Dennis Wilson's 'Pacific Ocean Blue'

by Stephen Rowland

15 October 2010

Stephen Rowland kicks off a series of retrospectives to showcase Beach Boys and Beach Boys-related material that is not very popular, rare, or has been forgotten completely.

Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue seemed the best place to start because it is probably the best album that will appear in this series. That, and it haunts me to my core. It is not easy for me to listen to this record.

The strangest thing is, after shedding pretty much all of the classic Beach Boys sound, after coming into his own and releasing a near-masterpiece, Dennis hated this record (Brian Wilson loved it, by the way). It took him nearly seven years to complete, so my question is: why spend almost a decade creating something you would come to loathe? That’s what marriage is for.  And another question, Dennis (R.I.P.): what exactly is wrong with it?

After the release of Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977, Wilson was extremely excited about his next record, entitled Bamboo or Bambu (no mooks like me can seem to agree). But then he died, and it was never released. Bootlegs exist, but again, nobody can seem to agree on the proper track order, which tracks would’ve been on the actual album (there are about 20 or more floating around)—maybe one day I’ll get it together and try to give my quintet an impression of what could’ve been. My confusion still lingers, however, because he barely wrote any of the songs on Bamboo/u and a lot of them ended up on the Beach Boys’ much-maligned L.A. (Light Album). More to come on that one.
Just like the inimitable Pet Sounds, the only record to which I feel I could honestly give a rating of 10, Pacific Ocean Blue sounds like nothing else. Accusations of being dated irritate the hell out of me. You can tell the record is from the ‘70s, but you can tell Pet Sounds is from the ‘60s—and all your precious Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, and nauseatingly worshiped dross like that, well, they don’t exactly sound timeless.

The melodies here are so unique, and so bleak, desperate, sad, scared—hopeless, and unmitigable. As the only surfing Beach Boy, the only Beach Boy who had anything to do with the beach, you’d think things would be a little happier. I assure you they’re not. No other Boy has released a solo album as drastically dark as Pacific Ocean Blue, and of course this is not rumor, speculation, or hypothesis, but this record sounds like a fucking suicide note.

Aside from a couple tracks of lame AOR filler or confused melodies that never end up where they need to be, nearly every song is golden. Pacific Ocean Blue isn’t just an essential record for fans of the Beach Boys; it’s something everyone should have.


We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.


//Mixed media

Virtual Reality and Storytelling: What Happens When Art and Technology Collide?

// Moving Pixels

"Virtual reality is changing the face of entertainment, and I can see a future when I will find myself inside VR listening to some psych-rock while meditating on an asteroid.

READ the article