Mike Love: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

mike-love-01One of the first things that a person learns when getting into The Beach Boys is the general consensus concerning its life-long lead singer, Mike Love. And what is that? That he’s an absolute asshole – a money-driven schmuck with absolute no artistic integrity, Brian Wilson‘s worst enemy, the main reason behind ‘Smile’ not being released, the person who single-handedly dragged The Beach Boys’ reputation through thick mud in the 80’s and the 90’s until the band became a parody of itself, and so on. These accusations not only could go on for a few more paragraphs, but most are also partially true. I say partially because many of them are gruesomely exaggerated, the Smile story in particular.

But all in all, hating Mike Love is a very popular and comfortable attitude that many fans seem to adopt. And I should know, since I was of them. But at one point in my fandom, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it any more. I remember listening to his absolutely hallucinating, smooth, warm lead vocal on ‘Kiss Me, Baby’ – which to this day, is one of my favourite Beach Boys songs – and thinking to myself “Is this an artist that really deserves to be hated?”.

After that, I started re-evaluating everything the man has done, from his early energetic and distinctive vocals, to his amazing, surreal imagery transposed into the lyrics of ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Big Sur’, to the touching prayer-like ‘Let The Wind Blow’ and even to his stage presence. Simply put, Mike Love, at his peak (60’s and early 70’s), is an integral part of The Beach Boys and the band would have never been the same without him. He’s a great, distinctive singer, a competent, sometimes brilliant lyricist and a stage frontman in a band whose only other charismatic member was hiding behind the drum kit. Yeah, later he may have done some horrible artistic decisions. But then again, so did The Who, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and many other 60’s dinosaurs. Judging Mike based on ‘Kokomo’ and ‘Summer In Paradise’ is the equivalent of saying that David Bowie sucks because of that cringe-worthy duet with Mick Jagger. And finally, he may be an asshole in real life. But the day we judge rock stars based on their personalities is the day rock music will die, period.

All in all, Mr. Love is an easy target to focus one’s hate towards and sometimes deservedly so, but at the same time he is a member of my all-time favourite band whose contributions I just cannot dismiss. From an artistic point of view, a thumbs up all the way. As for his personality? Go bother somebody else, this is a music blog.

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Categories: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

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16 replies

  1. Just like Jim Carrey said (as Andy Kaufman in “The Man on the Moon” ; “Everyone needs a villain. “

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  2. Excellent job defending Love while still pointing out so many of his faults. I grew up assuming he was the “main guy” in The Beach Boys because he was always out front. By the mid-80s, the reinstatement of Brian Wilson as the genius behind the group had begun and that was an eye-opener (I was probably 19 or 20 when this revelation happened)…yet it still didn’t make me hate Love. Over the years, a lot of interviews have made him sound like the “money-driven schmuck with absolute no artistic integrity” you described above, but since I don’t have to work with him I’m able to separate the man from the music. No matter how great Brian Wilson was (and is), The Beach Boys would not have been the creative force they were, and the institution they’ve become, without every member’s contribution. So I give a thumbs up for the musical contributions of Mike Love, which is really all that should matter to us.

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  3. As, I think, Don Henley said of their then-manager: “OK, he’s an asshole, but he’s OUR asshole”.

    And having spent extended time with the man, he’s not. He’s aware of his public perception.

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  4. I have certainly reserved a fair amount of venom for the man over the years, but you’re right, when you get down to it he really was a main ingredient in Beach Boys Stew. I kind of forgave his doucheness for a while, then that whole “firing Brian Wilson and Al Jrdine” thing happened and I was right back in the “burn the bastard in effigy!!!” mode.

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  5. Great post! As a long-time Beach Boys fan, I’ve read all the crap about what a total bas***d Mike Love is and how his ego is beyond bloated, but it is all just that…crap. Well maybe. My point is that I don’t know Mr. Love beyond what I’ve read in the press and there’s the issue. It’s impossible to know the true story beyond the fact that Mike has been a key component of that perfect Beach Boy sound since the early days in CA and has contributed in a big way to the lyrics that made them who they are. Should he profit from all of this? Damn straight he should.

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    • Thank you. You are of course right – many things that have been said about Mr. Love over the years got to us through press, stories etc. and most of them are exaggerated anyway. Ultimately, none of us were there when they actually happened and we should keep that in mind.

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  6. Boo mike love! To be fair though, isn’t Kokomo a guilty pleasure?! I think so!!

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  7. I think a lot of people forget that Mike Love was Brian’s first real co-writer since Brian has never wrote lyrics. The songs were basic but look at the time period, girls, cars, surfing were all great subjects to rock out to so nobody complained until Brian wanted to break formula and compose something with more substance. Mike Love took the brunt of the criticism against moving beyond Top 40 hits but I have to believe all of the band members at one time or another had a moment of concern if the money they were making from hits was going to dry up. So I don’t hate Mike Love, even after the most recent 50th Anniversary fallout (Did he kick Brian out of The Beach Boys? Not likely). He was not only part of the group but lead singer, song contributor and part of the extended family so he’s always had a stake in the band and he tried to protect it. My only concern is try watching his Beach Boys play in concert than go watch Brian Wilson’s band. Love’s lineup is like hearing a schmaltzy tribute band while watching Brian’s group is like reliving the magic of those great songs all over again.

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  8. hahahaha…you’re right….i never thought about him like that, but you’re bang on the money.

    Liked by 1 person

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