Music Feeds’ Love Letter to a Record series asks artists to reflect on their relationship with the music they love and share stories about how it has influenced their lives. Here, Jay Watson of GUM sings the praises of Dennis Wilson’s 1977 solo single, ‘River Song’.
Jay Watson is a restless creative spirit. The Perth singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer has now released five albums as GUM, the latest being Saturnia. The new record was informed by Watson’s love of soulful and extroverted music, be it in the form of glam, P-funk, French touch, prog-rock or pop. Stream the album at the bottom of this page.
GUM’s love letter to ‘River Song’ by Dennis Wilson
GUM: I can’t remember where or when I heard this song, but it was in the middle of a deep Beach Boys obsession. To me the Beach Boys’ best work was like heaven music, the closest you could get to a sort of life affirming state from sound.
Brian Wilson fascinated me because he was clearly a harmonic genius, yet didn’t seem particularly bright in a traditional sense. He struggled socially in a big way. Dennis Wilson, on the other hand, was the pretty boy drummer, lots of girlfriends, the one who actually surfed. He occasionally wrote songs for the Beach Boys, and by the mid-70s was writing their best in my opinion.
‘River Song’ is the opening track on his only solo record, Pacific Ocean Blue. It absolutely blew me away when I first heard it – it was like gospel music crossed with Led Zeppelin or something heavy like that. Kind of my dream music. You can hear the raw emotion in his voice and to me, it has a drunk emotion to it. That sort of near-teariness when sad but also euphoric triumph you get when you’re really drunk sometimes. There is a demo on YouTube that has this feeling even more, less polished but more rockin’.
There is a lyric on a Pond song from 2015 that is, “All I wanna do is get drunk and listen to Dennis Wilson.” I think it’s still one of my favourites because there is nothing to it, it’s completely literal. But if you know his music, there is a weight and emotion behind it.
He ended up tragically drowning to death in the early 80s in the Pacific Ocean at 39 years old. I think he would’ve made a lot more beautiful music – his style and voice were suited to making music as an older person.