15 Big Ones is the twentieth album from The Beach Boys (not to confuse with 20/20 which was their twentieth album including best-of compilations). This album marks a come-back for the band (whose last album was 1973's Holland) and especially for Brian Wilson who is credited as the sole producer (10 years after Pet Sounds which was the last album where he had major creative control on top of being its producer). As such, it is considered the first album of the "Brian's Back" trilogy (followed by The Beach Boys Love You and the cancelled Adult/Child). It is also a come-back for Brian as a touring member for the band, since the end of 1964 where his mental struggles lead him to quit the scene and focus on writing songs (although he did rare appearances in 1965 and 1971).
The production of this album was troubled by the band's ambitions. While some members wanted to release a double-album containing cover of old songs on one disc and brand new songs on the second one, other members wanted a mix of the two on a single disc. They settled on the latter and the 15 tracks also coincide with the 15 years of the bandís career up until that point (1976). Other conflicting elements were the presence of psychiatrist Eugene Landy who was supervising group meetings and Brianís role as a producer which left his fellow Beach Boys worried (one of the sessions musicians recalled Brian approving a song after the first take and putting it out without any modification). Nevertheless, the album was a commercial success, reaching the the US top 10 chart. This contrasts with the albumís mixed reception especially from the bandís own fanbase. Two major points of criticism were the choice of including cover songs on more than half of the albumís tracklist as well as Brian and Dennis Wilsonís vocal performances.
15 Big Ones comprises of 7 original songs and 9 covers (there are two covers, "Talk To Me" and "Tallahassee Lassie", which are compressed into a single track). Most of the covers reflect Brianís admiration for classic rock n roll legends as well as pop figures who inspired him early in his career (Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Phil Spector just to name a few). The Beach Boys cover of "Rock and Roll Music" was a top 10 US charter and remains a concert staple for the rest of the band's career on stage. In terms of original songs, some of them were already written years prior to this albumís release (especially "Back Home" whose first recording dates back to the early 60s). With the presence of 15 songs all lasting over a minute and a half, 15 Big Ones is one of the Beach Boysí longest albums, lasting close to 40 minutes.
- "Rock And Roll Music" (2:29)
- "It's OK" (2:12)
- "Had To Phone Ya" (1:43)
- "Chapel Of Love" (2:34)
- "Everyone's In Love With You" (2:52)
- "Talk To Me/Tallahassee Lassie" (2:14)
- "That Same Song" (2:16)
- "TM Song" (1:34)
- "Palisades Park" (2:27)
- "Susie Cincinnati" (2:57)
- "A Casual Look" (2:45)
- "Blueberry Hill" (3:01)
- "Back Home" (2:49)
- "In The Still Of The Night" (3:03)
- "Just Once In My Life" (3:47)
- Al Jardine - lead vocals, guitar
- Mike Love - lead vocals
- Brian Wilson - lead vocals, piano, synthesizers, guitar, bass, organ
- Carl Wilson - lead vocals, guitar, bass, synthesizers
- Dennis Wilson - lead vocals, drums
Just let me trope some of that rock and roll music !:
- Amusement Park: "Palisades Park"
- Broken Record: "Itís OK"ís outro:Find a ride, find a rideIn the sum-sum-summertime
You (you) you (you) you (you) you (you)Come on (come on) come on and answer the phonecome on come on (I hope youíre home)
- "Had To Phone Ya"ís bridge and outro:
- And "Susie Cincinnati"ís outro.
- The Cameo: Marilyn Rovell, Brian Wilsonís wife at the time, can be heard at the very end of Had To Phone Ya.
- Cover Version: More than half of the album features cover songs and the inclusion of that many covers was a major conflicting element in the albumís production (as well as a major point of criticism when the album was released).
- Double-Meaning Title: 15 Big Ones directly refers to the 15 songs on the tracklist and symbolically refers to the 15th anniversary of the bandís career.
- Down on the Farm: "Back Home":I'm goin' back to that farm that I remember(...)I'm gonna get up every morning before the roostersI'll run downstairs fix my breakfast all aloneI'll milk those cows feed the chickens and the horses
- Epiphany Therapy: "TM Song" whose lyrics are sung after an intro involving an argument:Transcendental meditation really works for me goodMore much more than I thought it would
- Face on the Cover: All current Beach Boys (after Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar left the band in the mid-seventies but before Bruce Johnston re-integrated it in the late seventies) are featured in an olympic layout. This coincides with the albumís release year (1976) which was also an olympic year (although the summer and winter games took place in Canada and Austria, not in the US)
- This cover is also notorious for featuring the definitive logo of The Beach Boys which was designed by Dean Torrance (of Jan and Dean fame) and was the first of three collaborations between the singer-turned-graphic artist and the band).
- Fade Out: Off the albumís 15 tracks, only Everyoneís In Love With You and TM Song donít end with a fade-out.
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences: On Had To Phone Ya:Al: It lifts my spirits...Carl: ...every single time
- Heavy Meta: "Rock And Roll Music".
- He's Back!: Even though Brian never retired as a Beach Boy, this was the first album in 10 years in which he was the sole producer and the albumís release had a promotional campaign appropriately titled Brianís Back.
- Irony: TM Song is a track which starts with a spoken word sequence where the Beach Boys are arguing (on an album which had a troubled production and many arguments over what the album's format should be).
- Location Song: "Chapel Of Love", "Palisades Park" and "Blueberry Hill".
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Rock And Roll Music" (which also serves as a lyrical cold open to the album), "Talk To Me/Tallahasse Lassie", "A Casual Look" and "Just Once In My Life" (you could also argue that "TM Song" has one since it starts with a spoken word sequence).
- Medium Awareness: "TM Song":Transcendental meditation should be part of your timeIt's simple it's easy as making this rhyme
- Mood Whiplash: "Talk To Me/Tallahassee Lassie" features a sweet ballad on the first half and then a raucous banger during the second half.
- One-Woman Song: "Susie Cincinnati".
- The Power of Rock: "That Same Song":The rock of agesBuilt that rockin' soundTil more and more people start to come aroundThey worshipped in churchAnd built that great big choirIt grew and it grewUntil it spread like fire
- Shout-Out: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (a transcendental meditation guru who was a major influence on some of the Beach Boys) is referenced twice on the album (first time indirectly on Everyone's In Love You and the second time directly on TM Song).
- The Something Song: "TM Song".
- Special Guest: although they were out of the band as official members, Bruce Johnston and Ricky Fataar are featured as guest musicians. Other notable guests are adult-contemporary duo Captain & Tennille, Brian Wilsonís wife Marilyn Rovell and former Electric Light Orchestra member Roy Wood.
- Spoken Word in Music: TM Songís intro features arguing between the Beach Boys and Palisades Park has a bridge in which Carl Wilson is having the time of his life at the amusement park.
- Telephone Song: Had To Phone Ya.
- There's No Place Like Home: Back Home:Well I'm going back this summer to OhioI'm gonna seek out all my friends I've always knownI'm goin' back to that farm that I rememberWell I'm goin' to spend this summer back home
- 12-Bar Blues: on Rock And Roll Music and Back Home
- Vocal Dissonance: While Brian still seemed to have his falsetto in the Beach Boys' previous album Holland, his voice sounds completely hoarse and husky on this album. Brian explained that he had a case of laryngitis during the short recording sessions and had to "assume his voice".
- Dennis Wilson, even though his moaning voice was already established back in the late 60s, also sounds way throatier than usual compared to the ballads he sang on "Carl and the Passions Ė "So Tough"" 4 years ago (and the deterioration of his voice from the late 70s to the early 80s never came to a halt).
- Vocal Tag Team: "Had To Phone Ya" is the only song in the Beach Boysí discography to feature all members (or at least all five current members back then) sharing a co-lead.Mike: Had to phone ya, just to tell you I was missing youAl: It lifts my spirits...Carl: ...every single timeDennis: Some times youíre busy for a while, but when I get through it makes me smile(...)Brian: Come on, come on and answer the phone
- Women Drivers: Subverted with "Susie Cincinnati" who is a skilled taxi driver and never fails her rides (despite having a smoking problem).