Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Archivist: Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue

This will be the first in a series of  albums that have brought me great joy over the years.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the landing at the top of the stairs and listening to my brother (who is 12 years my senior) playing records in his bedroom. As a rugrat, I was never allowed in to this inner sanctum but my mother used to laugh as she saw me sitting bopping at the top of the stairs to the music. Probably because my mother was a fabulous dancer and she hoped I would get those genes. Sadly I didn't. But the sounds that came out of that room have stayed with me forever. My brother was a huge Beach Boys & Beatles fan so all my formative years were spent listening to these fabulous harmonies and songs.

There was always music in our house as my parents used to run a pub and had amassed tons of 78s & 45s and were always playing them. When my brother left home to go to University at 18 - that left the 6 year old Macwood to 'inherit' the sounds. I was now in my element.

So, The Beach Boys were constantly on the record player. I have always preferred them over the Beatles. I think it must have been the harmonies that 'flicked the switch'. So I had access to everything up to 1968. I later returned all the albums to my brother by the way.

The love of the Beach Boys has always stayed with me. I have all the albums (obviously) - but also lots of bootlegs.

Back in 1977, at the beginning of punk, I remember going down to the local Woolworths and buying Pacific Ocean Blue. It was the first solo album of any Beach Boy, so it was important :)

I remember the response very well in the music press - nobody was expecting Dennis Wilson to produce the first Beach Boys solo album, let alone finding out it was so good. It had universal acclaim on release. The journos enjoyed the structure, the sound, the passion.

Dennis had been writing songs since the late 60s. His songs began appearing on Beach Boys albums.
Beginning with Little Bird & Be Still from the Friends album in 1968, it was becoming increasingly apparent that Dennis was now becoming a songwriter of class and distinction. See the brilliant Dan Addington's site for further info -

It was also becoming apparent that Dennis’ contributions were becoming the more interesting material on the Beach Boys album releases. Here's Dennis' song, Forever from the Sunflower album.

and the sublime Cuddle Up

With no songs from Dennis on the Beach Boys Love You & MIU albums – we knew something was coming. News that Dennis was working on a solo album and the fact that he might be the first Beach Boy to record a solo album, was greeted with amazement in the music press.

So it was, in 1977, that I went down to our local Woolworths and purchased Pacific Ocean Blue. Not only was it the first solo Beach Boys Album, but it was also magnificent.

Totally out of step with the current music trends, Pacific Ocean Blue turned out to be a timeless masterpiece. It has since been described as California Gospel, and you can see why. Based around piano (because Dennis wrote on a piano), it is full of Passion, Musical Integrity & Sublime Sounds. It starts with the amazing River Song

And ends with the sublime End Of The Show.

Nobody expected an album like this from any Beach Boy, including Brian.

It has since taken on Legendary Status. It's mythology was helped by its unavailability since it’s limited CD run in 1981, the original vinyl album ended up costing hundreds of Pounds and the original 1981 cd – called The Red Stripe by collectors, due to its original red jewel case, cost even more.

After many years of campaigning by Dennis & Beach Boys Fans, they released a Legacy Version, which includes tracks from his second proposed album Bambu, back in 2008. Although these tracks showed a definite move forward, many were left in demo state as Dennis’ health deteriorated due to substance & alcohol abuse.

Although two tracks were worked up by the Beach Boys for their LA: Light Album – Baby Blue & Love Surrounds Me. These tracks, which were by far the best tracks on the album, indicate where Dennis might have taken us if it were not for his untimely death on December 28th 1983.

Also included on the legacy Edition was the track Holy Man. The music track was complete but Dennis had never put down the vocal parts. So, POB producer Greg Jakobson asked the Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins to step in and provide the vocals, with astonishing effect.

Taylor Hawkins - Holy Man - written by Dennis Wilson - vocals were never recorded -
due to go on Dennis' second solo album Bambu

Many musicians have since sang its praises and stated its influence on their own music. The latest being Jonathan Wilson (no relation), whose new opus – Fanfare – shows how Pacific Ocean Blue still has the power to inspire.


  1. Mega! Fantastic piece and has me reaching for the lost CD and inevitably buying the bloody new fangled version tomorrow. Macwood: I love you, you twat!
    PS: So your fav' tracks on the original are 'Baby Blue' and 'Love Surrounds Me' or... on the new version(s)?

  2. Hi TREV, the beach boys used his two songs Love Surrounds Me & Baby blue for their album, LA:The Light Album. The originals are in the legacy editions but only in Den's demo form. The ones that appear on LA sound much better as they're produced properly. Most of the other Bambu tracks are in demo form but cleaned up. I already had all of those and a lot more. He was so out of it while recording Bambu none of those sessions matches up to POB. But Baby & Love are definitely the best two tracks that would have been on it. Glad you enjoyed the story. Have you played Fanfare yet. It's outstanding. Especially through the cans :) - more of the same to come. And not what you might expect. :)

  3. Just playing 'Fanfare' now. It's a pot-pouri of influence.
    I hear: Pink Floyd/CSN&Y/Beach Boys, all tweaked in to something original and quite special. I was discussing the sax with Marcus recently (he hates it almost as much as the fiddle), and I was bemoaning its use by Paddy Mac. And then... I was listening to Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' and 'Dark Side..." and there's sax all over it. Same on 'Fanfare'. I really like the confidence of the band line up...