Song Of The Day 9/12/2015: Ginny Arnell – “Dumb Head”

The Hidden '60s, Part 1 – The most shocking record I heard out of all 5,000 I auditioned last week (my advisers advised me to round up) wasn’t shocking because it was suggestive, dirty, violent or sung by a nun. It’s Ginny Arnell’s “Dumb Head” (#50, 1964*), and what makes it so unsettling is its rather excessive self-deprecation.

Musically the song is perfect. It’s the lyrics that are a little unnerving. The plot is fairly common, nestled in that hormonal Bish Bash of teenage romance. Boy loves girl, girl plays hard-to-get and laughs him off. It’s never explained what happens to the boy – we can assume he was snatched up by another, less Machiavellian inamorata, or drafted – but whatever it was, the singer in “Dumb Head” rues her obstinance in letting her rare jewel of a chance slip through her trembling fingers.

And even that’s fair game for a good, thoughtful song. But Arnell turns her ruthlessness back on herself, and she is peculiarly unsparing: “I’m a stupid little girl… I think I’ll go bang my head against the wall… I was born with a peanut for a brain… Somebody kick me, please.” Yikes. Of course the self-flagellation is overplayed for comic effect, and if the punch lines don’t prove it, then her “dunce” singing in the chorus (“doo-d-d-doo-d-doo-d-doo-doo”) clinches it. She’s channeling her inner Carlos Mencia and dude wasn’t even born for another four years. Then there's the kazoo solo, but I'll leave that to the Rhodes scholars.

I’m sure we could have some intriguing gender investigations relative to teenage hierarchy in the years before the sexual revolution finally hit the soda fountain. The boys were simply lonely or misunderstood, and usually awful at driving since they wound up getting their dates or themselves killed in terrible wrecks. But songs like “Dumb Head” and the darkest material of the effectively goth Shangri-La’s brought a world of intense emotional savagery down on the heads of the girls. Many of their dress-downs were outright scary, and it took men some time to get hip to the thrills of personal evisceration. Some say John Lennon finally cracked that nut with his primal scream work, but I think it might’ve been Barry Manilow. Let’s meet up at the crematory and talk about it over some cloves and wine coolers.

Incidentally, for reasons unexplained and perhaps best left that way, Arnell recorded a Japanese-language version of this song. I'd love to see the Google translation of the lyrics.

*“Dumb Head” entered the Hot 100 the week of November 11, 1963, so it fits in this theme’s 1960–63 timeline. It reached its peak of #50 the week of February 1, 1964.

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