Dennis' second attempt at a solo project began in mid-1975 with sessions at Brother Studio that actually predated the Beach Boys' 1976 'comeback' album 15 Big Ones (in fact, "Back Home" was cut at one of Dennis' sessions). Under the working title of Freckles, Dennis laboured tirelessly with co-producer and long-time friend (dating back to the Charles Manson era) Gregg Jakobsen from September 1976 through to spring of the following year to deliver a little gem of a solo set that not only garnered considerable (if mildly surprised) critical acclaim but also registered in the album charts at a respectable #96, a position that the next two group albums would fail to better. Pacific Ocean Blue is, quite simply, Dennis doing precisely what big brother Brian had been doing for years; using the studio as a diary or notebook, and with equal artistic success (even if Dennis considered it "lightweight, [it] has no substance. The next album is a hundred times what [this] is). Brian reportedly loved the album, and it scared the living daylights out of certain other band members, who took the gloomy view and foresaw the end of the Beach Boys... wrongly, as it happened for given the personalities involved and a hefty dose of 20/20 hindsight, it was inevitable that the projected follow-up, Bamboo, would collapse in a welter of personal problems (although two tracks, "Baby Blue" & "Love Surrounds Me" - the latter pretty much intact - thumbed a ride onto the L.A. (Light Album)) and that Dennis himself wouldn't make it past the mid-eighties while the Beach Boys, albeit in increasing personal and artistic disarray, struggled on for another twenty-odd years until the death of Carl Wilson in February 1998.
Dennis provided all the keyboards on the album, sharing the drum stool with touring band member Bobby Figueroa, Ricky Fataar and the legendary Hal Blaine. Guitar chores were handled by engineers Earle Mankey & John Hanlon, Ed Tuleja and Eddie Carter, the latter doubling on bass with Jamie Jamerson and Chuck Domanico. The horn section was Bill Lamb, Michael Andreas, Lance Buller, Janice Hubbard & Charlie McCarthy. Among the backing vocalists were Curt Becher, Billy Hinsche, Bruce Johnston and then-wife Karen... and whilst, under the terms of his Caribou contract, the Beach Boys were not supposed to be on the album, co-producer Jakobsen conceded "you might hear some of them in the background".
(D. Wilson/C. Wilson)
The opening piano riff, representing the flow of the river, dates back to the 1970 sessions, and the Beach Boys performed the song at several concerts in 1973 (also attempting a studio version, which may explain Fataar's drum credit). Brother Carl is clearly heard on the massed choral intro (Dennis: "90% of those voices are mine"), backed to splendid effect by Alexander Hamilton's Double Rock Baptist Choir. Dennis never claimed to be the world's best singer, but throughout the album, he deploys his limited rasp to great effect and here with no little passion. It sure sounds like him drumming, too. If only all ecologically themed songs could be so convincing. A superb opening track, it was totally unsuccessful as a single release.
Maybe Dennis should have taken his own advice - "Can't live with you/So I think I'll live without you/And play my rock and roll" - from this solid 4/4 rocker replete with tack piano, staccato horns, monolithic drumming and multitracked lead vocals.
Inspired by then-wife Karen Lamm, a hesitant piano phrase and equally tentative vocal leads into a stately, densely woven fabric of sound and emotion, pitched somewhere between Phil Spector's "kitchen sink" methods and Brian's somewhat more considered layerings. Dennis had obviously noted Brian's use of synthesiser washes and slabs on Love You and adapted the technique to his own rough hewn ends, with evident and gratifying success. A wonderfully evocative number, again built on a foundation of the percussive equivalent of Stonehenge.
The promise of the ominously tense instrumental intro is never truly realised as this amiable, if mildly inconsequential, celebration of Dennis own lifestyle (as he observed at the time, "I am the white punk !") resolves itself into yet another showcase for Dennis' basic drum technique. He also contributes piano, three clavinets and, allegedly, bass.
A mildly chaotic brass break adds a vague flavour of New Orleans to this average and slightly plodding rocker, enlivened briefly by a middle-eight of powerful delicacy. Dennis provides the two-note bass harmonica riff and, reportedly, the free-form tuba. If Jakobsen's lyrics thus far have been a mite samey, basic variations on a theme of the rock & roll lifestyle, they're never less than appropriate to the task in hand (although it must be admitted that the "Carpenter" allusion in the first verse is a little heavy-handed).
Thoughts Of You
During the 1970 sessions, Dennis recorded a fragment generally referred to as "All Of My Love", an incomplete number of awesome raw power and impact featuring his voice expanding, over the space of about four beats, from a solo vocal to 350 overdubs. A refined version of that technique is successfully reprised as the central section of this tender yet fragile love song, written in the wake of a separation from Karen. Bookending the intensity at the heart of the track is a spare piano/vocal arrangement of gently understated poignance and vulnerability. Absolutely wonderful. (Dennis reportedly produced some sessions for collaborator Jim Dutch in late 1975)
(D. Wilson/K. Lamm-Wilson)
A collaboration with Karen - who presumably supplied the closely-observed lyric - the first section of this bipartite number features the haunting trumpet lines of Bill Lamb over Dennis' ominous Moog slabs and piano chords, and is sadly let down by the ensuing portion as it degenerates into a noisy tub-thumper of, frankly, no great musical merit. Spot the Floyd guitar riff.
You And I
(D. Wilson/K. Lamm-Wilson/Jakobsen)
The B side of the "River Song" single, this unconvincing excursion into Stevie Wonder/samba territory sits slightly uneasily amid the dense textures of the rest of the album, and was perhaps intended as a touch of light relief. Maybe Dennis' said it best: "It's about Karen and myself. That's it."
Pacific Ocean Blues
With a track originally recorded in late 1975, this was Dennis' sole submission for 15 Big Ones, but was so at odds with the tenor of that disparate album that it was (regrettably but understandably) rejected. Another title with possible (i.e. unproven) Beach Boys involvement, Mike Love reportedly came up with the words some five hours after hearing the track down the phone: if this is indeed true, then he might have been well advised to make it a permanent compositional technique, for this driving eco-rocker boasts a lyric well above average neatly complementing a complex yet accessible track notably more transparent than most other compositions on the album. Contrary to recent theory, the "now-now-mama-now" vocal isn't Mike.
Farewell My Friend
Written in memory of Dennis' self-confessed best friend Otto "Pops" Hinsche (father of Billy and thus Carl's father-in-law), who died in Dennis' arms, this stately, moving and heartfelt yet never cloying eulogy was fittingly played at Dennis' own funeral.
(D. Wilson/C. Wilson/Kalinich)
With brother Carl again evident in the chorus, this perky mandolin-driven number (recorded in late 1975) reunites Dennis with Steve Kalinich, his songwriting partner on both his Friends tracks and an uncredited lyricist on 20/20's "All I Want To Do". The Beach Boys could have done worse than attempt a cover of this...
End Of The Show
A mournful yet strangely affecting song of general farewell (Dennis: "It's two things. I know that the world is coming to a place now where mankind is going to give up war... at the same time, it was when I knew that Karen and I were finished."), this track was covered within the year by, of all people, Cliff Richard & The Shadows ! The crowd noises over the fade are taken from a Beach Boys concert.
© 1997, 1999 Andrew G. Doe/Middlefield Media. All rights reserved, used by permission. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing by the author.