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Monday, July 24, 2006

Beach Boys Credit War

In a comment on my SMiLE post immediately below, our fearless leader 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.


Tom Van Dyke said...

And, S.T., I might not disagree with you. From what I understand, it was Mike Love who torpedoed Smile, uncomfortable with an artsy departure from what was already commercially working, sun, sand, surf, and girls, girls, girls.

ST, it appears that Mike Love now appears in the credits of the later-manufactured CDs to which you refer as a result of litigation, and not on a number of the originals.

I took a peek at the Wiki, and the Mike Love entry seemed to have the most detail about the unpleasantness.

What I can tell you, having worked on recordings, when you're just throwing the creativity around (no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit), is that everyone walks out of a successful session with a highly elevated apprisal of their own contribution. (Not so much when it sucks---success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.)

Who wrote the words to "Good Vibrations?" Dunno. If I had to guess, Mike Love wrote most of 'em in the 60s version, Pet Sounds lyricist Peter Asher in the original demo, which were used in the 2004 Smile version.

If I can work a quote from memory, George Martin once went on vacation, but the Beatles kept recording. He said to the staff that 2 Beatles was great (John and Paul did "Ballad of John and Yoko" just the two of them, Paul on drums), 3 was fantastic, all 4 was magic.

The Beach Boys, like every occurance of magic, was a butterfly, which is nothing once you break it into its component parts.

No doubt that Brian Wilson's talent, that far outstripped Love's, would have taken the BBs somewhere without him, higher or lower, we shall never know.

S. T. Karnick said...

Very good insights, Tom. Thanks.

S. T. Karnick said...

I've looked at the Wikipedia entry, and it makes Love look very bad and confirms my belief that he is trying desperately to revise history and lower Brian's importance while inflating his own. This seems to me to be grotesquely dishonorable.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm embarrassed that I meant "appraisal," of course. We love our comments sections, and we allow that first drafts are forever once you hit "Publish."

You're entirely correct that with another writer (or even a passel of 'em), the Beach Boys Starring Mike Love would have been at best a couple-a-hit wonders.

There's a huge difference between the creative and performing arts. As far as creative input, Mike Love's Beach Boys weren't fit to sniff The Monkees' scat.