November 6, 2011

dennis Many people think of Dennis Wilson as just the drummer for the Beach Boys. But he really was an artist in his own right. Sure, he was the driving force behind their touring band until his untimely death nearly twenty years ago, but the music he wrote was anything like that of the band he played in. His music was intensely personal, moody, sad, and funky; more than anything else, it was unique.

Thought I’d put together a list of Dennis Wilson tunes I thought represented the picture of an artist whose work has only recently gotten the repect it deserved – tunes I think that capture the essence of who Dennis was as an artist. Hope you enjoy them.

20. “Little Bird”, from the Beach Boys 1968 LP “Friends”. This was the tune that first got people taking notice of the potential of Dennis as a songwriter. The song oozes quaint and mellow, its tag developed by brother Brian.

19. “Celebrate The News”, the B side of the Beach Boys “Break Away” single, the last they recorded for the Capitol label back in 1969. The song’s first movement is kind of cute and awkward in an earnest and goofy sort of way, but listen to how the song shifts into a tag that is both dark and driving in a powerful sort of way, sending it into a sonic place unique for the band’s repertoire of that time.

18. “Be Still”, also from the “Friends” LP. A quiet meditative piece backed solely by organ. I always liked the idea of Dennis singing this a capella with a little bit of echo on it.

17. Dennis never completed the vocals for his 1977 tune “Holy Man”, but Foo Fighters‘ drummer Taylor Hawkins does a fine job for the legacy release of Dennis’ 1977 LP “Pacific Ocean Blue”, which also features cuts from his planned follow-up release “Bambu”. It’s a great tune, and Hawkins’ voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Dennis’.

16. “Moonshine”, from Pacific Ocean Blue. Almost Spector-like in its arrangment, this is a Dennis power-ballad about loving and losing. Majestic in its scope, this song brings back memories of loving and losing in my own life.

15. “Angel Come Home”, a tune originally scheduled for Dennis’ second solo album “Bambu” in 1979, it was taken by the Beach Boys for their 1979 release “LA (Light Album)”. This is Dennis at his funkiest, a song about loss and loneliness (a theme he wrote about often).

14. “Baby Blue”, also from “LA (Light Album). Brother Carl sings the first verse, Dennis the second, with brother Brian doing the background falsetto. A pretty, albeit haunting ballad about loss.

13. “Barbara”, unreleased from 1971. An ode to his second wife, this is just a lovely tune. Hard to believe Dennis couldn’t write music, he played what he heard in his head. A true artist.

12. “Rainbows”, from Pacific Ocean Blue. The most Beach Boys-sounding song on that album, helped in no small part by fellow BBs Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston featured prominently on background vocals. The lyrics by Stephen Kalinich celebrates the joy of God’s creation in all of its fullness. The song’s a stunner that never really got its due.

11. “Slip On Through”, from the Beach Boys 1970 album “Sunflower”. One of the few times Dennis’ music is fully integrated with the Beach Boys sound. A classic. If you listen closely you’ll hear background vocals that are both interesting and unusual.

10. “You Are So Beautiful” – if you attended a Beach Boys concert anywhere between the years of 1976 and 1983 when Dennis was present, this was the highlight of the show. After the band would finish with “Surfin’ USA”, they’d leave the stage and let the crowd go nuts for a few minutes. Then, supported only by a blue spotlight and Mike Meros on the piano, Dennis would come out alone to sing this tune which even Billy Preston (credited as the author) admitted Dennis wrote. After finishing the song, Dennis would introduce the band, and they’d finish up with “Good Vibrations”, “Barbara Ann”, and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Saw ’em do it more than a dozen times and it never got old. Dennis was the driving spirit behind the Beach Boys tour band.

9. “Only With You”, a Dennis tune from 1973’s “Holland” album. While sung by Carl, this Dennis-penned tune (with the help of Mike Love) oozes both romanticism and intimacy. This song was Tracey’s and my choice for our first dance together at our wedding reception 25 years ago.

8. “Under The Moonlight”, from the unreleased album “Bambu”, circa 1978. This is great rockin’ tune, showing Dennis’ other, more wild side.

7. “San Miguel”, finally released on the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” box set, brother Carl sings this circa 1969 Dennis composition. One can easily imagine Dennis singing this rockin’ tune.

6. “Morning Christmas”. A cut designated for the Beach Boys unreleased 1977 Christmas album. This is a standout track, both moody and very intense. The tag is worth the entire song. While Dennis’ vocal is ragged, the music is both majestic and beautiful. The tag with its piano and grunting synthesizer is worth the price of admission alone.

5. “Lady”, the B side of Dennis’ 1970 solo single with Daryl Dragon (“The Captain” of The Captain and Tennille). Simple. Romantic. Very Dennis.

4. “River Song”, from “Pacific Ocean Blue”, 1977. A very powerful tune with a poignant vocal from Dennis, backed by the Double Rock Baptist Choir, which Dennis conducted without any charts. It was all in his head.

3. “Thoughts Of You”, from 1977’s “Pacific Ocean Blue”. This is Dennis Wilson at his most vulnerable, lonely, and passionate. The only artist I can equate this kind of truth-laid-bare performance to is John Lennon on his “Plastic Ono Band” LP. His lyric, “loneliness is a special place” kept me alive both physically and spiritually during a very down period in my life. For me, this is a very special song.

2. “Cuddle Up”, from the Beach Boys’ 1972 album Carl and The Passions – So Tough”. Achingly romantic and passionate, almost classical in nature. So very Dennis. Brothers Brian and Carl are on the background vocals. Breathtaking, really. I mean, how much emotion can one person pour into a song?

1. “Forever”, also from “Sunflower”. The quintessential Dennis Wilson tune, it’s a beautiful love song that captures the essence of Dennis’ soul and spirit. Brothers Carl and Brian are again featured on background vocals; Brian’s falsetto is particularly lovely.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:06 | Comments (2)
2 Comments »
  1. downloading POB and Bambu to add to the collection.

    Comment by Jana — November 8, 2011 @ 12:54 pm


  2. I think you’ll like it a lot, Jana!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — November 8, 2011 @ 9:45 pm


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