The Joup Friday Album: Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue

denniswilsonI don’t know about the rest of you, but when I was growing up, and gradually discovering music of all kinds to wiggle around to, one of the few bands that got the full fledged seal of approval from both my parents and us kiddos alike was the sunny, surf-pop rock sounds of The Beach Boys. They were catchy, and fun, and even popped up on Full House with Uncle-fucking-Jesse on the drums. Good, old-fashioned, wholesome rock and roll. Or maybe not.

It wasn’t until I got older that I learned a lot of the back-stories that surrounded the band…namely drugs, in-fighting, mental illness, and the sheer studio genius of Brian Wilson. Suddenly The Beach Boys seemed a lot more subversive than they had been. Suddenly they were cooler. Add to that the creative rivalry with four lads from Liverpool, and I had myself a band to really explore, a band worthy of hunting for the deeper cuts.

And then there was Dennis Wilson.

Of all the members of The Beach Boys, drummer Dennis Wilson was the only one who lived the lifestyle the band sang about. He was the surfer. He was the drag racer. He was the hippie. He was the beach bum. Wilson was the counter culture figure in the middle of an all-American band of brothers, cousins, and friends. Notoriously, he was an acquaintance of Charles Manson and the Manson Family before the 1969 murders occurred, even putting a few of them up in his own home for awhile. He starred opposite of James Taylor and Warren Oates in the 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop. He drank. He smoked. And in December of 1983, he got drunk, dove into Marina Del Rey, and drowned.

Six years before his death, Dennis Wilson recorded and released Pacific Ocean Blue, the first solo project from a member of The Beach Boys. 30 years later, I was fortunate enough to give the album a listen.

It blew my mind.

Here we have a record that dabbles in yacht-rock, folk, psych, jazz, and funky blues stomp, a whole barrage of styles and influences to tap the pulse of Wilson’s soul. The album ebbs and flows with a melancholy mostly absent from the body of work that The Beach Boys produced. At times, Wilson sounds like he’s in pain, heartbroken, his weathered voice wavering from the years of substance abuse. The rasps and cracks therein are a testament to the more mature and heartfelt direction his songwriting was moving towards. It saddens me that there was never a follow up.

I was hooked on this record for a long time. It made its way onto constant rotation with a handful of other albums after I lost my dad, primarily serving as an audio backdrop for me to clear my mind to while I painted, or drew, or wrote, or just kind of meditated. Something within its 37+ minutes spoke to my soul, and I love it for that.

Pacific Ocean Blue is one of those lost albums that rightfully resurfaced for the world to listen to again, anew, or for the first time. Just listen to the opening piano on “River Song,” and then those choral vocals come in, and then just float along wherever the record takes you.

The version of the album below is the 2008 reissue release including some extra, unreleased songs. The instrumental “Mexico” is a glorious beach dirge, but one that feels hopeful and wholly optimistic. I cannot recommend this album enough. Get out there and buy yourself a copy.

 

Are you there Chester? It’s me, Tommy.

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

One Response to The Joup Friday Album: Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    I don’t know this record at all. Plugging in … now.

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