the Beach Boys, almost always in collaboration with Brian, who contributed all the musical composition in those efforts. Take a look at the credits on the CDs, and you’ll see that this is true. It is certainly possible that Mike Love may have contributed to some songs without receiving credit, though even if that did happen, it would have been the fault of the group’s manager, Murry Wilson, who was the (abusive) father of Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson and uncle of Mike Love. No one in the band was able to stand up to Murry until around 1967 or so.
That said, I am extremely skeptical of Love’s claim that he deserves even more credit for the group’s songs. (I have read several books about the band’s history, FYI, and seen the many documentaries about the band as well.) Van Dyke Parks, who wrote the lyrics for SMiLE, received credit for his contributions, as did Gary Usher and Roger Christian, who wrote lyrics for many of the band’s songs through 1966, and Tony Asher, who wrote nearly all the lyrics for the Beach Boy’s gorgeous Pet Sounds album. If Mike Love contributed to more songs than he received credit for, why were these outside writers properly credited and Love, a full-fledged member of the band, not? That doesn’t make sense.
My assessment is that Mike Love is trying to take greater credit than he deserves. Brian has refused to fight him on this, consenting to let Love receive the credit—and money—he is seeking. Brian is an entirely nonconfrontational person, and it is clear to me that he would rather give his cousin the money and undeserved credit rather than fight him for it.
Of course, Mike Love should get whatever credit he has earned for any songs to which he may have contributed, but it is not at all true that he was vital to the band’s success. It was drummer Dennis Wilson who was the surfer and contributed the surfing terms for the early songs, and Brian could easily have done without Love’s lyrics entirely, using other talented lyric writers instead of his cousin, as he did when his musical concepts finally progressed too far beyond what Love was capable of writing about, specifically with Pet Sounds.
This is important because the Beach Boys are an important part of our cultural history, and credit (and blame) for the band’s works should be allocated correctly. Mike Love’s lyric writing ability has always been decidedly pedestrian and grossly inferior to that of the other lyric writers Brian worked with. Love was a barely competent singer with an unattractive, nasal voice, little range, and an astonishingly limited ability to convey emotion. In sum, he was extremely fortunate to be able to ride the coattails of his musical genius cousin, Brian.
None of this, of course, is meant to criticize Mike Love as a person. From what I have read about him, he has been a fairly decent person in most ways, although he has had his pecadilloes as have we all. In addition, I would never disparage the Beach Boys’ early lyrics or Mike Love’s part in the band, but without Brian, the Beach Boys would have been less important than the Hondells and Jan and Dean. Without Mike Love, they would still have been the Beach Boys.
When I saw Brian Wilson in Symphony Hall, Boston in 1999, there was a short film about Brian before the concert that had footage of the other Beach Boys. Whenever Dennis or Carl appeared on the screen, the audience cheered like mad; when Mike Love appeared, the boos were deafining.
Anyway, one factor you didn’t mention about Mike Love’s quest for more credit for the Beach Boys songs is the fact that he feels that he was given the shaft by Murry Wilson, Brian, Dennis & Carl’s father who was the manager of the band in the early days. He was the one who sold the Beach Boys’ song catalogue for a pittence back in 1969, which was probably, along w/the Smile fisaco, the main reason why Brian mentally collasped. Mike feels that Murry didn’t give him the credit on many of the early songs.
Also, I did get the Beach Boys CD that Hallmark Cards put out recently as a birthday gift & I felt that Mike’s song was the best of the “new songs” of the CD.
“Big Sur” is a beautiful song, just as you say, and Mike Love sings it appealingly. The liner notes on the CD remaster cite this song as “Mike Love’s finest hour,” and it is indeed that. When Love tried to stretch his abilities a little, he could do all right. Too bad he was usually so complacent. And even when it comes to “California Saga” suite as a whole, of which “Big Sur” is the opening section, it’s Al Jardine’s “California” section that makes the song really take off. However, “Big Sur’s” meandering waltz time was a very good choice and really helps paint an inspiring musical picture. Very nice.
While I agree with your assessment of Mike Love, he was responsible for a great song on the “Holland” album called “Big Sur.” It’s not “God Only Knows” or “Surf’s Up” but it was at least as good as anything Bruce Johnston contributed to the group.
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