Dusting Off... Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue
What is it?
The Beach Boys really aren't a band that need introducing and their main creative force, Brian Wilson, is regarded by many as a genius and one of the finest songwriters to emerge from the 1960s. Far less well-known however is the solo work of Brian's younger brother and the Beach Boys' drummer, Dennis Wilson.
Released in 1977, Pacific Ocean Blue is both his debut and final solo album, having descended into alcohol and substance abuse before tragically drowning in 1983, at the age of 39. Dennis was never considered the most talented member of The Beach Boys but the album, recorded in his own studio between 1975 and 1977, came as something of a surprise hit, outselling some of The Beach Boys' later albums and garnering praise from critics and fans alike.
Dennis' fast living had affected his singing voice and the golden vocals of the Beach Boys era were now replaced by something much more raw and primal, but his voice is perfectly suited to the songs on this album, which take in influences from blues and rock to gospel.
The opening track, 'River Song', is one of the album's best moments, featuring a rolling piano riff and a huge gospel choir, reminiscent of something The Rolling Stones might have produced at the height of their powers, while other standouts include the slithering funk of 'Pacific Ocean Blues' and the heavy, soulful groove of 'Friday Night'.
Why should I revisit?
Although the album's first incarnation was out of print after just a year, Pacific Ocean Blue became something of a cult classic, eventually leading to a 30th Anniversary reissue in 2008. The reissue also features material from what was set to be his follow-up album, Bambu, which sadly remained unfinished at the time of Wilson's death.
One of the highlights from these sessions is the track 'Holy Man', a song that Wilson had recorded the backing track to but had yet to record a vocal for. On the reissued album, vocal duties are performed by none other than Foo Fighters' drummer Taylor Hawkins, a lifelong fan of Dennis' work, who completed the song using partially written lyrics that Dennis had left incomplete, filling in the gaps as he went.
Hawkins' recording process featured as part of a BBC documentary broadcast in 2013, entitled Dennis Wilson: The Real Beach Boy. As well as the album itself, we'd highly recommend hunting this down for any avid Beach Boys fans.
Who will enjoy it?
If you're a fan of the Beach Boys anyway, or enjoy The Rolling Stones' work from the late 60s / early 70s, this will be right up your alley.