So sitting bored trying to figure out what to write, I decide “bugger this” and hit on BBC iPlayer. As I am scrolling along the various genres – Comedy, Film, Entertainment, etc – I eventually get to Music and discover that it’s full of Documentaries on The Beach Boys. Better still I find one exclusively about Dennis Wilson whose album ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ I had bought years ago when it was re-released. So I watch both Documentaries, only to discover not only were The Beach Boys touring again and writing a new album but Dennis Wilson’s birthday was this week and would have been 68 this year. So I figured I was going to be writing about Dennis this week then. So here is my retrospective Pacific Ocean Blue: Remembering Dennis Wilson.
Dennis Wilson was the drummer for The Beach Boys, and of course one of the infamous 3 brothers, along with Carl and Brian Wilson. In 1976 when they were considered done, Dennis decided to be the first of the brothers to release a solo album. This album became ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’. He had already written some great tunes such as ‘Forever’ on the Sunflower album and the classic “You Are So Beautiful” with Billy Preston. So his confidence on the up and a studio at his finger tips (Brother Studio) he went on to create the album that would showcase his potential.
Dennis Wilson’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ was released in August 1977, on CBS distributed Caribou Records. A day a lot of his band mates in The Beach Boys never thought they would see, as he was always reluctant to hand over solo material when they requested it. The main influences on the album where thought to be his on and off relationship with then spouse Karen Lamm-Wilson, an actress 12 years his junior. The other was ecological awareness which became important to him the more he spent time on his boat “The Harmony”, where he used to write the majority of his lyrics where he could be left alone. Jon Stebbins, a Beach Boys biographer, affirms the idea that you can’t listen to ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ without attributing the majority of it to Karen Lamm.
“If you like Pacific Ocean Blue, there’s no way you can listen to that album, and not feel the influence she had on Dennis. It’s right there, it’s in the grooves. Lots of you, lots of Dennis and Karen. She’s not a beloved figure amongst Dennis’s friends. To this day you speak Karen Lamm and a lot of people will say ‘you know she was poison'”.
Jon Stebbins, Legends-Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy, 2010
The album is a brilliant mix of all these influences and there are still echoes of his Beach Boy days, but perhaps dealt with in a new approach. Instead of brothers Brian or Carl writing about it, it was Dennis this time. Songs like ‘River Song’, ‘What’s Wrong’ or ‘Rainbows’ are perhaps the most heavily influenced by the Beach Boys sensibility, but are more free roaming in a way, more mature in sound than maybe ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘Surfin Safari’. Other tracks ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Pacific Ocean Blues’ seemed more informed by the music of the time as they have a more low key Funk sound to them with explosive Brass/Horn performances. The majority of the album however is more dedicated to the soulful and melancholy side of Dennis Wilson’s song writing. Songs ‘Moonshine’ and ‘Friday Night’ were of a moodier rock nature. While ‘Thoughts of You’, ‘Time’ and ‘You and I’ were the more poignant California gospel songs, full of unfiltered expression and emotion. One song in particular titled ‘Farewell My Friend’ was a tribute to a friend of his that had passed away called Otto ‘Pop’ Hinsche who had helped Dennis get through the loss of his Dad. John Hanlon Recording Engineer for Dennis Wilson remembers the recording of the song well showing how much heart Dennis put into the song.
“Dennis showed up at the recording studio and said there was something he had to do. He went into the studio and lost himself at the piano. I got to be a fly on the wall and listen as he found the melody and this song emerged. He wrote ‘Farwell My Friend’ and we recorded it the same night… what comes through is how much love Dennis had for the man. It’s a quiet celebration of what his life meant.”
John Hanlon, Love Remember Me-Dennis Wilson’s Dream Delivered, Pacific Ocean Blue, 2008
The last song fittingly called ‘End of the Show’, is a very dramatic straight up ballad almost a quiet gospel if you will. In 2008, on the 30th anniversary reissue of the album there were bonus tracks included. One version had just the 3 bonus tracks and there was a 2 disc edition which included these and the early recordings of what would have been Dennis Wilson’s follow up album ‘Bambu’, which he unfortunately couldn’t finish due to his personal demons and deteriorating health. I have the single disc edition so I can only comment on the 3 tracks I’m afraid. These include ‘Tug of Love’, which again, is very Beach Boys, and ‘Only with You’. The last of these 3 is the best of the bonus tracks really, it’s called ‘Holy Man’ which was one of the first four tracks Dennis had tried to include on the album but could never furnish the song with lyrics. Close friends of Dennis’s decided 30 years on to try and find this song and finish it. Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters was eventually asked to come in and help finish the song as people knew he could sing and he was part of that same Drummer ilk that Dennis had been. Taylors memories of helping finish this track where of trepidation and nerves.
“Finding a vocal tone, I just sang how I sing and I really wasn’t trying to sing like Dennis. I was a little nervous you know, I was like I don’t man, I don’t wanna piss on somebody’s Picasso ya know.”
Taylor Hawkins, Legends-Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy, 2010
What is here on this album is an artist finally showing what he can do if given the opportunity and left to his own devices. I’ve yet to hear ‘Bambu’, and will try and find that somewhere at some point to see what he might have had in mind for a follow up. Since the album’s reissue, it has been hailed a lost classic garnering 5 star reviews any many publications and making such lists as Mojo Magazines “Lost Albums you Must Own” and GQ Magazines “100 Coolest Albums in the World Right Now!”. Brilliant album, brilliant songwriter.