Yesterday I was listening to a Glen Campbell greatest hits collection (The Capitol Years 1965-77, the one compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, it’s excellent) and in the liner notes, it mentions that Campbell sang and played guitar on a Gary Usher-produced single called “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, that was included on Jac Holzman and Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets collection, which I have, so I checked it out. It’s odd that I had this song in my possession—I’ve played the Nuggets box set many, many times all the way through—but never took much note. How could I have missed it?
A be-quiffed Glen Campbell backstage at the Grammy awards with the Beach Boys
“My World Fell Down” is the closest thing we’ll ever get to “Good Vibrations”-era Beach Boys meets LSD-soaked psych rock. Sagittarius was basically a supergroup of session musicians under the direction of Gary Usher, a staff producer at Columbia who had also “discovered” The Firesign Theatre and produced The Byrds. Aside from Campbell, who was, of course, briefly in the Beach Boys himself, the secondary vocalist on the track is none other than Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. Also worth pointing out is that Usher had written several songs with Brian Wilson (”409” and “In My Room” among them) and included in the backing group were powerhouse session players Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye, who had both recorded with the Beach Boys. If someone played this for you and told you it was an unreleased—and especially odd—Beach Boys demo, you’d believe them, no problem.
Dig the musique concrète bridge section of carnival (bullfight?) noises and a slamming door. This part sounds like something straight off of Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones album that came out the same year, 1967, but is not included in the album version.
When “My World Fell Down” got to #70 on the Billboard chart, the label wanted Sagittarius to tour, at which point he revealed that Sagittarius didn’t actually exist as a real group and that it was his song, too. Usher moved forward with Sagittarius and recorded a full album leaning heavily on the talents of a young Curt Boettcher. Prior to the release of that record, Present Tense, in 1968, Usher and co. released a second Sagittarius single titled “Hotel Indiscreet” that had another musique concrète bridge section that utilized Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theatre ranting about… something:
“What for and how long my children? How long will we be made to suffer the utter degradation of everything we hold sacred? My fellow flowers, the time is upon us to open the door and purify the foul and pestilent air within, standing naked before the eternal judge and proclaiming we are all hip! Two three four… Hip! Two three four… zwei drei vier… Sieg Heil! SIEG HEIL!”
That bit was only on the mono version of the song, on the single. Clive Davis didn’t like the weirdo breaks in “My World Fell Down” and “Hotel Indiscreet” so he had Usher cut them out for Present Tense.