Touted by a highly suspicious media blitz ("Brian is Back!"), 1976's 15 Big Ones
caught the nostalgic wave generated by the surprise success of Endless Summer
and Spirit of America
, the double-album compilations of the Beach Boys' mid-'60s, summer-music prime, and rode it close to the crest of the charts. One doesn't have to get much further than the tepid (albeit top 10) cover of Chuck Berry's
's "Rock and Roll Music" to realize that band founder/original creative spark Brian Wilson
may indeed have been back, but sounded like he was working under duress--if he was working at all. With a covers-heavy tack best described as a parody of the band's original trademark sound, wed to some of the mid-'70s worst production trends, it's an album that shows just how much the public still yearned for the band's classic sound, even if their faith ended up being "rewarded" by the likes of Mike Love's embarrassing "Everyone's in Love with You" and "T.M. Song." Conversely, Brian was definitely back for '77s Love You
, an album that's become something of a critic's darling, if only because it hews so bravely to the strange musical vision that seeped from Wilson's then-troubled mind. Brian's synth-heavy production managed to be at once dense and minimalist, while the songs remain some of the most consistently loopy concoctions the band ever recorded. While his vulnerable romanticism is also on display, it's Wilson's playful sense of humor that dominates, from strange odes to "Johnny Carson" and the "Solar System" to innocent romps like "Ding Dang" and "Mona." A quarter-century later, it's an album that can still both surprise and delight. Both albums are digitally remastered on a single disc. --Jerry McCulley
Their 1976 smash paired with its 1977 follow-up, with notes by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck! Includes the hits Rock and Roll Music and It's OK .