In late 1964 Brian Wilson had stopped touring with the Beach Boys. Capitol Records released two best of albums, ENDLESS SUMMER (1974) and SPIRIT OF AMERICA (1975) that contributed to the Beach Boys being a hit on the road, even without Brian. In 1975 Brian came under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychiatrist who encouraged him to exercise, detox, and write songs. Brian was getting better but had mixed feelings about working with the Boys again. He did however, and the result was 15 BIG ONES released in July of 1976 on Brother Records/Reprise. This 20th studio album for the group was mainly recorded at the group’s Brother Studio in Santa Monica and produced by Brian. The cover photo was of the five group members, each in an Olympic ring. In August NBC aired ‘The Beach Boys 15th Anniversary Special’. Brian Wilson started touring with the Boys again in the Fall of 1976.
A cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock and Roll Music’ starts the album off, with Mike Love on lead vocals. This, the album’s first single, hit #5 in August, becoming their first Top Ten single since ‘Good Vibrations’ ten years prior. The song begins with these feel good lyrics: “Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music/Any old way you choose it/It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it/Any old time you use it/It’s gotta be rock and roll music/If you wanna dance with me (2X)”. Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote ‘It’s OK’. It includes a horn section of Roy Wood and Wizzard and has a classic Beach Boys rock and roll sound to it. These lyrics aren’t too deep: “It’s OK to get out there and have some fun/By yourself maybe or else with a special one/Good or bad/Glad or sad/It’s all gonna pass/So it’s OK/Let’s all play and enjoy it while it lasts”. ‘Had to Phone Ya’ was originally recorded by Spring, a duo of Brian’s wife Marilyn Wilson and her sister Diane Rovell. It is a light pop love song: “Had to phone ya/Had to phone ya just to talk to you/Had to phone ya just to tell ya I was missing you.../A-when I phone ya/California’s not so far away/You’re not alone/Ya know I’m only just a dial away/I visualize that you’re looking fine/Feels so good when you come on the line”.
Next up is a cover of ‘Chapel of Love’, which is lacking. The Dixie Cups made it popular in 1964. It has idealistic lyrics: “Bells will ring, the sun will shine/I’ll be hers and she’ll be mine/We’ll love until the end of time/And we’ll never be lonely anymore/Because we’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married/Going to the chapel/And we’re gonna get married”. Mike Love wrote ‘Everyone’s in Love with You’ which praises transcendental meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. One of the backing vocalists is Toni Tennille. Harpsichord and flute are used on this peaceful song: “Everyone’s in love with you/Though most just barely glimpse a part of you/They all can see your love shine through/It comes from deep within the heart of you/So many people have had their love affairs/Had their loves to share like mine/Now I tell you people/I witnessed something new/A love that could only be divine”. ‘Talk to Me’ is a song of requests: “Talk to me, talk to me/I love the things you say/Talk to me, talk to me/In your own sweet, gentle way/Let me hear/Tell me dear/Tell me, ooh/You love me so”.
‘That Same Song’ is an adult pop song penned by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. It makes use of accordion and violins. Marilyn Wilson is one of the backing vocalists. It offers a music history lesson: “Well back in time with just a rhythm and a rhyme/Gregorian chants were a real big thing/They took that chant and added harmony/It was a different sound, but had the same meaning.../The rock of ages built that rockin’ sound/’Til more and more people start to come around/They worshipped in church/And built that great big choir/It grew and it grew/Until it spread like fire”. Alan Jardine performs the lead vocal on the shortest song on the album, ‘TM Song’. It is about transcendental meditation: “Whew, it’s time for me to meditate/What time is it?/How long has it been?/Bubbles and ripples floatin’ thru my mind/I must have drifted away/Since I sat down/Where have I been?/The mantra, my mantra, must have took me away/It must have took me away”. ‘Palisades Park’ was written by Chuck Barris of ‘The Gong Show’ fame. It has an old time rock and roll influence. Carl Wilson takes the lead and Hal Blaine plays drums. It is a song of recollection: “We ate and ate at a hot dog stand/We danced around to a rockin’ band/And when we quit I gave that girl a hug/In the tunnel of love/You never know how great a kiss can be/Until you stop at the bottom of a ferris wheel/In the tunnel of love down at Palisades Park”.
Alan Jardine wrote ‘Susie Cincinnati’. Bruce Johnston is a backing vocalist, Brian Wilson plays harmonica, and Darryl Dragon is responsible for the clavinet. The song is a tribute to a female taxi driver. It begins with these words: “Well, Susie Cincinnati/Got a groovy little motor car/She lives for the night/And her husband’s a security guard/Her looks aren’t exactly a plus/But it doesn’t matter to us/Because she knows where it’s at/And she gets you there in seconds flat”. Ed Wells wrote ‘A Casual Look’. It has a doo-wop groove to it and will appeal to folks in, or about to enter, the military: “Oh darling can’t you see/That I’m goin’ overseas/For 2, 3, 4 years/Don’t know how long it will be/So hear, hear my plea/And come marry, marry me/Before it’s too late/And so with a smile/We walked down the aisle/She in her wedding dress/A vision of happiness”. A great cover of ‘Blueberry Hill’ follows. Fats Domino recorded the song in the 1950’s. The Beach Boys’ version uses chimes, bells, and accordion. Also, Bruce Johnston plays piano. It is a song that deals with lost love: “I found my thrill/On Blueberry Hill (2X)/When I found you/The moon stood still/On Blueberry Hill/It lingered until/My dream came true/Though we’re apart/I think of you still/For you were my thrill on Blueberry Hill”.
Dennis Diken feels the next song is the most significant track on 15 BIG ONES. Of ‘Back Home’ he writes: “There are no auxiliary band members, session players, or extra singers performing on this one. It’s pure Brian, Mike, Carl, Denny, and Al going for it like they did in 1964.” Brian sings lead and Carl plays the harp on this pretty good rock and roll song. The lyrics are full of anticipation: “Yeah, yeah, yeah/Well, I’m going back this summer to Ohio/I’m gonna seek out all my friends I’ve always known/I’m goin’ back to that farm that I remember/Well, I’m goin’ to spend this summer back home”. Dennis Wilson sings lead on ‘In the Still of the Night’. It is a romantic doo-wop ballad: “In the still of the night/I held you/Held you tight/’Cause I/Really love you/Promise I’ll never/Let you go/In the still of the night”. Closing off the album is the longest song, a cover of the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Just Once in My Life’. Ricky Fataar contributes percussion.
15 BIG ONES is somewhat of a deceiving title, as this is definitely not a stellar album with the Beach Boys at their best. Some of the cover songs here are pretty decent and others aren’t that memorable. The original songs aren’t as experimental as those found on SUNFLOWER or SURF’S UP, but are okay. The group’s signature harmonies are present and shades of the old rock and roll sound that made the Boys famous can be found on some tracks. I’m rating 15 BIG ONES 80%. For more info visit: www.thebeachboys.com.
The next year, in April 1977, the Beach Boys released their 21st studio album entitled THE BEACH BOYS LOVE YOU (Brother Records/Reprise). It was produced by Brian Wilson. The album design is by Dean O. Torrence. Of the album, Peter Buck writes: “The spontaneous nature of the recordings is clearly audible. Vocals go flat, instrumental mistakes are made, audible interjections from the backup singers flat lead vocals, Brian’s new hoarse voice is to the fore and the whole thing is sounding like nothing so much as an incredibly spirited demo session for a Brian Wilson solo record.” Originally this was meant to be a solo album called BRIAN LOVES YOU or BRIAN’S IN LOVE. The songs were written while Brian was getting help for his drug and mental health problems.
The first song up is ‘Let us go on this Way’. It is an experimental pop song penned by Brian and Mike Love. It uses lyrics that rhyme: “To get t’you baby, I went thru the wringer/Ain’t gonna let you slip through my fingers/Going to school isn’t my fondest desire/But sittin’ in class you set my soul on fire/God, please let us go on this way/All day long I practiced what to say-ay/I think about this game that I like to play-ay/When I leave you I’m so depressed/Cause you’re my only happiness/God, please let us go on this way”. ‘Roller Skating Child’ is one of eleven songs here penned solely by Brian. It has a party pop sound to it and is a song of passion: “Well, she’s a roller skating child/With a ribbon in her hair/She gets my heart to beating/When I see her there/You know my heart starts smiling when she sings/She’s such an angel, I bet she’s got wings/And we’ll make sweet lovin’ when the sun goes down/We’ll even do more when your mama’s not around/Well, oh my, oh gosh, oh gee/She really sends chills inside of me”.
Dennis Wilson and brother Brian take the lead on ‘Mona’. It finds a guy actively pursuing a gal: “Come on/Listen to ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ now/Listen to it ‘Be My Baby’/I know you’re gonna love Phil Spector/Mona/Come-a-come-a-come-a come to me/Gimme gimme gimme some lovin’/Tell me, tell me, tell me you want it”. ‘Johnny Carson’ is a lighthearted pop song that praises the famous late night host and his sidekick: “He sits behind his microphone/Johnny Carson/He speaks in such a manly tone/Johnny Carson/Ed McMahon comes on and says ‘Here’s Johnny!’/Every night at 11:30 he’s so funny/’It’s nice to have you on the show tonight/I’ve seen your act in Vegas/Out of sight’.”
‘Good Time’ was recorded first circa 1970. It takes a casual attitude towards relationships: “My girlfriend Betty, she’s always ready/To help me in any way/She’ll do my cookin’/She’s always lookin’ for ways she can make my day.../Maybe it won’t last, but what do we care?/My baby and I just want a good time/Might go up in smoke now, but what do we care?/My baby and I just want a good time”. Al Jardine sings lead vocals on ‘Honkin’ Down The Highway’. This bouncy pop number gets inside a guy’s head: “Prayin’ prayin’ that she’ll hold me tight (hoo!)/And hopin’ hopin’ that she’ll see the light/Who cares if I gotta spend my money/Even if I have to act funny/To go and steal her heart away/(Honk, honk, honkin’ down the highway)/Take it one little inch at a time now/’Til we’re feelin’ fine now/I guess I’ve got a way with girls”.
‘Ding Dang’ was composed by Brian Wilson and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. It is thought to have been recorded circa 1973. This short ditty has quite simplistic lyrics: “Ding (ding) dang (woo!)/Ding and a ding dong/Ding (ding) dang (woo!)/Ding and a ding dong/I love a girl, I love her so madly/I treat her so fine, but she treats me so badly”. Brian Wilson sings lead on the ballad ‘Solar System’. It strikes an astrological note: “The constellations are stars that form animals/Leo and Capricorn too/Star bright, star light/Make this wish come true tonight/If Mars had life on it/I might find my wife on it/Venus the goddess of love can thank all the stars above/Mercury’s close to the sun/You’ll see it when day is done/Solar system/Brings us wisdom”.
‘The Night was so Young’ features the only guitar work on the record. This easy listening ballad includes these poetic words: “The sky’s turnin’ gray, there’s clouds overhead/I’m still not asleep, I’m in my bed/I think of her eyes and it makes me sigh/I think of her voice and it makes me cry/Is somebody gonna tell me why she has to lie?/She’d be so right to hold me tonight/Love was made for her and I”. ‘I’ll Bet He’s Nice’ uses tambourine, handclaps, and synthesizers, but is a song of heartache: “I’ll bet he’s nice, I’ll bet he’s twice as nice as me and it makes me cry/Cause I remember you and I/Please don’t tell me if it’s true/Because I’m still in love with you/Pretty darlin’, you my pretty darlin’.../I’ll bet he’s sweet/I’ll bet he’s neat/I’ll bet he’s funny and that ain’t all/I’ll bet he shows you quite a ball/Please don’t tell me if it’s true/Because I’m still in love with you”.
‘Let’s Put our Hearts Together’ is an interesting number with Marilyn Wilson (Brian’s wife) singing with him a bit. It is an open conversation: “I’ve never had someone, I need someone/To live with and be good to/Don’t worry ‘bout your past loves/And if they never understood you/Let’s put our hearts together/And say we’ll leave each other never/Let’s see what we can cook up between us/Together (2X)/Together you and I”. Dennis Wilson sings lead on ‘I Wanna Pick You Up’. It is the soft pop song of a parent to a child: “I want to pick you up/Rock you back and forth and make you smile/I want to hold you close for a while/I wanna tickle your feet/Drop you in your little tub/Wash your body and shampoo your hair/Be careful not to sting your eyes/When it’s night I’ll put you in your bed/And I’ll bend and kiss ya on your head”.
Mike Love sings lead on ‘Airplane’, the song of a traveling musician: “The sound of the engine fills my ears up/I’m hopin’ this rainy weather clears up/My lover is waiting at the airport/Soon she’ll be kissing me ‘Hello’/The woman sitting next to me tells me ‘bout her guy/And I tell her all about you and I/Airplane, airplane/Carry me back to her side/Airplane, airplane/I need God as my guide/Down, down on the ground/Can’t wait to see her face”. The last song is a soulful one with Brian, Mike Love, and Al Jardine singing lead. ‘Love is a Woman’ offers advice to guys: “Love is a woman/So tell her she smells good tonight/Love is a woman/So make her feel that way tonight/A woman is love/And if you’re smart/You’ll tease her, please her tonight/So take my advice, you just treat her nice/And you’ll find a woman in love”.
THE BEACH BOYS LOVE YOU is a lovely adult pop album that makes good use of analog synthesizers. Creativity and artistry are back at the fore on this record. It definitely keeps me interested. The lyrics convey emotion and it is good to hear a variety of lead vocalists. My only wish is that there were more upbeat tracks musically on this project. I’m rating THE BEACH BOYS LOVE YOU 88%. For more info visit: www.thebeachboys.com.