"Pacific Ocean Blue"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Dennis Wilson is known for a number of things, including being the drummer of the Beach Boys, being the first Beach Boy to die (he drowned after an alcoholic binge), and perhaps most notably, he’s remembered for being the man who housed the Manson family for an extended period of time (he later moved to a new home to get away from the increasingly bizarre Manson). Lost in the mix is that Dennis produced the most successful solo album of any of the Beach Boys, including the band’s creative head, Brian Wilson.
“Pacific Ocean Blue” succeeds because Dennis borrows Brian’s best attributes (the desire to incorporate as many styles as possible) without Brian’s weakest point (overwhelming obsession). Gospel, funk, jazz and regular old pop inhabit separate tracks on Dennis’ album. At the same time, he sounds less prickly about production than Brian demanded for Beach Boys’ recordings.
Opener “River Song” incorporates background vocals by the Double Rock Baptist Choir to add a gospel feeling to the track. Dennis said that the song was about an experience in the Sierras and his overall distaste for city life in Los Angeles.
That same distaste for urban dwelling is the basis for another of the album’s better tracks, “Pacific Ocean Blues,” which laments that “no wonder the ocean is blue.” The song is undeniably funky thanks to its thick bass line and piano style. It also incorporates elements of the Beach Boys’ style, mainly via background vocalists adding interjections like “water, water water.” “Rainbows” also emulates the vocal style of his former band.
The irony of this album is that Dennis was the only member of the Beach Boys that did not sing on a regular basis, and yet he handles all lead vocals this time. It would be easy to argue based on this recording that it was because his voice was not as sugar-sweet as the other members. But remember that Dennis was struggling with heroin-based health issues that also affected his voice.
Those addiction-issues would end his career early. After getting a slew of good reviews for “Pacific Ocean Blue,” he began recording a second solo album, which was to be titled “Bambu.” But his death in 1983 would bring an unfortunate reality to the last track on his debut album, “End of the Show.”
INTERESTING FACT: Part of Dennis’ fascination with Manson was the latter’s apparent songwriting ability. He introduced Manson to producer Terry Melcher. Melcher expressed interest in making a documentary on the Manson family, but later reneged. This angered Manson, who sought out Melcher at his home. Melcher had moved out however. The house was then being leased by director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate. The rest is history.