Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Happy birthday, Dennis Wilson!

Dennis Wilson (1944-1983) was the SOUL of The Beach Boys; the surfing, drumming Wilson brother was not only an early favorite of the group's female fans (thanks to his movie star good looks and obvious bad boy sex appeal), but as the his older brother became less prolific, he began to step out on his own and show the world that he, too, had a massive amount of songwriting talent and an ear for melody that was as unique and brilliant as Brian's.

Presented here are four favorite cuts from Dennis, both solo and with the Beach Boys.

Dennis was able to release his (solo) masterwork in 1977, the majestic Pacific Ocean Blue. While the album is superb from start to finish, the opening cut 'River Song" is one of the most epic tracks ever cut to wax by anyone, anywhere. Dennis' sensibilities of melody and harmony here are original, and the track melds together elements of gospel, soul, and pop music and it works like a charm. Sadly, alcoholism was also destroying Dennis at this time, and he never completed the slated follow up LP, (tentatively titled Bamboo) before his tragic death in 1983.

From the earliest Beach Boys albums, Dennis' raspy, earthy voice (mostly in harmony, occasionally as a lead) stood out but blended beautifully on those gorgeous Beach Boys harmonies. However, in 1965, "In The Back of My Mind" was buried as the last song on side 2 of the masterful The Beach Boys Today! LP. Not only did the arrangement of this song and several others from the album foreshadow what was coming for the Beach Boys in 1966 (Pet Sounds and 'Good Vibrations'), it was also the first lead vocal that Dennis was given that showed the type of emotional depth he could bring to a song.

During those crucial years of Brian's creative peak ('66-'67), his greatest ally was his brother Dennis. Both physically and mentally strong, Dennis not only encouraged his brother but also fought the more conservative faction of the group for Brian to create the music that we love so much today. Without Dennis' support, there's a good chance that there would be no Smile.
Brian's music was an inspiration to Dennis, who stepped out in a big way on his own during the Friends (1968) and 20/20 (1969) LP's, and his own composition "Be With Me" (from 20/20) updates the moody vibe of "In The Back Of My Mind" in a very adult way.

By the release of Sunflower in 1970, Brian Wilson's studio presence with the group had fallen to a low level of participation. The other members kept moving forward, and Carl and Dennis stood out as a musical force nearly as strong as their older brother. Sunflower was the (post-Pet Sounds) group at its peak, and the incredible opening track, Dennis' 'Slip On Through', was also released as a 45.

These songs represent merely the tip of the iceberg of the talents of the late, great Dennis Wilson.

 Pacific Ocean Blue inner gatefold, 1
Pacific Ocean Blue inner gatefold, 2
20/20 inner gatefold.

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