Pacific Ocean Blue, the great solo album by the former Beach Boy the late Dennis Wilson, is finally available again, in an impressive CD release with numerous bonus tracks. This is an album you must hear.
It’s pretty common knowledge that Brian Wilson was the musical genius behind the Beach Boys, that brother Carl had an angelic voice and was the glue that held the band’s diverse personalities together, and that brother Dennis, the band’s drummer, was the surfer and all-round party boy.
What relatively few people are aware of, however, is that Dennis was a highly accomplished singer and songwriter, and that his songs weren’t at all what one would expect from a superficial party animal but on the contrary were impressively sophisticated and sensitive. In fact, in his music Dennis was the most emotionally open of the Beach Boys.
During the band’s interesting and underappreciated late-’60s and early ’70s period, Dennis contributed some of the group’s best songs, and he continued to write and produce solid songs right up until his death by a diving accident at the age of 39 in 1983.
Among the most impressive of Dennis Wilson’s contributions to Beach Boys albums are "Slip on Through," "Forever," "Steamboat," "Little Bird," "It’s About Time," "Got to Know the Woman," "Cuddle Up," "Only with You," "Make It Good," "Be Still," "Be With Me," "Love Surrounds Me," and "Baby Blue." (We shall pass over "Never Learn Not to Love," which is an attractive song but allegedly includes a contribution from Charles Manson, who was convicted of murder in a pair of multiple slayings in Los Angeles and had tried to insinuate his way into the music industry and develop friendships with the Beach Boys.)
The combination of toughness and vulnerability that characterized Dennis’s songs fit in well with the greater seriousness of the group’s music after the mid-’60s and helped make up for Brian’s absences due to mental illness and other personal problems.
Interestingly, Dennis was the first of the Beach Boys to release a solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, in 1977, and it is an impressive piece of work, significantly better than the albums the rest of the band was making at the time. The music consists of sophisticated 1970s rock-based arrangements, incorporating horns, orchestral strings, and synthesizers. The album evokes a variety of moods and is absolutely stuffed with great musical ideas and successful experimentation in the arrangements. The use of gospel intonations is especially refreshing and eovcative.
This is definitely an album well worth exploring, yet it has long been difficult to find and was released on CD for only six months in 1991. That has finally been remedied as the album has just become available on CD (and LP!) in a beautiful "Legacy Edition" including twenty-one bonus tracks, many of which are from Dennis’s unfinished follow-up album, Bambu, which is also a fine piece of work despite Dennis’s inability to finish it. Bambu has been available only on bootleg discs over the years, so it’s very good to have this official release with the best possible sound quality.
This album is not just for Beach Boys fans, and in fact will probably appeal strongly to those with more sophisticated musical tastes.
Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blue: Highly Recommended.
I think you’re quite right, Joe. I am very fond of The Beach Boys Love You, which is a hugely fun album, but there’s more depth and adventure to Pacific Ocean Blue. And I definitely agree with your suggestion about the disturbances in Brian’s and Dennis’s early lives having had a deleterious effect on their art. The popular notion that geniuses thrive on personal disorder or tend to create it themselves is entirely false. Talent thrives best when both challenged and nurtured. Brian and Dennis would have benefited greatly from a more sensible home life during their early years, not just as individuals but also as artists.
S.T.: I already picked up my copy & I was very impressed w/it. It’s very different from The Beach Boys Love You, which also came out that year, which has an offbeat charm to it, although it’s easy to see why it was a bargain bin mainstay. It’s interesting to speculate how the musical talents of Brian & Dennis could have blossomed more if they didn’t have such a dysfunctional background.
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