Friday, June 27, 2008

Pacific Ocean Dennis

Dennis Wilson's 1977 solo album Pacific Ocean Blue was reissued last week in a 30th anniversary "legacy edition" with an extra disc of bonus tracks from his unfinished second album Bambu.

According to this often-quoted AMG bio, Dennis was "the most obviously untalented Wilson brother", which is like calling Ringo the most obviously untalented Beatle: it's technically a true statement, but only because they were both surrounded by incomparable talent.

More than thirty years after its release, Pacific Ocean Blue stands up to any latter-era Beach Boys album, and stands over Brian's pre-SMiLE solo albums and Carl's two solo albums as "most obviously" the first and best solo album by a Wilson brother. (See, I can state opinions-as-facts too!)

POB was released on CD in 1991, but it was quickly dropped by the label and the album has been out of print ever since. And the Bambu material has only been available on bootlegs (I downloaded some of the tracks last year from the late jefitoblog), so this reissue has been long overdue. For anyone who's wondering why a 30th anniversary reissue of a 1977 album didn't come out until 2008, it's for the same reason that the 30th anniversary edition of Pet Sounds didn't come out until 1997. Beach Boys-related reissues just don't get released on time.

The reissued POB has been racking up rave reviews and impressive sales, and it's great to see this album finally getting some recognition 31 years after its release and 25 years after the auteur's death.

I've always wanted to compile a mix of the best Beach Boys song that Dennis sang and/or wrote, so this week's Friday muxtape is dedicated to "Beach Boy Dennis". Here are a dozen Dennis Wilson tracks from his Beach Boys and solo career, with emphasis on songs written by him and his brothers.

Beach Boy Dennis

1. "This Car of Mine" (from Shut Down, Volume 2, 1964)
This was one of Dennis's first lead vocals on a Beach Boys record. That AMG bio calls this a "novelty song", but it's one of their best car songs and one of my favorite early BBs tracks. This album also has a two-minute drum solo called "Denny's Drums", the first song "written" by Dennis, even though it sounds like a "drumming 101" instruction track.

2. "In The Back Of My Mind" (from Beach Boys Today!,1965)
Today! led off with a bona fide Dennis-sung hit (a cover of "Do You Wanna Dance?"), but this song was buried at the end of the record before "Bull Session With Big Daddy" and relegated to "and the rest" listing on the album cover. "and three more songs by Brian Wilson, woo hoo!"

3. "Be Still" (from Friends, 1968)
Friends was the first Beach Boys album to feature a couple of Dennis Wilson compositions ("Little Bird" and "Be Still"), so I flipped a virtual coin and chose the latter one, which sounds like a Dennis solo song. This is a nice track.

4. "Never Learn Not To Love" (from 20/20, 1969)
This song was originally called "Cease To Exist", and had lyrics by a struggling songwriter named Charlie Manson. According to wikipedia: "When 'Never Learn Not to Love' was first released by the Beach Boys credited solely to Dennis Wilson - with altered lyrics and a new bridge - Manson threatened Wilson with murder. The Manson incident gave everyone a scare in the Beach Boys' camp - especially after his well-known crimes came to light". Despite the undercurrents of plagiarism and murder, "Never Learn Not To Love" is a pretty decent song. If Charlie had only used his powers for good instead of evil!

5. "Lady" (Dennis Wilson solo single, 1970)
Dennis was the first Beach Boy to put out a record under his own name, with this single (b/w "Sound Of Free") by Dennis Wilson & Rumbo. Rumbo was Daryl Dragon (aka Captain of "and Tennille" fame). The original single is hard to find, but the songs are on the internet.

6. "Slip On Through"
7. "Forever" (from Sunflower, 1970)
Dennis Wilson was at the height of his creativity in 1970. As well as the solo single, he made a movie, and wrote three of the best songs on the Beach Boys Sunflower album. "Forever" is of my favorite Beach Boys songs, and Sunflower is one of my favorite albums.

8. "Make It Good" (from Carl And The Passions - So Tough, 1972)
Carl And the Passions is not one of my favorite Beach Boys albums, and is really a "Beach Boys" album in name only. But "Make It Good" (another Dennis Wilson/Daryl Dragon co-write) isn't half bad. Dennis suffered a hand injury during the recording of this album and was replaced on drums by Ricky ("Stig") Fataar.

9. "Mona" (from Beach Boys Love You, 1977)
Love You was the first Beach Boys album in nearly a decade with substantial contributions from Brian Wilson. Brian wrote and recorded the album mostly by himself, but Dennis sang lead on "Mona". His voice and Brian's sounded almost exactly alike at this time, so it sounds like someone harmonizing with their own voice.

10. "River Song"
11. "Pacific Ocean Blues" (from Pacific Ocean Blue, 1977)
A few months after the release of Love You, Dennis released his POB solo album. I don't have the remastered reissue (yet), so these are from the original CD. Which I also don't have, but in this age of P2P torrents, nothing is truly "out of print".

12. "Baby Blue" (from L.A. (Light Album), 1979)
"Baby Blue" was the last Beach Boys song sung by Dennis Wilson. It was a solo song from his Bambu session, and a duet with his brother Carl. L.A. has a couple other good songs (Dennis's "Love Surrounds Me" and Brian and Carl's "Good Timin'"), but it gets a negative billion points for the ten minute disco remake of "Here Comes The Night". Dennis and Brian recorded some unreleased demos in the early 80s, but this was his last-ever appearance on record.

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