45 Years Ago Today: Beach Boy Dennis Wilson Releases ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’
It was 45 years ago today (August 22nd, 1977) that Beach Boys co-founder Dennis Wilson released his solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue. The set, which was the first solo collection to be released by one of the group’s original members, peaked at Number 96 on the Billboard 200 albums chart during its 12-week-run. The album has gone on to become a cult classic and influenced a whole new generation of record makers, and tapped into many of the same emotions as his older brother Brian Wilson did with 1966’s Pet Sounds — albeit in a completely different genre, voice, and musical palette.
Back in June 2008 the deluxe reissue of Pacific Ocean Blue and its unreleased 1978 follow-up, Bambu — which was issued to unanimous critical acclaim — earned the nod for “Best Reissue” from Rolling Stone, Mojo, and Uncut magazines.
In 2016, “You And I” from Pacific Ocean Blue was featured in an episode of Sarah Jessica Parker‘s HBO drama Divorce. Most recently, on Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp‘s first joint album, titled, 18, which was released last month, the pair covered the Pacific Ocean Blue ballad “Time.”
Dennis Wilson’s best friend, photographer, and filmmaker Ed Roach, actually inspired the classic line in the album’s only domestic single, “You And I” — “you open up my wallet and dust falls out” — and told us that he pleaded with Dennis not to scrap his planned solo tour in support of Pacific Ocean Blue: “He was very nervous about going out as ‘headliner,’ as ‘the act,’ y’know? I mean, the lack of confidence in himself really came out. He could mesmerize an audience, but as far as being the one to draw them in and being the main act to come out — it scared him a little bit, I think. And I really think he was very leery of ever actually doing it. And it was such a shame because that first tour was (going to be) so beautiful. The places he was going to play and the sizes and the houses and everything, and the show that he had conceptualized and that he put together.”
West Coast music historian Jon Stebbins, who wrote the groundbreaking 2000 biography on Dennis Wilson called The Real Beach Boy, explained one of the many reasons why Dennis abandoned his 1977 symphonic tour in support of Pacific Ocean Blue: “I think he wanted 23 pieces — at least 18, he wanted. It was going to be all of his boys. I think he was going to play some piano and come up front and sing some. It was going to be a whole deal, y’know? They were rehearsing ‘What’s Wrong,’ ‘Rainbows,’ ‘Pacific Ocean Blue,’ ‘The End Of The Show’ — they were probably going to do that as the last song, and he’d do ‘You Are So Beautiful’ for the encore, I’m sure. But he wanted strings, he wanted bass flutes, y’know? (Laughs) He wanted all that stuff and they wouldn’t give him the budget for it.”
Dennis primary collaborator and producer for Pacific Ocean Blue, Gregg Jakobson, recalled to us that at times he was forced to take on an almost paternal role with Dennis: “Yeah, I really did try to take care of Dennis, and I always tried to play that role. Y’know, Dennis needed someone to look after him — not quite clean up after him — but to try to just stay ahead of him, and not stay behind him; where a lot of his friends stayed — I tried to stay in front of him.”
Lindsey Buckingham became friendly with Dennis Wilson when Wilson began dating Fleetwood Mac‘s Christine McVie. Wilson was a frequent visitor to the band’s recording sessions for 1979’s Tusk, which coincided with Wilson abandoning his own album Bambu. Buckingham recalled to us his thoughts on Dennis: “He was kind of a lost guy. He was a very talented guy — way more talented than he had the structure to be able to exhibit. Y’know, he had a lot going on without the tools to sort of get there — that’s my opinion anyway. He was a real sweetheart. He was also a rogue. Y’know, he was that rogue element.”
In 2015, Dennis Wilson’s eldest child, Scott Wilson published his memoir, Son Of A Beach Boy. Scott was adopted by Dennis as a toddler when he married his mother Carole, and although not a blood relation, Scott was the only one of Dennis’ brood to have spent a considerable amount of time with him over the years. Today, Scott, who’s battled many of the same demons as his father, is able to look back at his father’s life and understand why Dennis fell into every possible pitfall laid in his path: “We all know that my dad was a drug addict. And I was with him off and on. And my dad gave so much love to so many people, because he was trying to fill a void. So, when he was able to make somebody laugh, or make somebody happy, that filled a hole inside of him — but it didn’t fill it forever; it was a momentary thing, bro.”
Beach Boy Al Jardine told us he’s still amazed at the depth and beauty of Dennis’ songs: “Oh, he was the most underrated member of the band in those terms. His compositions, I think, were stronger, and they got stronger and stronger as we went along — as he went along — until obviously he couldn’t go any further. And I just think that given time, y’know, he would’ve been the. . . probably the best composer in the band, outside of Brian, of course. Yeah, he just had that natural, intuitive instinct about music and lyrics. He always. . . he was the kind of guy who could get to the point without beating around the bush and, y’know, could just nail it.”
On December 28th, 1983 Dennis Wilson drowned in Marina Del Rey, California just weeks after his 39th birthday.
In 2017, noted rock writer Ken Sharp published Dreamer – The Making Of Dennis Wilson’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue.’ Through Sharp’s interviews — mainly new, but also featuring archival bytes from Wilson and others — the story of Pacific Ocean Blue comes to life with countless in-depth tales of the music’s composition, recording, Wilson’s personal life, the promotional of the album, its aborted tour, and his relationship with the key people — the Beach Boys, his then-current and former wives, bandmates, assistants, record label reps, fans, and collaborators — that all aided in delivering the album.
Dreamer not only features a multitude of never-before-seen photos, but Sharp provides insight into nearly every song Dennis Wilson ever wrote. The book also features an exhaustive sessionography.