Dennis Wilson was the odd man out in the Beach Boys. He was the one who suggested they start singing about surfing. He was the only Beach Boy who could actually surf. He stood by brother Brian when the other were critical of the 'Smile' album material. He was never really appreciated by his band-mates. He was the one who introduced Charles Manson to the rest of the band. Through his brief and turbulent relationship with Manson (he ended up turfing Wilson out of his own house which he proceeded to wreck) The Beach Boys recorded a re-working of one of his songs - 'Never Learn Not to Love', a b-side to the Bluebirds over the Mountain" single in 1968. A year later Manson's gang redecorated Sharon Tate's house. A year after that Wilson started working on his own project, which would eventually be released in 1977. His only solo album. Pacific Ocean Blue.
It's an album of its time. Unlike the music the Mike Love led Beach Boys were making. A album of beautiful fusions. A gritty voice matured through rock and roll excess, but with soul as soft and warm as melted caramel. It's gospel, funk, rock and tinged with orchestral moments that are more akin to Pink Floyd and the type of uplifting brass sections that bridged the 70s into the 80s.
It's an album every bit as good as Pet Sounds and Smile. For me it tops Smile. By some way. Dennis clearly learnt a lot from Brian - undeniably the genius behind The Beach Boys. And like Brian, Dennis clearly believed what he sang about. When he sings 'I love you' in 'Thoughts of You' (see the video below) it's enough to bring a lump to the throat and moisten the eyes of even the most cynical and jaded music veteran.
The album was not a great success in terms of sales, it sold only around 200,000, but in terms of influence it's stands alongside the handful of other albums we consider classics. Listening to Pacific Ocean Blue, it could have been made yesterday. You could be listening to The Flaming Lips and you realise just what a debt Jason Pierce of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized owes Wilson. The Charlatans' 'Us and Us Only' album borrows rather very heavily from 'Pacific Ocean Blue' - listen to 'The Blind Stagger' and then Wilson's 'Rainbows' back to back. 'My Beautiful Friend' from the same Charlatans album also has some uncanny echoes of Wilson's 'Farewell My Friend', as he sings: "Farewell my friend, my beautiful friend." Of course this is a compliment, and The Charlatans tend to lurch from one influence to the next - from Bob Dylan to New Order to Curtis Mayfield - as they make their albums.
Like all great albums - the aforementioned Smile, and Shack's Waterpistol - becoming unavailable rewarded it with a cult following. It was out of production for well over a decade. Copies of it were selling for fortunes online as it became one of music's most sought-after records, before eventually being re-released in 2008 as a special edition double CD with bonus material from the never released follow up Bambu.
It's not often you come across an album as majestically beautiful as Pacific Ocean Blue, and as Wilson sings Farewell My Friend, your heart aches with the knowledge that he was to die just 6 years later and just days after his 39th birthday. It was the song played at his funeral.
What he could have gone on to create, we'll never know. The drugs and booze had taken their toll, so maybe nothing. But the legacy he left us with is enough. An album that checks all the boxes as far as cult classics go - iconic cover art, hard to find, out of production, an artist who died young, a product of the wild 60s, but most importantly an album of sublime musical perfection.