Wednesday, January 16, 2013


                I’ve got a soft spot – a big one – for the pop music of the (pre-psychedelic) 60’s. So I’m always glad when elusive material from that era resurfaces. This month, I acquired a CD of songs written by 60’s pop princess, Jackie DeShannon. All but one of the tracks are performed by other artists (from high profilers (like Cher) to barely existent entities (the Fashionettes, anyone?). One item I particularly liked (and new to me) was 1964’s “Just  Like Him” (sung by P.J. Proby, an American who successfully crashed the Carnaby Street scene).
                Now   for  some serious woolgathering.  In ’65 Glen Campbell released a single called “Guess I’m Dumb”. Written by pop royalty (Brian Wilson and Russ Titelman), beautifully produced and arranged by Wilson himself, it stands as one of the all-time great pop records.  And it went absolutely nowhere.
Negligible  airplay.   No Billboard charting. Not even a bubbling under.   Nada.   Campbell’s magical performance of the song on “Shindig” should’ve propelled hordes of viewers into the streets clamouring for the record.  That didn’t happen.  A  state  of affairs for which the gods still have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

                “Guess I’m Dumb” pulsates with a sombrely enthralling atmosphere. You get the sense of a vast ship moving across a fog-covered ocean. It’s a proto-Brian Wilson mood, the one that hangs like a mist over “ ’Til  I Die” and long stretches of “Pet Sounds”.  Communicating a sense of peril and purpose. With muffled foghorn fanfares from the brass section, a heart-on- its- sleeve string passage – and background voices that somehow find the elusive sweet spot between punchy and ethereal. Everything simmers,  shimmers and brims.  All that,  conjoined  with  the majesty of the Brill Building sound at its peak(and this is a west coast recording!).  Just as silent films  experienced  a  sweeping artistic surge moments before sound lured away their audience, so the American pop/rock single achieved  full  splendour  in the 63-65 era. With Goffin  & King, Bacharach & David, Mann & Weill , Greenwich and Barry at the forefront,  a perfect synthesis of Tin Pan Alley melody, pop/rock pulse and symphonic sweep  emerged, bringing  60’s pop songs to a beautiful crescendo.  Spector   wasn’t  the  era’s  only source of pop grandeur.  All these artists, musicians and singers raised the stakes on what a pop/rock record could be.  At first, Lennon-McCartney seemed to be an extension of the same current .  But  - among other (admittedly glorious) things, they proved to be transitional; harbingers  of change – ushering in the age of the blues-worshiping  supergroup, the guitar god and the psychedelia that suddenly slapped an expiry date on so much that had preceded it.
                Now, in an agreeably altered universe, “Guess I’m Dumb” would’ve been a massive hit. And – as a hit – would’ve required a follow-up. Since “Guess I’m Dumb” was co-written by Brian Wilson, I suspect Campbell and his people (for – with a giant hit single under his belt – I’m pretty sure Campbell would’ve suddenly had  a slew of people), would’ve gone back to Wilson for  the sequel. But there’d also have to be an album. And a Campbell version of “Just Like Him” would’ve fit nicely on that alternate universe LP – and been a natural as the second follow-up single.  The Proby record has the same stately pop progression as “Guess I’m Dumb” –if not a wall, then surely a hall of sound. The production lacks the sumptuousness of “Guess I’m Dumb” but the strings achieve an even more sustained ardour than the ones in “Dumb”; something ,I’m guessing, a full-throttle Wilson (or at least Wilsonesque) production would’ve capitalized on and eclipsed . And though Proby does a fine job with the vocals, the melody with its octave leaps and plummets really demands a voice as remarkable as Campbell’s soulful, soaring choir boy tenor.

                And – yes – I’m crazy. I’ve even imagined the whole 1965 album that would’ve appeared in my alternate universe.

             featuring his smash hit “Guess I’m Dumb”

Side One:
 2. WONDROUS PLACE (a terrific Billy Fury hit in England, but unknown on this side of the ocean)
 3. BIG MAN(a  jaunty 4 Preps record from ’58, a minor hit – but a major earworm)
 4. WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH YOU(a melancholy masterpiece from Gerry Goffin and Russ Titelman ; Skeeter Davis, Lesley Gore   and the Chiffons all tried to have hits with this  Maybe a Campbell  version could’ve finally made it happen).  
 5. EVERYTHING I TOUCH TURNS TO TEARS(an uptempo torch song (by Udell & Geld, who wrote hits for Brian Hyland, among others)- and it encapsulates the Brill Building sound in all its glory; I only know Cilla Black’s version, an obscure album track – but wonderful)

Side Two:
 1. ME AND CALIFORNIA (this is my placeholder for the follow-up Brian Wilson would’ve written.
 30 years ago – in my head – I wrote a Wilson style song of this title. Most of the words and all of   the music have faded away. But I know BW could’ve created something beautiful to go with the title)
 2. HE’S IN TOWN(The Tokens hit #1 with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, but this Goffin-King jewel is their    greatest record – and a natural for Campbell’s no-limits vocals).
 3. SINCE I DON’T HAVE YOU(the Skyliners classic from ‘58;  I once saw Lou Christie and Lesley Gore  duetting it live –and they nailed it. Campbell would’ve too).
 4. SO TENDERLY( I worked in a record store in ’65 – and somehow this obscure song from St. George   and Tana( who sound like a slightly funkier Ian and Sylvia) got played a lot there.  I’ve never stopped loving it).
 5. I’LL TRY SOMETHING NEW (a  1962 single from (Smokey Robinson and) the Miracles. Liquid magic –    and  Campbell’s  voice could’ve negotiated every irresistible eddy and swirl).
 6. THE SUN AIN’T GONNA SHINE ANYMORE(one of the great great songs of the 60’s, written by two Bobs, Crewe and Gaudio . Frankie Valli had a splendid version, the Walker Brothers a         transcendent one. But Glen Campbell really should have had a crack at it too. It’s definitely on  the same majestically luminous plane as “Guess I’m Dumb”) .

             You can probably purchase “Guess I’m Dumb” from itunes. For P.J. Proby‘s song, I think the only source is the Jackie DeShannon tribute compilation (“Break-a-way”-on the Ace  label). They’re both worth tracking down.   Sometimes  shooting  stars cross the sky unseen . So it’s nice when one of them gets a second chance to glow.