Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson, 1977

If you live your life in the shadow of others… how do you shine?

I think a question like this must have been constantly on the mind of Dennis Wilson, middle sibling of the Wilson brothers, who, as the Beach Boys, created and dominated the niche of West Coast surfer sound.

Dennis Wilson, was the Beach Boy who lived a life closest to the songs they sung, preferring a simpler life of living on the beach and surfing. However, he was  sensitive to the bullying handed out by their father and the dominant role his elder brother Brian had on the Beach Boys, so despite appearances, Dennis came to rely on alcohol and drugs to cope, which led to him being squeezed out of the band and ultimately to his death at 39 by drowning after a drunken fall from his yacht.

Despite, or maybe in spite of, Dennis spent the middle of the 1970's working on music for what would become his only solo album to be released during his lifetime, Pacific Ocean Blue, in 1977.

If you look back at 1977, you can see why a solo release from a former Beach Boy failed to chart, as it was the year when the Sex Pistols released God Save The Queen, Donna Summer released I Feel Love and Fleetwood Mac owned the charts with the album Rumours. It was a year of music genres opening and closing... almost in front of your eyes.

This means that Pacific Ocean Blue was overlooked, with album sales of under 5,000 in the US alone… whilst it did not become a hit album, it's become a 'musicians album'… an album that's 'essential listening' if you make music… and that's why it's remained relevant and very listenable 40 years on.

Pacific Ocean Blue echoes with the life that Dennis Wilson led, he chose to live either close to the beach or on a boat, he continued to surf, despite his health issues and he was acutely aware of the impact that the growing population of California was having on the sea and the environment. The lyrics of Pacific Ocean Blues captures it well;

We live on the edge of a body of water
Warmed by the blood of the cold hearted
Slaughter of otter
Wonder how she feels mother seal
It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue

Other songs on Pacific Ocean Blue are inward looking, those of someone whose life has experienced highs, lows and a lot of fuzz around the edges.

What makes Pacific Ocean Blue alive and timeless though is the production. Whilst Dennis may not have been the genius that Brian Wilson was, he certainly must have looked on and listened as Brian dictated the direction and sound of the Beach Boys; as Pacific Ocean Blue is as rich and deep sounding as anything Brian created. Much of the album was recorded by Dennis alone, with West Coast musicians dropping in and out as the various songs were recorded and evolved. It's surprisingly the that album, which was recorded over a number of years, as a whole it fits together. The mix of the album, for it's time, is reasonable and raw, which lends it a contemporary ear… except in one area I note, it's got a 'deeper feel' that seems to elude more recent recordings and I'm not sure if this is due to the original analogue recording and mixing, or the time it took to record and produce.

Pacific Ocean Blue has been re-released in vinyl and digital. There was a small compact disc run, which has made them a bit of a collectors item.

Listen to Pacific Ocean Blue on Spotify:

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