OK, this post is going to be a very specific type of musician nerd-out… Glen Campbell passed away last week, and like millions of other people I went down the YouTube rabbit hole checking out stuff he had done. I always appreciated his voice and guitar playing, and was familiar with his work as a studio musician with the “Wrecking Crew” in Los Angeles. During that period (the early to mid-sixties) he played on some of the Beach Boys early hits and developed a relationship with the band. In late 1964 – early 1965, he toured with the group when Brian Wilson was unavailable due to health problems. I’m telling this short back story to set up the real focus of this post…
In late 1964 Brian and Russ Titelman wrote a song called “Guess I’m Dumb” and they recorded the backing track with the usual suspects at United Western Recorders in Hollywood. It was supposed to be a Beach Boys tune but for whatever reason the band passed on it. So sometime around March 1965 Brian offers the song to Glen Campbell, who records his vocal over the backing track. It fails to chart, and fades away to obscurity – I wasn’t aware of it until last week when I came upon this version. I don’t know if Glen is actually singing this live or lip syncing to a backing track – it looks like this is from a 1960s TV show.
Holy fuck – from a songwriting/vocal performance perspective, this is really off the hook. So good it’s just insane. I transcribed the melody and chords and literally laughed out loud with total joy and amazement, thinking “You’ve got to be kidding me!” This song is a perfect example of why Brian was so respected as a songwriter and arranger (I’m assuming Russ’s contribution was the lyrics, but I don’t really know – whatever his involvement was, nice work!). The verses are a simple two chord progression over an ostinato bass, but the melody is just fucking genius – it has two parts, and each are beautiful and memorable. There is a predictable way each might have ended, and it still would have been great. But instead, Brian chooses to end each phrase with an interval of a minor seventh! I’m listening to it and thinking “Wow – this must’ve been hard to sing” and yet Glen delivers this seemingly effortless performance where he just nails it. Scary good. Goosebumps good. WTF good! Pitch fucking perfect – tone and phrasing to die for. I’m a somewhat jaded old pro who knows all the tricks, and this is just stunning. No trickery here, but plenty of magic!
So kudos to everyone involved – this is pop excellence of the highest order, and it wasn’t a hit. Art’s not always appreciated by the masses, but it will always remain transformative and magical. Enjoy!