| July 5, 1976|
The Beach Boys
28 June 1976
| September 1975
January 30 – May 15, 1976|
Brother Studios, Santa Monica, CA
The Beach Boys Love You
Rock music, Rock and roll, Baroque pop
The Beach Boys albums, Rock music albums
15 Big Ones is the 20th studio album by American rock group The Beach Boys released in July 1976. It comprises cover versions of rock and roll and rhythm and blues standards, along with a few new originals. The album was met with mixed reviews, but the highest sales the band had for a new studio album in many years, peaking at number 8 on the weekly Billboard albums chart. Three singles were issued: a cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" and the originals "It's O.K." and "Everyone's in Love with You". The first two charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 8 and number 29, respectively.
With Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar having left the Beach Boys since their previous album Holland (1973), 15 Big Ones was recorded at a time when the group were struggling with their creative direction. Responding to the unexpected success of the greatest hits compilation Endless Summer (1974), Brian Wilson, who had not been credited as producer for any of the band's albums since Pet Sounds (1966), was brought into commandeering the 15 Big Ones sessions. Although the band begged his return, they resisted his desire for an underproduced sound. Upon its release, brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson voiced disappointment with the album, calling it "unfinished" and "a bruising process".
The Beach Boys' previous album Holland (1973) contained a bonus EP, Mount Vernon and Fairway, which was originally intended by Brian Wilson to be an LP consisting primarily of 1950s cover versions of songs like "A Casual Look", but the project was mostly scrapped. In the fall of 1974, sessions were held at Caribou Ranch studio—owned by the group's manager James William Guercio—in Nederland, Colorado and Brother Studios in Santa Monica for an album set to be released in early 1975. It was reported that Brian was actively involved in the proceedings but no release occurred. Many of the tapes were allegedly destroyed when the Caribou Ranch and its studio burned down, with only the tapes taken to Brother Studio surviving. Throughout 1974 and 1975, the group had worked on very few tracks that would eventually see release: "Child of Winter (Christmas Song)" in December 1974 and "Good Timin'" in 1979. Dennis Wilson's "River Song" was first worked on at the Caribou sessions along with the Brian/Mike Love collaboration "It's O.K.", with the latter resulting in being the only piece used for 15 Big Ones.
In 1975, Brian attempted to establish a Los Angeles collective named California Music, which included Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, and former Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. The Beach Boys' recent Endless Summer compilation was selling extremely well, and the band—without Brian—was touring non-stop, making them the biggest live draw in the US. Guercio was then fired by the group and replaced by Mike's brother Stephen Love who urged the group to encourage Brian to return to the production helm. According to Stephen: "We were under contract with Warner Bros., and we couldn't have him going on a tangent. If he was going to be productive, it's gotta be for the Beach Boys." Brian, who had already grown tired of working with the Beach Boys, was then legally ousted from California Music in order to focus his undivided attention on the band. Later in the year, Brian became involved with therapist Eugene Landy who had a major role in keeping Brian from indulging in substance abuse with constant supervision.
At the end of January 1976, the Beach Boys returned to the studio with an apprehensive Brian producing once again. At the time, he felt: "It was a little scary because [the Beach Boys and I] weren't as close. We had drifted apart, personality-wise. A lot of the guys had developed new personalities through meditation. It was a bit scary and shaky. But we went into the studio with the attitude that we had to get it done. After a week or two in the studio, we started to get the niche again." He attributes his hoarse voice on the album to a bout of laryngitis: "I wasn't using my normal voice. It was an assumed voice."
Brian decided the band should do an album of rock and roll and doo wop standards, but brothers Carl and Dennis disagreed, feeling that an album of originals was far more ideal. Mike and Al Jardine reportedly wanted the album out as quickly as possible to take advantage of their resurgence of popularity. At one point during the sessions, it was decided that a double album was to be released: one album of covers and another of original material. In the end, a compromise of both new originals and covers was decided upon, though the younger Wilson brothers were displeased. Whatever the case, it was a radical shift from previous albums such as Sunflower and Holland. Group meetings were supervised by Landy, and discussions over each song for the record were reported to last for up to eight hours.
Carl and Dennis intended the cover songs as a warm-up exercise for Brian, and did not expect that they would form part of the album's actual content. According to Stephen Love, Carl "dragged his feet" for the record, believing that the group was squandering its potential. He explained: "The hard truth is you don't have forever to tinker around with this stuff. The pressing demands of business sometimes interfere with artistic indulgence. Business-wise, you want to get the goddamn album out when things are gelling. Commerce and art, man, that's a tough thing." There are reports of group members undermining Brian's control over the album; some additional mixing and vocal overdubs were recorded without his knowledge in objection to Brian's desire for a rough, dry sound. Discussing Brian's production, Carl said: "Once we had finished a certain batch of songs, Brian said, 'That's it. Put it out.' That's why the album sounds unfinished. Brian just wanted to do one cut and capture the moment rather than working on something."
A few of the cover songs are connected to record producer and composer Phil Spector, whose famous Wall of Sound production methods have been an enduring fascination to Brian. "Just Once in My Life" and "Chapel of Love" both carry Spector songwriting credits, and "Talk to Me" had been a relatively unknown 45 rpm single produced by Spector in the early 1960s for singer Jean DuShon. Some songs were recorded for the album's sessions but not released on the LP. These include covers of "Come Go With Me", "On Broadway", "Running Bear", "Shake, Rattle, and Roll", "Peggy Sue", "Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore", a remake with Brian and Van Dyke Parks of the latter's 1966 "Come to the Sunshine" single, and the original "Don't Fight the Sea". According to Wilson, the songs that were covered were chosen on the basis that "since they were acceptable once, we figured they would be acceptable again. . . We figured it was a safe way to go."
A media campaign, "Brian's Back", was devised to promote Brian's return as a touring member and active producer for the band. Musicologist Philip Lambert characterized the campaign as "splashy [and] arguably exploitive". Writer Scott Schinder called it a "ballyhoo ... [which] proved premature". The Beach Boys were given an NBC TV special heralding their return.; it included a rendition of "That Same Song" with the Alexander Hamilton Double Rock Baptist Choir. Brian appeared at the center of a "Failure to Surf" comedy sketch in which surf cops played by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi pull Brian out of bed and force him to ride the waves outside.
Brian Wilson's suggestion to name the album Group Therapy was vetoed by the group, and it was instead entitled 15 Big Ones for their fifteen years in the business and for the fact that it had the same number of tracks. Despite objections by Carl and Dennis, it was released in late June, rising to number 8 in the US during a chart stay of 27 weeks, went gold and became the band's last top 10 studio album until That's Why God Made the Radio in 2012. The group then embarked on a large US tour with several performances, which included Brian as per his therapy program.
15 Big Ones had been the most commercially successful Beach Boys studio album in over ten years, though the critical reaction of the album was not strong. Upon release, the album was generally disliked by fans. Brian admitted that "[undoubtedly] the new album is nothing too deep," but remained optimistic, saying that the next group effort would be on par with "Good Vibrations". Carl was disappointed with the record, while Dennis was "heartbroken," explaining: "People have waited all this time, anticipating a new Beach Boys album, and I hated to give them this. It was a great mistake to put Brian in full control. He was always the absolute producer, but little did he know that in his absence, people grew up, people became as sensitive as the next guy. Why do I relinquish my rights as an artist? The whole process was a little bruising."
John Bush of AllMusic wrote: "Most of the covers are mistakes, part of a misguided attempt by the aging Beach Boys to recapture the energy of their youth. The 'contemporary' production techniques and overly polished sound do nothing for these oldies, and effectively sap them of any energy they might once have had." He later adds, "The only one that succeeds is the closer, the lesser-known Righteous Brothers hit "Just Once in My Life," given an emotional reading by Carl and Brian. Of the band originals, the good-time standard 'It's O.K.' and the quirky, endearing 'Had to Phone Ya' are excellent, reminiscent of Brian's odd pop songs on late-'60s albums like Friends and 20/20."
Scott Schinder wrote: "Despite the hype, the album was largely a letdown." British rock critic Nick Kent, referring to 15 Big Ones as "the album around which the whole 'Brian's Back' campaign was constructed", called it "utterly uninspired and weary-sounding ... the album was clearly intended only as therapy for Wilson's long dormant production talents."
Personnel per 2000 liner notes.The Beach Boys
Al Jardine - backing vocals, lead vocals (A3, A6, B2, B7), guitar (B2)
Mike Love - backing vocals, lead vocals (A1, A2, A3, A5, B4), arranger (A5)
Brian Wilson - backing vocals (A1, A2, A3, A4, A6, A7, A8, B1, B4, B7), lead vocals (A3, A4, A7, B5, B7), arranger (A1, A2, A3, A4, A6, A7, A8, B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B7), organ (A2, A6, A7, A8, B1, B4, B5, B7), piano (A1, A2, A3, A4, A6, A7, B1, B3, B5, B6, B7), Moog bass (A1, A2, A4, B6), ARP synthesizer (A1, A6, B7), ARP String Ensemble (A4, A5, A6, B6, B7), bass guitar (B2), harmonica (B2), chimes (B4), bells (B5)
Carl Wilson - backing vocals (A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, B1, B2, B3, B6), lead vocals (A3, A6, B1, B7), guitar (A2, B2, B4, B5), bass (A5, A6, B3, B5), synthesizer (B1), harp (B5), percussion (B5, B7)
Dennis Wilson - backing vocals (A1, A2, A3, A6, B2, B4, B6, B7), lead vocals (A3, B6), drums (A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, B3, B5, B6, B7), percussion (B3), vibraphone (A7)
Additional musicians and production staff
Album cover, art direction and logo was done by Dean Torrence and Jim Evans.Albums
Chart information courtesy of AllMusic and other music databases.
1Rock & Roll Music2:2915 Big Ones Wikipedia
3Had to Phone Ya1:45