It had been almost three years since the Beach Boys had released a new studio album. They were now a top concert attraction again and rumors had it that Brian Wilson would be writing and producing again. So it was with great expectations that 15 Big Ones was released.
I remember seeing the song list from 15 Big Ones for the first time and thinking that there were too many cover songs and that was probably not a good thing. The fact that the Beach Boys could not fill an album with original material after three years proved that I was correct.
It would have been better if all the cover songs had been grouped together on one side of the original album and the originals on the other side. Mixing them all together gives the album a very dis-jointed feel.
The cover songs range from average to terrible. “Rock & Roll Music” is competent if not spectacular. It would, however, give the Beach Boys their first top ten hit in years. “Chapel Of Love” was a poor choice for the Beach Boys. The song was originally done by the girl group; the Dixie Cups. The Beach Boys give an abysmal and annoying performance which was quite a combination for the group. The old rhythm & blues standard, “Talk To Me,” features a good lead vocal by Carl Wilson but the instrumental backing never finds any grove. The Beach Boys prove that they are no Freddy Cannon with this rendition of his song “Palisades Park.” Cannon presents the song as a joyful ode to the American amusement parks. The Beach Boys just struggle. “In The Still Of The Night” may feature the worst lead vocal by Dennis Wilson as a member of the Beach Boys. In addition the harmonies are just out of tune. “Just Once In My Life” features a surprisingly good rendition of this Righteous Brothers hit. Brian and Carl trade the lead vocals and come across well.
The original songs fare a little better than the covers.
“It’s O.K.” is the best of the Brian Wilson songs. It may not be extraordinary but does contain some of the clearest harmonies that the Beach Boys created during their last several studio albums. The simple lyrics and infectious melody hark back to a simpler and better time for the Beach Boys. “Had To Phone Ya” is just too simple in structure and especially lyrics. “Everyone’s In Love With You” states in the liner notes; Written: Michael Love, Arranged: Michael Love, Lead Vocal: Michael Love. That about says it all and it isn’t good. “That Same Song” has an unfinished feel. Brian’s vocal does not match the instrumental background. “T M Song” is another Beach Boys foray into transcendental meditation appreciation. This song is just plain infuriating which defeats the intent of the song.
The best song on the album, by far, is Al Jadine’s “Susie Cincinnati.” Jardine, who wrote the song and sings lead, created a classic Beach Boys song. The harmonies are excellent and full and the melody carries the vocals along. This song would have fit nicely on any of the Beach Boys excellent early 1970’s albums.
Every time I play 15 Big Ones I expect more even though I know it will not happen. This leaves 15 Big Ones as one of the most disappointing albums of the Beach Boys career.