Former Beach Boy Dennis Wilson surprised everyone with this magnificent record

The best solo album from one Beach Boys member almost fell through the cracks.
Michael Putland/GettyImages

As soon as the Beach Boys were set up as a band, Brian Wilson became the prime musical mover and songwriter of the group and remained so until his breakdown while recording the (in)famous Smile album. As his capabilities to come up with more than a few (albeit brilliant) songs per album that came after Wild Honey, it was up to other members of the band to pick up the slack.

The brunt of songwriting seems to have fallen on Carl, the youngest of the three siblings in the band, with Mike Love and Al Jardine contributing a song here and there. Carl did manage to come up with some great music in the mid-seventies.

But, what about the middle brother Dennis? While he was actually the only real surfer and car expert within the band and inspired the band’s early hits, his role as a drummer within the group was never considered particularly inspiring. Sure, it was obvious that he could contribute to the harmony vocals as well as any other member, but his vocals in the Beach Boys prime time never reached those angelic heights his other two brothers, Brian and Carl, would manage.

Dennis Wilson put out one of the best solo albums by any member of the Beach Boys

As far as his songwriting contributions to The Beach Boys cannon, he seemed never to devote too much time to that. There were glimpses of brilliance in songs like “All I Want To Do,” “Forever” or “Slip On Through,” however. Even some of those were collaborations.

When his only official solo album Pacific Ocean Blue was released in 1977, not many, even among the Beach Boys fans were expecting much of it. Part of that lay in the fact that Dennis was not considered the songwriting caliber as either of his two brothers nor was he as prolific as they were.

But there, were other things in play there. Dennis was not exactly known for a very healthy lifestyle, actually something that led to his premature death by drowning in 1983. Drugs, alcohol, womanizing, and even a brief connection with the Charles Manson cult (luckily, he disassociated himself quickly) all had a part in the fact that a wider audience didn't bother to listen, even though quite a few critics had quite favorable things to say about the album. From there on, the album slowly faded from the memories, only to be revived and slowly reassessed decades on.

And that reassessment couldn’t be more deserved. It took Wilson some seven years to compose and refine the songs for the album, and that careful touch (wherever it came from), is evident from the opening “River Song.” While rich with the harmonies, as is the case with most of the songs on the album, here (likewise on the brilliant “Moonshine”), Wilson employs those that are more suited to his vocal range, although on “Tug of Love” he can emulate those heights prime Beach Boys could reach.

The songs are so well thought out, with some brilliant arranging touches while the lyrics reflect all that Wilson went through beforehand, focusing on his fascination with all things sea, particularly the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, some thirty years on a definitive edition of the album was released as a double CD, adding the unreleased session for a projected second album that had the provisional title of Bambu, showing only glimpses of what could have been. Still, with or without those tracks, Pacific Ocean Blue remains one of still not fully discovered album gems.

Read more from AudioPhix