PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE
By Andrew G. Doe
Author, "The Complete Guide to the Music of the Beach Boys"
In the late sixties, the odds on Dennis Wilson being not only the first band member to emerge from Brian's shadow, but also becoming the second most powerful creative force within the band, must have seemed long in the extreme, yet that's exactly what happened. Whether or not it was Brian's increasing absence that incited Dennis' musical growth is a moot point, but the evolution of his own musical vision of introspection-tinged ballads ("Little Bird" from Friends), densely textured soundscapes (20/20's "Be With Me") and flat out rockers ("All I Want To Do" from the same album) was indeed timely. Dennis' initial - and by far the loftiest - creative peak came on the superb Sunflower, and later that year, working in Brian's home studio with Beach Boys engineer Steve Desper and a pre-Captain & Tennile Darryl Dragon, he made a concerted attempt at a solo album, none too seriously entitled Poops or Hubba Hubba. Apparently to test the waters, a late 1970 single credited to Dennis Wilson And Rumbo (= Dragon) was issued everywhere except the USA and, unsurprisingly, attained the status of 'collectors item' with uncommon speed. "Sound Of Free", with a lyrical assist from cousin Mike and alleged vocal contributions from the other two Wilson brothers was a quasi-mystical medium rocker whilst the flip, "Lady" (later covered by American Spring as "Fallin' In Love") was a gentle ballad in the "Forever" mould and similarly inspired by then-wife Barbara. It was long assumed that the Rumbo 45 and Dennis' two contributions to Carl And The Passions - So Tough were the only survivors of a project which, according to Steve Desper, had "90% of it 90% done", but in the mid-1980's, Desper further offered that much of Pacific Ocean Blue had its origins in the 1970 sessions.
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".