We have just passed the 25th anniversary of the death of Dennis Wilson. He drowned after diving from a boat at Marina Del Rey in California. He was 39 years old.
He was the drummer, an underused vocalist, and a founding member of the legendary Beach Boys. He was also the only one of the group members who could actually surf.
1977 found Dennis Wilson the first Beach Boy to issue a solo album. Pacific Ocean Blue was released to critical acclaim and good sales. It would prove to be his only solo effort as substance abuse plus a rocky and at times explosive relationship with Christine McVie conspired against his releasing a second album despite the fact that many tracks had been recorded.
Pacific Ocean Blue has been out of print since a CD release in the early 1990’s. My old vinyl copy has been feeling the years so it was nice to see this Legacy reissue commemorating its 30th anniversary. Not only is the entire original album included but there are four bonus tracks as well. The real gem is a second disc which contains 17 songs from the Bambu sessions. These tracks are finally seeing their official light of day for the first time and are essential for any collector of Beach Boys material.
“River Song” leads off the first disc in almost Beach Boys fashion. Harmonies cascade as Dennis Wilson’s voice floats above the mix. The keyboards, in this case played by Dennis, under pin the sound on this track and most of the album.
Perhaps the best song is “Thoughts Of You” which features a gentle introduction of just Dennis singing at the keyboards. It morphs into an almost sonic vocal sound before returning to the simple sound of its beginning.
“Farewell My Friend” was written as a tribute to Otto Hinsche, the father in law of Carl Wilson, who died in his presence. The song was played at Wilson’s own funeral.
For years Bamboo was thought to have been the working title of his second album. Legacy has returned it to the original, Bambu, which as most readers undoubtedly know is a type of rolling paper. It had long been regarded as one of those legendary albums that had never been released except in bootleg form and an occasional song on various Beach Boys releases. The original tapes would remain on the shelf for nearly three decades.
The original executive producer of both albums, James Guercio, has done a stellar job of preparing these tracks for release. It was a work in progress when shelved by Dennis Wilson and as such has an unfinished quality to it. While the tapes have been cleaned up and the sound quality made crystal clear, the wise decision was made to present the tracks as is and thus they retain Wilson’s original if not completed intent.
Dennis Wilson’s voice had begun to deteriorate. He strains and sounds horse on many of the tracks, yet he is able to get by which is a tribute to his determination.
While there are instrumentals and uncompleted tracks, there are about half a dozen songs that are excellent. There is the fast paced “Under The Moonlight,” the beautiful vocal by Carl Wilson on “It’s Not Too Late,” and the creative harmonies of “Common.” Overall the album has a funky and soulful feel to it.
There is an informative booklet with rare photos and notes about each track which is a treat.
This legacy edition of Pacific Ocean Blue finally gives Dennis Wilson his due. It is not only historic but also provides some wonderful music. It is well worth the cost.