Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue

Dennis Wilson
Pacific Ocean Blue

Released 1977 on Caribou Records
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 11/03/2007ce

1. River Song (3:44)
2. What's Wrong (2:22)
3. Moonshine (2:27)
4. Friday Night (3:09)
5. Dreamer (4:22)
6. Thoughts of You (3:02)
7. Time (3:31)
8. You and I (3:25)
9. Pacific Ocean Blues (2:39)
10. Farewell My Friend (2:26)
11. Rainbows (2:55)
12. End of the Show (2:55)

Produced by Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson. Reissued on CD by Caribou Records/CBS in 1991. Currently deleted.

Written by Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson except 1 & 11 written by Dennis Wilson & Carl Wilson; 2 written by Dennis Wilson, Gregg Jakobson & M Horn; 6 written by Dennis Wilson and Jim Dutch; 7 written by Dennis Wilson & Karen Lamm-Wilson; 8 written by Dennis Wilson, Gregg Jakobson & Karen Lamm-Wilson; 9 written by Dennis Wilson and Mike Love; & 10 written by Dennis Wilson.

SMILE. I guess now that Brian Wilson has released a version of his legendary 'Smile' (decidely hit and miss and not the album that would have been released in the 60s - see the 'Good Vibrations' box-set or bootlegs for a more honest version), 'Pacific Ocean Blue' has probably become the new 'Smile' - a holy grail for Beach Boys fans and hip record collectors. This is quite absurd, as it has been available twice - upon its release in 1977 on album and tape, and then reissued on CD in 1991 - probably lost amid the many Beach Boys-reissues of that time ('Pet Sounds' got its first meaningful CD reissue about this time). 'Pacific Ocean Blue' featured in Mojo a few years ago when a reissue was rumoured, though I'm not convinced the writer had heard much of it & shortly after it seemed a hip name to drop, the lame Richard Ashcroft citing it in relation to his Brian Wilson-featuring dud of a second album. So, I guess 'Pacific Ocean Blue' is the new 'Smile'?

REISSUE. A cursory look at Amazon or E-Bay will confirm that cd-copies of 'Pacific Ocean Blue' are going for a silly price, which will confound those folk aware you can get all manner of crap from The Beach Boys on remastered CD. I picked up a vinyl copy in a fish market in Worcester (!!!) for 25-earth-pounds and have some cd copies kind folk have copied for me, one from vinyl and one from the 1991-cd. There are rumours of copyright/ownership issues - hence the lack of remastered/reissued copies of this album. It joins albums like Tim Buckley's 'Star Sailor' (...but you can buy three albums from Embrace-tribute act Starsailor???) and Neil Young's 'Time Fades Away' that can be picked up for several poundage on vinyl, but aren't on cd (though TFA was meant to have been issued on cd in the mid-90s, I've never seen a copy). Clearly the business folk should get together with those disputing ownership and sort things out - a reissue on Rhino in the style of the new Nico-compilation 'The Frozen Borderline' or the deluxe 'Loaded' is sorely needed. Imagine what out-takes there are, rumours of material recorded with brother Brian (the so-called 'Hamburger Sessions'), the material intended for the never released 'Bamboo', the Vietnam-themed ballad 'Carry Me Home' (intended for 'Holland' and later covered on Primal Scream's 'Dixie-Narco' e.p. - one of the best things they've done) and the earlier single 'Sound of the Free b/w Lady (a.ka. Fallin' in Love).' Bizarre that 'Pacific Ocean Blue' ended up with a section in a BBC1 programme on the dark side of California presented by Jonathan Ross a few years ago...you can read about and watch a programme on this album, but can you buy it?

TWO-LANE-BLACKTOP. Dennis Wilson was a late-starter in terms of songwriting, appearing to be forced to step up to the plate when brother Brian entered his problematic period following the aborted 'Smile.' Dennis composed/co-composed strong material for 'Friends' (1968) and '20/20' (1969) including the gorgeous 'Little Bird', the infamous rewrite of 'Cease to Exist', 'Never Learn Not to Love', & 'Breakaway' b-side 'Celebrate the News' (which might have been about events in Eastern Europe, but was probably about the end of the Beach Boys record contract, looking for better climes on their own Brother Records). The songs Dennis penned for 1970's 'Sunflower' were even better, 'Slip On Through' and 'Got To Know the Woman' worthy of 'Greetings from LA' , 'It's About Time' a great blend of Love and 'What's Going On?' and 'Forever' one of the most gorgeous records to be released under the Beach Boys name (no mean feat, though don't think I'm dismissing 'Caroline No' or 'Surf's Up'!!). It was around this time that Dennis released a the 'Sound of the Free b/w Lady'-single with Rumbo - a solo album was meant to be forthcoming from Dennis from 1970 onwards, though material intended for it often got diverted to Beach Boys albums and he clearly had other issues (there are Dennis Wilson-biographies, one bizarrely named after the original title of 'Smile' , while there was a strange Allison Anders film 'Grace of My Heart' (1997) based on a fictional version of Carole King and featuring Matt Dillon as a character who appeared to be an approximation of both Brian & Dennis!!!). 'River Song', co-written with brother Carl, apparently stemmed from 1970 - tying in with eco-themed material found on 'Surf's Up' (1971) - from which Dennis was absent, having an altercation with a window preventing him from drumming and starring in the excellent 'Two Lane Blacktop' with James Taylor and Warren Oates (waiting for DVD issue in June, though Film Four had this on not long ago). Dennis contributed to the next batch of Beach Boys albums, his tracks standing out, particularly the gorgeous 'Cuddle Up' (OK, it sounds like it was recorded on valium!), the experimental 'Steamboat' (proto-Tom Waits sounds!!) & 'Baby Blue' from 1979's 'LA (Light Album).' The end was not far off, kind of sad that Dennis would be remembered for carnal and narcotic qualites, his association with the Manson-family and the manner of his death - sort of tragic that he was like a performing monkey when singing 'You Are So Beautiful' at Beach Boys shows...

ENDLESS SUMMER. I'm not suggesting that Dennis is better than Brian, who could argue with that mass of pop-singles in the 1960s, 'Here Today' or 'Pet Sounds'? I'm pretty convinced that 'Surf's Up' is the ultimate pop-song, but Brian's work post-1967 has been decidely patchy. It's unsurprising he wasn't called a genius til the early 1990s when taking in some of the shocking material he penned, from odes to a masseuse to that vile song about picking a child up. Having all the Brother-reissues, there isn't a completely satisfying Beach Boys album after 'Sunflower' (1970), handy as you can get them in double-sets and pick your way through the dreck (I particularly mean that dire Children's story thing Brian created!). 'Pacific Ocean Blue' like 'Pet Sounds' and 'Sunflower' is a complete album, which is ironic when its creation was in 1975, with material that was probably intended for a Beach Boys album - the title track and 'Rainbows' written with Mike Love and brother Carl. Dennis now working with Gregg Jakobson recorded the bulk of this material from September 1976 to March 1977, releasing the album in August of that year. It did well in the US charts and got decent critical reviews, though compilations like 'Endless Summer' and '20 Golden Greats' ensured that The Beach Boys became a nostalgia-act, a live tribute to themselves. & Dennis' hard-living was beginning to diminish those looks - looking at the cover and taking in the beard, he seems far closer to Richard Manuel and Roky Erikson than the kind of male girls would lust and scream after...

PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (1). Nick Kent's extended piece on Brian Wilson that opens 'The Dark Stuff' (Penguin, 1994) doesn't even mention 'Pacific Ocean Blue' and gives just a few lines to Dennis' songwriting. OK, he was focusing on all things Brian and the soap/scandal side of the band, but that's just one indication of how this great record has been sidelined. Dennis' songwriting didn't employ the complex pieces Brian pursued, the songs tending to be centred on love and lovers, but there's a feeling in this direct material that he was nodding to something greater, something on a higher plain. Listening to this record reminds me of the feeling and soul apparent in Gene Clark's 'No Other' - it's all about soul?

PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (2). 'River Song' opens 'Pacific Ocean Blue', composed with Carl it has a gospel quality and manages to fuse the eco-themes of Beach Boys songs like 'Don't Go Near the Water' with some trarnscendental stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if this song was an influence on Primal Scream's e-inflected gospel 'Movin' on Up.' Dennis' invocation of Los Angeles seems a little forgotten and should have merited more in that recent BBC4 California-season, there's an apocalyptic theme here not that far from certain Warren Zevon records and there are parts not far from Tim Buckley's brilliantly reductive 'Greetings from LA.' The harmony vocals that come in at the end are fantastic, working brilliantly with Dennis' lead - some criticisms of this album centre on Dennis' vocals, which are nowhere as sweet as his brothers. I've read negative comparisons to Tom Waits, the first time I heard it I thought a little of Roger Waters too, though am not sure if I think that now...'What's Wrong' shifts tone, a layered old style rocker that sounds like Todd Rundgren going to work on a T-Rex song, the theme of salvation in rock and roll is perfectly reasonable and makes an ideal companion to certain lines in Big Star's 'Thirteen.' I'm convinced parts of Wilco's 'a ghost is born' were nodding to this record...

PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (3). 'Moonshine' opens with Dennis' pleading to be intoxicated, before a synth comes in, sounding not far from John Paul Jones contributions to Led Zep records in the mid to late 70s. Sad, melancholic stuff that is continued into 'Friday Night', which sounds like Dennis' take on Pink Floyd - the intro seems huge and not far from Gilmour and co, the keyboards sliding off towards Aphex Twin/boards of Canada/Fennesz-style bliss about a minute in. The song is an ode to 'Friday Night' and getting wasted, making me wonder if this is the thinking person's 'Hotel California'? 'Dreamer' meanwhile, has a central jazzy refrain and probably has more in common with Steely Dan material at the time than the Beach Boys...

PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (4). The centre of the album hits a fragile place with the sublime 'Thoughts of You', Dennis advancing on his minimal piano/strings-approach apparent on the earlier 'Cuddle Up.' A piano-sequence worthy of parts of 'Surf's Up' prefigures waves of vocals that feel somewhat sinister - the words "look at love" over and over again - kind of scary when Dennis sings, "Look what we've done." Dennis was rumoured to have recorded music more disturbing than 'Smile's Firesuite around his Manson-period, the tapes were apparently destroyed- but the scary vocal element suggests he might have been haunted and that he had seen the darker side of life. Dennis' songs centring on love might very well have been endless attempts at focusing on the other side, to break on through to heaven, peace and transcendence - his life and death after 'Pacific Ocean Blue' suggest that wasn't achieved. 'Time' covers similar territory to 'Thoughts of You', the piano dominating, Dennis' achingly soulful vocals leading the minimal music, though the use of what sounds like a flugelhorn made me think of certain records by Mark Hollis and David Sylvian. The song eventually breaks out with the circular piano-refrain joined by a harmonic chant, guitars and a brass section worthy of Prince at his best.

PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (5). 'You and I' continues the ballad sound at the centre of this album, though is much more gentle than the previous two songs - hearing this now, travelling to an Epcot-style 70s utopia that is like Dazed and Confused/Big Wednesday/Detroit Rock City/Almost Famous with a soundtrack of Aerosmith and Kiss is never more appealing (one of my gripes against the Hold Steady, time travel not an option). 'You and I' does sound like that FM/eight-track utopia - though I think Dennis' adds something that you would never get on an Eagles or Jackson Browne record. 'Pacific Ocean Blues' strangely has a sound not far from that of Talking Heads' debut which was released the same year - strangely funky music set to a love/loathe regarding California, it's great despite the involvement of the much derided Mike Love, a man who invokes the c-word in many! Does Dennis really sing about "the slaughter of otter"? - barking eco-themed lyrics I'd blame Love for!!!

PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (6). 'Farewell My Friend', the sole composition penned by Dennis himself, opens with the sound of whales singing and offering one of the great songs on loss, whether death or separation. The refrain "oh I want to see you again" set to the singing whales is otherworldly. 'Rainbows' changes the tone, feeling the closest to the kind of material that would surface on Beach Boys albums in the 1970s - you can make your own compilation from those Brother-albums that would blow minds, though it was notable that the Brother-anthology hardly touched Dennis-material (maybe due to the same legal issues preventing this album from reissue?). 'End of the Show' revisits the piano-ballad sound of the centre of the album, though it feels less disturbed and at peace with itself - probably analogous to something like 'Goodnight' by The Beatles, Dennis' distinctive piano leading the band towards the end, I'm strangely reminded of 'Rock'N'Roll Suicide' for some reason (though I have been listening to LCD Soundsytem's 'New York...' which uses the same chords and maybe everything is sounding like that?). 'End of the Show' remains a wonderful kiss-of to a wonderful album...

BAMBOO. The Beach Boys never ended, in many ways they will never end, especially with three competing versions of the band around - despite the deaths of Dennis and Carl. Dennis aimed to top 'Pacific Ocean Blue' with its projected follow-up 'Bamboo', something he sadly never realised - though those that have heard the material for that album and other songs he recorded have been very positive. Maybe when 'Pacific Ocean Blue' gets its deserved expanded reissue/remaster, then 'Bamboo' will become the new 'Smile'?

OCEAN. Marina Del Rey and the Pacific ocean were waiting for Dennis in 1983, his accidental drowning completing the self-destructive trip he'd been on for years. A sideline in the Beach Boys world and a complete joke in that painful TV-movie on 'The Beach Boys: An American Family' (which featured the mother from The Wonder Years as Mrs Wilson!). A bit of a joke in TV-footage of the early 80s, bearded, looks fading and clearly out of his mind. The ageing drummer coming to the front to groan 'You Are So Beautiful' as a party-piece, the messy relations (rumoured to include Mike Love's daughter and some members of Fleetwood Mac), the Manson-associations (which he could never escape) etc. All of which are there, but none of which detract from the fact 'Pacific Ocean Blue' is one heck of a great record...

"All things that live one day must die you know," 'Thoughts of You'

NOTES - for a more detailed focus on 'Pacific Ocean Blue' and Dennis Wilson, see the Dennis Wilson - Dreamer website, if you haven't already...'Lady' can be found on Super Furry Animals-compilation 'Under the Influence'...There are two Dennis songs on the 'Endless Harmony' soundtrack, including material destined for the projected 'Bamboo' ('All Alone' & 'Barbara')...and 'Two Lane Blacktop' is due for release on DVD on the 1st of June 2007

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