Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue…
I got into music because I love music. I don’t really love cars like many other guys do. I love sports, but my window to be a pro athlete closed years ago. Music is what I do and what I love. I am a music guy. It’s who I always have been. As I have mentioned before in some of my previous blogs, I am a compulsive music shopper. If there were a support group for music lovers and shoppers, I would definitely need to go. I love the way music sounds. I love the way it makes me feel. I love how it can make other people feel. I love the smell of vinyl and even the smell of the booklets that come with CD’s. When I go music shopping with friends, they always laugh when I open up a CD and the first thing I do is smell the booklet. But it does not stop there. I love the smell of a new guitar. The smell of an old guitar (well some old guitars). I absolutely adore music. But mostly listening to music. I grew up with music being the source to most of the happiness in my childhood. Whether it was making and performing my own music, going out shopping for new music, or social events, music was always there. Like many other kids, I came from a broken home. My parents had a pretty bad breakup when I was really young. I have vivid recollections of my parents living together. After my dad moved out, my life started to drastically change. It’s not that it became terrible, but it became VERY different. The innocence was gone. Less joy, more strain. Much of the happy moments that stand out were when I was listening to, discovering, or making music. Some of the best times that I had with my dad after he moved out were in the early days of the compact disc. He wanted to re-buy his record collection on CD (this did wonders to build the profits of the record labels). During the early and mid 1980’s, there was a tremendous amount of hype behind the release of this new media. They were promoted as being far superior to vinyl rerecords. CDs were supposed to be much clearer, have higher fidelity, and were supposed to have unlimited playback. Whereas the big complaint with vinyl was you could hear noise, and they had limited playback due to the grooves eventually getting worn out.
I have always prided myself on being able to discover and share new music with people. Growing up, I was the guy you could count on who had the ear for whatever was the next big hit or trend in music. I was always ahead of the curve. I grew up listening to urban music. Rap, Hip-Hop, and R&B were my favorites. Occasionally I would step outside the box and get something different. By the time I hit my late teens and early 20’s, I starved for something new. I still listened to rap/urban music, but craved the classics. I would go to local record stores and “dig in the crates” for something different. I started to build up my collection with classic albums. Sgt Peppers, Dark Side of The Moon, Exile on Main St., Led Zeppelin II, Hendrix, Doors, etc. I always heard about the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds as being the pinnacle of classic art/rock music. I grew up adoring the Beach Boys, and in LA who didn’t?? Surfin’ USA, Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coupe, California Girls, Good Vibrations, and the sweet sounds of Kokomo. Can you honestly say that not one of those gems is a song you dig? But, I never knew about the album “Pet Sounds” as being something that was on par with many of the other “Greatest Albums of All-Time.” Many lists out there even put this masterpiece at the top. I took a listen to it, and at first liked it, but did not see what all the “fuss” was. Then like many other great albums I heard, I started to understand why it was heralded as a masterpiece. I was enamored by it. Completely blown away. Much like I do with many other things I like, I wanted more. I bought books on it, and even the box set with outtakes.
Falling in love with “Pet Sounds” led me down a road to wonder what else by this legendary group am I missing out on. So I started on a journey to collect and obsess over each and every Beach Boys album. After some time listening to many albums, and hearing all the different points in their career, I started to see the roles (or lack there of) that each member played in the group. Brian Wilson was the architect and the brain behind them. Mike Love the lead voice and co-songwriter, added the “cool” to Brian’s “quirk.” Carl, Al, everyone else had an obvious and clear role…except for Dennis. Dennis Wilson, the middle of the Wilson brothers, was the drummer and the guy who actually brought forth the image of surfing and car racing (this became the blueprint for the 1960’s California sound) to the group. Dennis was actually the only guy who surfed. Sadly, he died in 1983 due to drowning. Ironic considering he made a career based on the lure of the Pacific Ocean.
Immediately Dennis intrigued me. He was not known as a good drummer, but rather a really unique one with his own style and “feel.” Dennis was also caught up in the Charles Manson scandal during the late 60’s. He befriended Manson and even recorded some of his songs, to the anger of Manson, which was one of the catalysts to Manson snapping his twig and going on his infamous Tate/LaBianca killing spree in 1969. Check out Never Learn Not To Love by Dennis, on the Beach Boy’s album 20/20. Never Learn Not To Love is actually a Manson song where he was initially un-credited. By the late 60’s Dennis started to contribute some of the most unique songs on many of the Beach Boys mid-career albums. Songs like “Forever”, “Little Bird”, and “Slip on Through” are some of the highlights on later era Beach Boy’s albums. Toward the mid 70’s, Dennis’s voice started to age, to say the least. To put it lightly, it sounded like he gargled with glass and drank rusty nails. Ironically, it sounded amazing, and made you want to hear him more. His vocals would stand out among the sweet harmonies that were prevalent on all Beach Boys albums.
Dennis was rarely ever given the artistic respect or credit that he rightfully deserved. Not until recently has the music community been able to appreciate his art. After years of standing behind the rest of the group, and being given limited songwriting duties on Beach Boys albums, Dennis decided to branch out on his own. He teamed up with local songwriter Greg Jackobson to craft what is considered a “lost treasure”, his solo debut album “Pacific Ocean Blue. “ Released in 1977 to wide critical acclaim, Pacific Ocean Blue was a stunning artistic statement. Shortly after the release, the album went out of print. In 1992 it was re-released on CD predominately as an import for literally a matter of months, and then quickly went out of print. The album soon became cult favorite, and due to an extremely high demand, was sold online in the $200 range. I wanted it, and had never heard any of it. There was nothing online, nor did I know anyone who had it. Due to Dennis’ “unique” voice (it deteriorated due to consistent cocaine abuse), and the few songs I knew of that he wrote on Beach Boy’s albums (check out “Angel Come Home” and “Love Surrounds me” from the Beach Boys “L.A. Light Album”), I knew it would be an amazing piece of work.
I was right! It took some time to actually get the album, but from the unique cover of a long haired, bearded man who looked homeless, to the deep grooves and unique harmonies, the album was phenomenal. Not like I thought it would be at all…better! Aside from the harmonies on the opening track, Pacific Ocean Blue sounds unlike a Beach Boy’s album. This was one of its strengths. I truly love the Beach Boys, but I think hearing Dennis do ‘Dennis’ made this album really astounding. Nothing before or since then has been able to sound like it and capture what I call the REAL Southern California sound of the 1970’s.
Pacific Ocean Blue’s 12 songs showcase an artist who matured into a deep and emotional songwriter. Dennis stepped away from the traditional Beach Boys sound and crafted an album with rocks songs, ballads, and funky gems that are textured and layered. My favorite is “Dreamer,” which if I ever get around to sampling for a hip hop song, I might give Dr. Dre a run for his money! The album reveals a moody side of Los Angeles, combined with the struggle Dennis has endured within his own decadent and destructive lifestyle. Dennis was ahead of his time both musically, and socially. The first track “River Song”, Dennis presents his case for environmental concerns. Dennis brings the funky side of LA to this album with songs like “Dreamer” and “What’s Wrong.” Then even challenges all the drum critics with “Moonshine”, a song that has the most unconventional drum sound and rhythm. The album took about 7 years to make. During this period Dennis became proficient in recording and producing music. Throughout the album you can hear interesting choices in the mix. Many nontraditional, but all were fascinating and pleasing to the ear. Unique placements of the piano within the mix. Some odd timings of delay and echo used on his voice and drums. Horn arrangements that could rival any New Orleans horn sections. A Sax solo. An aggressive guitar solo in between fat bass lines. Moog synths that can stand next to those used by Parliament Funkadelic. Listening to his work with drums, bass, and synths you can see the influence they play on many of the artists prevalent in 90’s hip-hop. He even used a Double Rock Baptist choir! Pacific Ocean Blue has a tremendous amount of depth and texture. You can how much creativity, and experimentation that was put into it.
Allmusic.com sums up the album in the best way possible, “this album is a classic, blissed-out, coked-up slice of ’70s rock and pop that is as essential as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.” Do yourself a favor and take a listen. Whether you listen to rock, pop, hip-hop, country, or jazz…this album will not only move you, but inspire you. It will inspire you to branch out and reach new heights you never dreamed you could. After all, that’s exactly what Dennis accomplished.