Tuesday, August 22, 2017

You Take the High Road

Dennis Wilson : Farewell My Friend

In August of 1977, Dennis Wilson released his first and only solo album, the critically-acclaimed Pacific Ocean Blue.  

Over the years its status has grown, but right out of the gate Rolling Stone critic Billy Altman had nothing but praise :

Although Dennis Wilson never wrote many of the Beach Boys' songs, his few compositions over the years have been consistently memorable. Prior to his solo debut (the first by any of the original Beach Boys), he was most noticeable on Sunflower, where he just about stole the show with such standouts as "Forever," "Slip On Through" and "Get to Know the Woman." Still, Sunflower came out seven years ago, leaving one with guarded feelings about what a Dennis Wilson solo album would sound like. The news, as delivered by Pacific Ocean Blue, is more than just good. This is a truly wonderful and touching album.

 Wilson's style, both in terms of singing and songwriting, is unique. His voice somehow manages to be both rough and fragile at the same time, making his vocals strangely powerful and moving. As a songwriter, his strong suit is the ballad, and though the tunes are often little more than fragments, they have a way of taking hold of your emotions. "Farewell My Friend" and "Thoughts of You" demonstrate the intensity of Wilson's songs, although both avoid the verse/chorus/bridge structure of most pop songs. And even on such uptempo numbers as the title track and "Friday Night," there's a sensitivity and vulnerability that is almost irresistible.

 To his credit, Wilson did not gather a carload of familiar names to make it through this project -- none of the other original Beach Boys appears here.*Nor did he attempt to mimic the Beach Boys' sound. Yes, there are certain Beach Boy touches here and there, especially in the complex vocal arrangements: "Thoughts of You" has a passage that seems right out of Surf's Up, and "You and I" could easily have been part of Friends. But on the whole, Pacific Ocean Blue is a distinctly personal statement and reveals Dennis Wilson to be a talented and gifted performer in his own right.

*Some of the other Beach Boys actually did contribute. Carl helped write "River Song" and Mike Love helped with the title cut. Carl, Bruce Johnston and Ricky Fataar also played on one or more songs.

In his autobiography I Am Brian Wilson, Dennis's big brother wrote about the album:

  After Dennis died, people used to ask me all the time what I thought about his solo record, Pacific Ocean Blue. I have said that I never heard it, that I won't listen to it, that it's too many sad memories and too much for me. That's sort of true, but not really.  I know the music on it. I was around for much of the time in the mid-70's when Dennis was cutting the record. I loved what he was doing. My favorite song that he ever made was on it. I don't know for sure what he ended up calling it, but there was a part that went "No more lonely nights/I'll never make the headlines." Is it called "You and I"? I love that cut. But I haven't ever put the record on and listened through it the way I have with other records, or the way that other people have with that records. If I want to know what Dennis's soul sounded like, I can just remember the songs - "What's Wrong," "Dreamer," "Farewell My Friend," "End of the Show." They tell the whole story of how sad and beautiful his life was, how the beauty tried to grow but the sadness kept it in.

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