But Love is a far more complex figure than this appellation suggests. He may be best known for his nasal crooning on bouncy hits such as "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Little Deuce Coupe," but over the years he's also proven to be the most outspoken member of this fascinating and influential act--a group that Rolling Stone called "in many respects...the most innovative white rock-and-roll band the United States has ever seen." On one hand, he's been an active advocate of transcendental meditation and sound environmental policy. On the other, he's complained loud and long that his group has never been given its artistic due; at the Beach Boys' 1988 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for instance, he implied from the stage that the band was better live than the Rolling Stones. Some critics of the singer (and there are plenty of them) feel that he has more than a little in common with another Love--Buddy Love, the abrasive lounge singer played by Jerry Lewis in the 1964 comic psychodrama The Nutty Professor.
This comparison is both unfair and superficial. Mike Love today is a multifaceted man defined in large part by his contradictions. He is more than happy to play the Beach Boys' hits on the nostalgia circuit, yet occasionally feels that the songs themselves are insignificant. He says he does not want the group to rest on its laurels even as he touts the band's latest album, dominated by cover versions of summertime party songs. And he dreams of the day when he and his cousin Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys' acknowledged auteur and architect, can work and write together again, in spite of the fact that he is suing Wilson and a number of those in his orbit for neglecting to pay Love royalties for songs he claims to have co-written in the early and middle Sixties.
"It's a drag, but it's not about Brian versus Mike," Love says, his voice as smooth and warm as a palmful of suntan lotion. "Brian has acknowledged my co-authorship of certain songs, and he's acknowledged that he feels guilty about it, yet the people around him--the attorneys, the people who have controlled his life--won't let him resolve it."
This conflict is only the latest to embroil the Beach Boys, a combo whose history reads like the plot of a soap opera often too twisted and strange to be believed. In the beginning, the core of the band was made up of the Southern California-bred Wilsons: Brian and his brothers Carl and Dennis. Together with their cousin Mike, they would sing at family gatherings, where they learned to emulate, and then surpass, the tight vocal interplay of the Four Freshman, a popular Fifties quartet. In 1961, Al Jardine, a high school classmate of Brian's, was added to the foursome, and under the tutelage of the late Murry Wilson, a frustrated songwriter as well as the family patriarch, the Beach Boys were born. Their first song, "Surfin'," was a modest local hit, but their second, "Surfin' Safari" (the band's debut single on Capitol Records), was a national smash that began a string of sales successes that continued virtually without interruption through 1966. During that time, Brian's production expertise rivaled that of his idol, Phil Spector.
Although he is listed as co-writer on "Surfin' Safari" and several other ditties, Love contends that he was robbed of recognition for penning all or some of the lyrics on a pile of additional tunes, including "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Catch a Wave," "Hawaii," "Be True to Your School," "I Get Around" and "California Girls," which is the most lucrative song, in terms of publishing royalties, in the entire Beach Boys catalogue. Love is very specific when asked who is to blame for this oversight: "Brian and my uncle Murry did not give credit to other people's contributions."
Love is careful to stress that this claim should in no way be interpreted as an attempt to denigrate Brian's creative accomplishments. "There's no arguing that in the early and mid-Sixties, Brian was a preeminent musical force--purely a genius in terms of what he was doing with arrangements and production and so on," he notes. "We came out with so many great albums, so many great songs, and primarily it was because of Brian's unique ability. I came up with some of the words and some of the hooks, but he was the composer and arranger, and when he stopped being as forceful and competitive as he had been, that's when the Beach Boys stopped selling as many songs.