In the annals of rock & roll reunions, the Beach Boys getting back together would have ranked somewhere below a chummy reconciliation between Oasis’s Gallagher brothers on the plausibility scale – until now, that is. Last year the surviving original members — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine — all contributed to a benefit single released under Jardine’s name, and now, in celebration of the group’s 50th anniversary, the founding Beach Boys have announced plans for a new album and extended tour. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge between the Boys, but the hardest hump the surf-pop kings had to overcome was the notoriously fractious relationship between Wilson and Love. If for no other reason than to underline exactly how remarkable this reconciliation is, let’s recap just a few of the most outstanding things Brian Wilson could have held against his cousin and collaborator Mike Love.
1. Frowning at Smile
One of the first and most definitive wedges between Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys was driven by the lack of support Brian’s bandmates showed for his 1967 masterwork, Smile. At the time, 25-year-old wunderkind Wilson famously declared the tracks from his epic art-pop suite to be “teenage symphonies to God.” But Brian’s bandmates preferred to play it safe, and expressed their distaste for the new direction. The attack on Smile was led by Love, who referred to it as “a whole album of Brian’s madness” allegedly even dismissing the original version of “Good Vibrations” as “avant-garde shit.” Love got his way, and one of rock’s crowning achievements lingered in limbo for decades. But the fragile young composer’s confidence was profoundly shaken, and he began distancing himself from both his band and the world — Brian was never quite the same again.
2. Ranting at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
In 1988, when the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Brian made a rare public appearance alongside his bandmates, and delivered a touchingly humble, openhearted speech that had the audience eating out of his hand. Afterwards, his crucial mistake – as ever – was ceding the spotlight to his cousin, who tore into a long, inexplicable rant that found him talking smack about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel, drawing a hail of boos from a crowd that had been prepared to worship unreservedly at the altar of the Beach Boys. “A lot of people are gonna go out of this room tonight thinking that Mike Love is crazy,” he quite rightly observed. Way too late, the onstage musicians finally put Love and the audience out of their collective misery by giving the cantankerous honoree a musical exit cue. Then, in a masterstroke of comic timing, Elton John – who had delivered the group’s introduction – strolled purposefully back to the microphone simply to add, “Thank fuck he didn’t mention me.”
3. Lawsuit City
In the ‘90s and 2000s, Mike Love subsidized an entire subsection of the American Bar Association with a series of lawsuits against Brian and other former bandmates. Three decades after the success of such Beach Boys blockbusters as “California Girls” and “I Get Around,” Love sued Wilson to have his own name appended to the writing credits. It is perhaps not coincidental that this suit came in the wake of Brian’s $25 million payday from a suit against the publishing company of the band’s classic catalog. Love ended up with half of Wilson’s aforementioned sum. Not long afterwards, Love sued to wrest control of the Beach Boys’ name from Wilson and Jardine, ultimately earning sole rights to perform under the legendary moniker. Even then, Love’s ever-classy cousin’s response was “I’m proud of Mike.” But the cherry on top of Love’s lawsuit sundae came in 2005, when he sued Wilson once more, this time over a British CD giveaway promoting Brian’s re-recording of Smile. Refusing to let Wilson have his Smile moment in the sun even 37 years after Love’s traumatizing trashing of it, Mike sought millions in damages for use of the Beach Boys’ name and likeness in promoting the resurrected masterpiece. Thankfully, Love’s legal luck finally ran out.
4. Disgracing the Family Name, Pt. 1
While Love took great issue with the way the Beach Boys legacy was represented by the one man without whom it could not have existed in the first place, Mike himself seemingly had no compunctions about besmirching the group’s good name in any way he could conceive — especially when he felt most desperate to gain attention for his post-Brian oldies act masquerading as a vital musical force. In the ‘80s and ‘90s that meant taking it to the TV screen. “The Beach Boys” appeared not once but twice on Full House, for instance, apparently discovering a kindred spirit in series star John Stamos, who ended up guesting with them numerous times and eventually became a frequent member of their live band. And on a 1997 episode of Home Improvement, it was revealed that Tim Allen’s neighbor “Wilson” was part of that Wilson family, when the Boys popped up in his backyard to trade jokes with the actors and offer some “ad hoc” a cappella harmonizing on their hits.
5. Disgracing the Family Name, Pt. 2
And then there’s this…