The Beach Boys On CD: Pacific Ocean Blue

The Beach Boys Love You marked the end of the Beach Boys as a creative force. Brian Wilson’s spurt of creativity continued for a while, producing two albums which are (as of May 2013) still unreleased — New Album [CORRECTION: New Album came pre-Love You. I’ll fix this in the book] and Adult Child — but the tensions within the group led to the band actually breaking up on September 3, 1977, shortly before the recording of the lacklustre MIU Album. That album featured almost no contributions from Carl or Dennis Wilson, as the band had essentially split into two rival camps — on one side, the younger two Wilson brothers, both going through bad emotional times and turning to drugs and alcohol, but both committed at that time to trying to move the band’s music forward in new ways, while on the other side were the clean-living Mike Love and Al Jardine, who were more interested in meditating and in trying to appeal to the fanbase who had been attracted to the band by the nostalgia of the Endless Summer collection.

So while Dennis Wilson contributed almost nothing to the Beach Boys’ records from here on, he was productive in his own right. He had a contract as a solo artist from Caribou records (a label run by Jim Guercio, the manager of the band Chicago, who was also the Beach Boys’ sometime stage bass player), and turned in what is widely considered the best solo album by a member of the Beach Boys, Pacific Ocean Blue.

While it was an artistic triumph, the album wasn’t hugely commercially successful, and the attempted follow-up, Bambu, was never completed. Apart from a brief CD release in 1990, Pacific Ocean Blue remained out-of-print for the most part until 2008, when a ‘legacy edition’ double CD was released, featuring the full album, many bonus tracks, and much of the Bambu material.

While the bonus tracks are variable in quality, this level of attention was no less than the album deserved. It is, frankly, a masterpiece, but one about which it is difficult to write — it’s so coherent and unified a vision that there is little to say about one song that can’t be said about all.

In writing this essay, I have relied hugely on Craig Slowinski’s notes at http://www.beachboysarchives.com/page11 . Normally, when writing these essays, I rely on a variety of sources, but in this case Slowinski’s notes, which detail recording dates and session players, and quote interviews with every important player, are all that is needed. Slowinski goes into far more detail than I can, devoting sixty-nine pages in PDF form to these tracks, and frankly my own essay is redundant when compared with his. Were it not that Pacific Ocean Blue is such an essential part of the Beach Boys’ story that it can’t be left out of my book, I wouldn’t have even bothered writing about it.

If you enjoy this essay at all, please go and read Craig’s much more detailed work. It deserves a wider audience.

River Song
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson

This song dates back to 1973, and was originally performed live by the Beach Boys with Blondie Chaplin on lead vocals. The track as released features the core of the Beach Boys’ touring band from that period — Carl Wilson and Billy Hinsche on guitar, Ed Carter on bass, Dennis on piano and Ricky Fataar on drums.

Technically, Dennis’ solo contract didn’t allow the appearance of other Beach Boys on his album. In fact, Carl Wilson appears on several tracks, most obviously here, where he’s very audible in the backing vocal stack.

The song starts with an arpeggiated piano introduction, the first of many piano arpeggios to feature in the album, followed by a sixteen-bar choral verse, over a simple two-chord backing.

This is followed by an eight bar bridge, with Dennis singing a solo lead vocal (“ooh, lonely river”), and a repeat of the sixteen-bar verse but with a different melody (“I was born into the city life”).

Then the “rolling, rolling, rolling on river” section, the most interesting part of the song, still based on the same Bflat7-Eflat7 change, which doesn’t seem to break down neatly into bars at all, but is on a twenty-one beat cycle. This section is incredibly intense, with the gospel ‘gotta get away’ vocals shrieking away.

The song then returns to the arpeggios for “breaks my heart”, then into a riffy ending (“do it do it, got to run away”). Almost all of this is still over the same two chords, and this song, which only contains five chords in total, is an example of how much variation it’s possible to get out of very limited harmonic material.

Lyrically, the song is less impressive, being about how Dennis Wilson wondered why anyone would live in the city when they could go and live in the countryside instead. Possibly because not everyone is a millionaire rock star?

What’s Wrong
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson, Gregg Jakobson and Michael Horn

A fun little shuffle, based for the most part on a two-chord riff , with simple lyrics like “can’t live with you so I think I’ll live without you and play my rock and roll”, this has the closest resemblance to Dennis’ brother Brian’s work of the time, just a simplistic rock and roll song showing the influence of doo-wop musicians like Dion, as well as referencing All Night Long by Johnny Otis [FOOTNOTE: Johnny Otis is one of the less well-remembered figures from 50s rock and roll, but he was hugely influential, playing on Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton, having hits himself with his own band, and presenting the radio show which, in one of the more believable bits of Brian Wilson’s ‘autobiography’ Wouldn’t It Be Nice, was the programme on which Brian and Carl Wilson first heard R&B music], a song which was also referenced by Talking Heads and Frank Zappa.

This song was apparently inspired by a girlfriend Dennis had at the time who, by his account, was annoyed by him spending his time drinking and playing loud rock music, but who enjoyed spending his money.

Moonshine
Songwriters: Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson
The piano-and-guitar intro to this pretty ballad again resembles Brian Wilson’s work, specifically the introduction to You Still Believe In Me, but it soon becomes quintessentially Dennis Wilson, with odd bars of 6/4 thrown in, and an intensity and density that is largely absent from the Beach Boys’ work. One of the more minor tracks on the album, but a nice one nonetheless.

Friday Night
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

This song has no connection to the track of the same name recorded during the Smile sessions, being instead an intense slow rock song which, after 1:10 of dense string pads (a musical idea originally used in Dennis’ collaboration with Mike Love, 10,000 Years), becomes a heavy, thudding guitar-driven song. This was apparently Dennis’ response to punk, but other than a line about “white punks play tonight”, it has nothing to do with punk and is straightforward AOR.

The lyric can really be summed up in the line “I believe my Jesus is in my soul, come on brother let’s rock and roll” — for all that he wants to say something profound, Dennis is fundamentally a hedonist.

Dreamer
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

Another slow riffy rocker, this one is mostly driven by a low bass harmonica growl, played by Wilson himself, with the track for the most part being just the bass harmonica, drums playing a slowed-down disco beat, and an electric piano playing chords very low in the mix, apart from the end of each verse, when from nowhere a squall of horns comes in for a couple of bars.

Then at two minutes in (“let the wind”), the whole feel of the track changes, with the instrumentation changing to acoustic piano and tuned percussion (chimes, played by Wilson himself) for forty-four seconds, before going back to the original arrangement, but this time with the horns playing throughout, and an electric guitar soloing through to the end.

Lyrically, meanwhile, this takes the lighthearted Jesus reference from the previous song and turns it around — “I know a carpenter who had a dream/Killed the man, but you couldn’t kill the dream”, before turning into a song about the necessity of keeping one’s dreams, though the dreams he sings about tend to be more worldly ones.

Thoughts of You
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Jim Dutch
And side one ends with another song based around an arpeggiated piano part. This starts out as a simple, gentle ballad, with lines like “the thoughts of you fill my heart with joy again”. But the first line, “The sunshine blinded me this morning”, sets the mood for what follows. This is a song about a passion as intense, and as blinding, as the sun’s rays, and so after Wilson sings about his heart filling with joy, we hear an ARP string synthesiser come in and he sings “I’m sorry…forgive me…”, before the instrumentation changes totally, with low bass notes on the piano, ARP and a massed choir of multitracked Dennis Wilsons singing backing vocals as he starts the middle section “All things that live one day must die…even love”, ending the section with “look what we’ve done!” howled in despair. The song ends with the woman he’s singing to touching his face, even though the rest of the verse is about loneliness and the inability to forget. Has she returned to him after his apology, or is she dead? The song doesn’t make clear [FOOTNOTE Though it was inspired by his temporary split from then-wife Karen Lamm, so we can presume the former.].

Time
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Karen Lamm-Wilson

Side two starts with one of the weaker songs on the album, another slow, piano-based ballad, co-written with the wife who so many of his other songs were about, until at two minutes it turns into a repeated “Hold on, hold on, hold on”, reminiscent of the “rolling, rolling on” sections of River Song. There’s another subtle Dion reference here, too — when he sings “I’m the kind of guy who loves to mess around”, that’s a seeming call-back to The Wanderer, the Dion song that Dennis used to cover during Beach Boys shows in the mid-60s.

You and I
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson, Karen Lamm-Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

This is a lovely Latin-flavoured track, probably the strongest individual song on the album, and certainly the most immediate, with a fairly conventional structure compared to most of the others. It possibly edges a little close to the Muzak end of the spectrum during the guitar solo, but even there the arpeggios in the rhythm guitar call back to those that open River Song, and again we have references to Jesus opening up the singer’s heart (though the opening line of the song is “I’ve never seen the light that people talk about”). The song is fully integrated into the album, even as it works better than most as a stand-alone track. Unsurprisingly, it was released as the single from the album (in the US — in Europe River Song was chosen instead), but failed to chart.

Pacific Ocean Blues
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Mike Love

One of the rare collaborations between Dennis Wilson and Mike Love, this was originally intended for 15 Big Ones but perhaps unsurprisingly was dropped from that album, as lyrics like “The flagship of death is an old whaling trawler/The people are rising over whale killing crawlers“ don’t fit so well with Susie Cincinnati or Palisades Park.

Love’s lyrics have received some acclaim, but to be honest while they clearly have their heart in the right place (and are far better than almost anything he wrote from this point on), lines like “Warmed by the blood of the cold hearted slaughter of the otter” just don’t quite ring true.

While the song starts out in an interestingly shambolic, loping way, with the odd dropped beat giving an interesting tension to the instrumental introduction, it quickly settles into a fairly pedestrian twelve-bar blues in D (with the very slight twist that instead of the last four bars being V-IV-I-I they go V-V/VII-I-I). After two verses of this there’s a sixteen bar section going between G and D (“yeah I love you, Pacific ocean blue”) which introduces a reverbed Moog part that sounds watery yet metallic, and is by far the most interesting part of the track’s arrangement.

Farewell My Friend
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson

This is possibly the most direct expression of emotion on the album, and the only one to be written entirely by Dennis Wilson. The song was written in the aftermath of the death of Otto “Pops” Hinsche. Hinsche was the father of Billy Hinsche, the Beach Boys’ touring keyboard player, and was also Carl Wilson’s father-in-law. Dennis and he had been very close, with Hinsche essentially becoming a substitute father for him after Murry Wilson’s death, and Hinsche actually died in Dennis’ arms.

Fittingly, the only other musicians on this track are Carl Wilson and Billy Hinsche, both of whom provide backing vocals. Everything else, from the ARP strings to the seagull noises to the lap-steel guitar, is played by Dennis Wilson.

The song is simple — having only three chords, and for the majority of it only two — but powerful, and it was later played at Dennis’ own funeral.

Rainbows
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson and Steve Kalinich

This collaboration with Dennis’ friend Steve Kalinich hearkens back to the sound of the Holland album, perhaps unsurprisingly given Carl Wilson’s co-writing credit. While it features the familiar rippling piano arpeggio parts that dominate the album, it has a very different feel to anything else, being dominated by mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitar, with a subtle string arrangement. In fact, the arrangement sounds very like REM’s music from a decade later, although Dennis’ distinct voice makes sure we know what album we’re listening to.

While I’ve been somewhat critical of Steve Kalinich’s lyrics in other essays (and will be more so in later ones), here his sunny-eyed optimism works perfectly with the bright, tinkling, major key music.

This is very different from the usual intense, moody music on the album, and all the better for it. Coming between two of the darkest, most downbeat songs on the album, it works well as a palate cleanser, and it’s one of the nicest things on the record.

End of the Show
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

The perfect closer to the album, this is a slow piano ballad in Gm, based mostly around major chords with added ninths, giving a strange, melancholy, tense feel to the track. Consisting of two verses, an extended middle section (the “thank you very much” section), and a wordless final verse, this is one of the most “Beach Boys” sounding tracks on the album thanks to Bruce Johnston’s layered background vocal arrangement. The sounds at the end, of an audience cheering and Carl Wilson thanking them, come from a live Beach Boys show.

Dennis wrote this about the approaching end of his relationship with his third wife Karen Lamm, who he divorced five months after recording this. They remarried again eight months after that, but Dennis filed for a second divorce two weeks later.

bonus tracks

Tug of Love
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

A simple song that sounds like it was written about Brian Wilson, this has two simple verses telling someone who is lonely that “the world loves you, yes they do”, an extended soulful middle eight , and a coda, and was included on early line-ups of the album. While many have praised it, to my ears it was rightfully dropped — it’s pleasant enough, but there’s little real substance here.

Only With You
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Mike Love

A remake of the song Dennis had contributed to Holland, this keeps much of the feel and arrangement of the original, being based around a simple piano, bass and drum track (with a little accordion), but where this improves massively on the original is in the vocal. Where Carl Wilson’s original vocal had sounded sleepy and lazy, here a mass of multitracked Dennises plead huskily. Carl Wilson and Dean Torrence assist in the backing vocal stack, but Dennis’ voice dominates, and the result is absolutely stunning.

While it was presumably dropped from the album because a version of the song had already been released, this is much, much better than the original, and better than half the tracks that made it to the finished album. Just gorgeous.

Holy Man
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson (and Taylor Hawkins on vocal version)

A rather plodding piano-based instrumental, with a nice Moog line, this was originally intended to have a vocal recorded, but Gregg Jakobson couldn’t finish the lyrics in the 1970s. When the album was reissued in 2008, Jakobson completed the lyrics and Taylor Hawkins, the drummer from the Foo Fighters, overdubbed a new lead vocal in a style relatively similar to Dennis’. The CD reissue also includes the untampered original instrumental track, but alas not the rough mix that apparently survives with Carl Wilson singing a guide (lyricless) vocal.

Apparently another version was recorded in 2008, with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen adding overdubs along with Hawkins, but that version has, perhaps wisely, been kept in the vaults.

Mexico
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson

This was intended as part of a “Mexico trilogy” along with San Miguel (a Beach Boys track from the Sunflower era that had at that point not yet been released) and Time For Bed (which appears on disc two of this release).

This is about thirty seconds of very nice music, with some very nice horn Morricone-esque horn playing from John Foss (on flugelhorn, French horn and trumpet). Unfortunately the track lasts for five and a half minutes, and no new musical ideas come in during that time, until the jokey barrelhouse piano right before the end. At a much shorter length this could have been very nice, but it becomes incredibly tedious.

Disc Two: Bambu (The Caribou Sessions)

Even before Dennis’ first solo album was released, he had started work on a second album, to be called Bambu, for which his principal collaborator was Beach Boys touring keyboard player Carli Muñoz. Unfortunately, a combination of factors conspired to keep the album from being finished — his relationship with Karen Lamm was collapsing, Brother Studios (which Dennis had co-owned with Carl) had to be sold, leaving Dennis with nowhere to go if the creative urge suddenly struck him, and two of the best tracks, Baby Blue and Love Surrounds Me, were taken from the album and used for the Beach Boys album LA (Light Album).

As a result, nothing from these sessions was released for thirty years, save for the two songs on LA and one track (All Alone) included on the Beach Boys rarities compilation Endless Harmony in 1999, but something like a finished Bambu album was compiled for the second disc of 2008’s Pacific Ocean Blue rerelease.

It’s a mixed bag. It’s clearly better than any post-Love You Beach Boys album, but it’s also clearly the work of someone losing focus. Muñoz’ work is inferior to Wilson’s own songs, and the whole thing has a sloppy air. It’s possible that had Wilson’s personal life been more stable, he could have pulled this together into a very good album, but as it is it’s just one in the endless series of missed opportunities in the Beach Boys’ career.

Under The Moonlight
Songwriter:
Carli Muñoz

The first song on the album is this workmanlike blues-rock sludge, based around a Jimmy Reed style shuffle, but beefed up into mid-70s heaviness. The lyrics are similarly uninspiring, just being a list of things that are great about being a rock star. The only real point of interest in the track is Dennis’ vocal — while his voice had deteriorated considerably by this point, and he was having difficulty even enunciating syllables, he sings with an energy that pushes the track just past mediocrity.

It’s Not Too Late
Songwriter:
Carli Muñoz

The most fully-produced of the Bambu tracks, this is also the song of Muñoz’ that fits best with Dennis Wilson’s style, so much so that it’s hard to believe he didn’t write it. A slow ballad based around electric piano, but with a full (though rudimentary) orchestral arrangement (which frankly sounds exactly like the kind of thing that Dennis did on the previous album with ARP string synthesisers, but is apparently a sixteen-piece string section), this is one of the nicest things on the album.

It’s also a duet with Carl Wilson, who sings the choruses and tags (apparently doubled at points by Karen Lamm). Carl was going through similar personal problems at the time, and this is one of several vocals around this time where he sounds mildly intoxicated (though I have no knowledge of whether he was or not). Carl’s vocals became steadily more mannered as the next couple of decades went on, and this is an early example of his mature (and to my mind much less interesting) performances — someone coasting on a great voice, rather than putting in a great performance.

The track is possibly too dense for its own good — when the Double Rock Baptist Church Choir are on a track but almost inaudible because of all the other stuff going on, that’s possibly a sign that the kitchen sink needs removing — but as one of the last examples of Dennis’ intense, dense productions in the style he’d used going back to Carl And The Passions, it’s definitely worth listening to.

It’s also a track that has been improved by being left unreleased. The bootlegs of this material that circulated for decades had a mix of this with a horrible over-reverbed snare sound to the forefront. Thankfully, taste has prevailed in the mix used on this CD.

School Girl
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

The first Dennis Wilson original on the CD is, frankly, a mess in every way. The lyrics, about wanting sex with a schoolgirl, are…charitably, let’s use the phrase ‘of their time’… while Wilson’s vocal is bellowed and almost incomprehensible. There’s also a weird effect on the vocal, which may be deliberate, or may be an artefact of the extraction process (the lead vocal was missing from the multitracks and had to be digitally extracted from a rough mix). Oddly, much of the vocal take that appears on the bootlegged versions of the track is missing, leading to the instrumental tag sounding curiously empty.

The track isn’t without points of interest — the fast, bubbly Moog bass, for example, is very nice — but it should have stayed unreleased. To make matters worse, the track was of course originally planned to be on the same album as Baby Blue, with which it shares the lyric “late at night when the whole world’s sleeping, I think about you”. Without that connection, what little power the track had dissipates.

Love Remember Me
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson, Steve Kalinich and Gregg Jakobson

One of the better songs on the album, this is very much a track of two halves. The first one minute and forty-three seconds is a very simple ballad, starting with a verse (unfortunately never repeated, as it’s by far the most interesting musical material on the album) which sounds for all the world like the work of Harry Nilsson, albeit with the usual Wagnerian excessive Dennis Wilson production, and followed by a rather repetitive section with lyrics about how “people live, people die, people laugh, people cry” (typical Kalinich lyrics).

Then for the last two minutes and twenty-three seconds it becomes a huge gospel epic, with Dennis bellowing over the Double Rock choir singing “Love comes gently down on you/Love comes tumbling down on you”, while squealing rock guitar competes with flugelhorns and french horns.

The only thing that spoils the track is Dennis’ lead vocal, which shows just how far, and how quickly, he had deteriorated. He sounds, frankly, like someone with alcohol-induced brain damage, unable to form basic phonemes.

Love Surrounds Me
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Geoffrey Cushing-Murray

This is largely the same track as used on LA (Light Album), minus a few overdubs, and will be discussed there, since that is the version that was finished and released in Dennis’ lifetime.

Wild Situation
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

This is a Beach Boys track by any other name, featuring Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston prominently in the harmony stack, and with Carl contributing much of the guitar on the track.

One of the simpler tracks on the album, this just celebrates the first sexual encounter with a new girlfriend, and has one of the clearer lead vocals on the Bambu sessions. While it’s nothing special, Dennis’ bass harmonica bassline gives the track a real energy that’s missing from several of the other tracks.

Perhaps wisely, the last line that is included on bootlegged versions of this song — “she got it hard and now it’s a big erection” — was removed, apparently by Dennis himself.

Common
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson

This is an instrumental which seems to have been Dennis trying a few different musical ideas which he’d been working on in other forms. It’s in three sections, and the first section is similar (but not identical) to the feel of Love Surrounds Me, with a similar drum part and squelchy Moog bass. The second, longer, part is the arpeggiated section of Morning Christmas, a song Dennis had been working on for an aborted Beach Boys Christmas album (see the entries for MIU Album and Ultimate Christmas for more on this), extended to inordinate length, and then in the last thirty seconds there’s a brief, faint, church organ fragment.

Clearly unfinished, and clearly never intended to be finished, this is still one of the better things on the album.

Are You Real
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

A rather half-thought-out ballad, this plods along pleasantly enough, but is very Dennis-Wilson-by-numbers. Again, this seems made up of recycled ideas, this time including musical material from 10,000 Years, a still-unreleased collaboration with Mike Love, but the last two minutes is frankly uninspired, fast Moog arpeggios over a dull stadium rock backing, sounding for all the world like an Argent outtake.

He’s a Bum
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

Another song which seems to show the influence of Harry Nilsson, this is yet another song which consists of about a minute of actual song followed by an overlong extended coda with little musical connection to the first part, with Dennis singing “it’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right”.

While on Pacific Ocean Blue itself, Dennis’ idiosyncratic structures work, here they seem more the product of someone unable to focus long enough to provide any structure at all.

In this case, though, the track itself is short enough not to outstay its welcome, and the ‘actual song’ part is a rather charming portrait of its composer as “a dog without a bone” about whom “people say he lost his way” but “that’s all right, it’s all right”, over a semi-calypso rhythm on piano and ukulele. The backing vocals (mixed very low) are by a group of rock journalists covering the session, who Dennis Wilson unsuccessfully attempted to get to rewrite the lyrics to the song.

Cocktails
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson, John Hanlon and Gregg Jakobson

A pleasant slow ballad, this seems to have evolved in the studio — John Hanlon, credited as a co-writer, was the principal engineer for the Bambu sessions, and provides the acoustic guitar here, the only instrument on the track not played by Dennis Wilson himself.

It’s pleasant enough, though clearly unfinished, but at this point Bambu, unlike Pacific Ocean Blue, has become wearying. The tracks consist of nice ideas, played with for a while and then dropped, rather than being developed into coherent songs, and they’re for the most part very similar in tempo, feel and instrumentation. Any one or two of them would have greatly enhanced any Beach Boys album around this time, but these constant, heavy, emotive ballads have the same effect as trying to eat Christmas dinner every meal for a week would — after a while, you just want a cheese sandwich.

I Love You
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

Another track that’s made up of two very different halves, this is one of the most effective things on the album. A short, plodding, single verse, about Dennis’ new relationship with Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac (destined to be, like most of his relationships, passionate, intense, and short-lived), gives way to a quite lovely coda featuring just piano arpeggios and the Double Rock Baptist Choir, singing wordlessly, and recorded both forwards and backwards. It sounds almost like Brian Eno, with the backwards and forwards vocals intertwining with each other, coated in reverb, and is quite, quite lovely. This is also one of the shortest tracks on the CD, coming in at only two minutes and two seconds.

Constant Companion
Songwriters:
Carli Muñoz and Rags Baker

This song is a huge relief after the ponderous ballads that make up much of Bambu. While I’m not a huge fan of Muñoz’ songwriting, this Latin track, driven by a funky wah-wahed clavinet and a full horn section, brings a tremondous release of tension, and is also by far the most coherent piece of songwriting we’ve heard in half an hour or so.

Time for Bed
Songwriters:
Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson

This track was (along with San Miguel and Mexico) intended for a “Mexico trilogy”, but was for many years bootlegged as an instrumental under the name “New Orleans”. And in truth that name fits — this sounds like nothing so much as Randy Newman’s more R&B-influenced work, like You Can Leave Your Hat On or Have You Seen My Baby, instrumentally at least, although the squalling horn section is quintessentially Dennis Wilson.

The lyrics, meanwhile, are, one hopes, an attempt at a Newman-esque unreliable narrator, as otherwise lines like “I think I’d love to steal a car and cruise around/Run over one fat, ugly, just for kicks” leave a very, very nasty taste in the mouth.

Album Tag Song
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson

This is a piece that was actually put together by engineer John Hanlon in 2008, from two separate Dennis compositions. The beginning and end are from one piece, a 7/8 funky piece with a wordless falsetto vocal, while the middle section, a slow 4/4 piano ballad typical of much of the rest of the album, is from a demo from a completely different session.

This works astonishingly well, and manages to create a far more coherent, interesting composition than either piece would have made separately, although the coda is still a little extended for my tastes. One has to wish that someone like Hanlon had imposed a similar structure on the aimless pieces that make up a lot of this CD.

All Alone
Songwriter:
Carli Muñoz

This big ballad by Muñoz was regarded by many as a highlight of the Endless Harmony rarities collection, when it was first released in 1999. In truth, much of the song’s power comes from hearing the line “If I could live my life again” sung by someone whose life was so famously cut short. On its own merits, this is a soft-rock ballad that comes dangerously close to Muzak, particularly once the lounge sax solo starts.

As with all Muñoz’ work on the album, this is a much more coherently thought-out, structured song than most of Dennis’ work, but lacks the spark and originality that is evident even in Wilson’s lesser pieces.

Piano Variations on “Thoughts of You”
Songwriter:
Dennis Wilson

This is what its title would suggest — a solo, instrumental, piano performance of a radically reworked version of Thoughts Of You. This has some wonderful new melodic ideas, and is almost unrecognisable as the same piece. It makes a beautiful ending to a patchy, infuriating, but interesting collection.

(Note that on the CD this is followed by a bonus track, the vocal version of Holy Man discussed above.)

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