One Track Mind: Nancy Wilson, "Guess Who I Saw Today" (1961)

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NICK DERISO: “Guess Who I Saw Today,” from Nancy Wilson’s second Capitol Records recording “Something Wonderful,” always stops me in my tracks.

“You’re so late getting home from the office,” she begins. “Did you miss your train? Were you caught in the rain? No, don’t bother to explain.”

And so begins a delicate yet devastating theme of betrayal and comeuppance, told in the story-song style of a great blues — and delivered with elegant, breathy defiance by this ageless but underappreciated jazz singer. The guitar, perfectly circular, delivering sharp rebukes and knowing winks, is by Jack Marshall.

Wilson continues, in a darkening tone: “Can I fix you a quick martini?,” she sings, capturing the role of dutiful wife now scorned. “As a matter of fact, I’ll have one with you. For to tell you the truth, I’ve had quite a day, too.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Pianist Michael Wolff on Nancy Wilson’s way with a song, and the lasting importance of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.]

Wilson goes on to take us through a day of shopping, then to a charming street cafe where she stopped on a whim for a bite. There, she notices a flirty, happy couple — “they were so in love, even I could spot it, clear across the room” — only to discover, in a line delivered like a velvet fist, that it’s her own husband with another woman.

“Guess Who I Saw Today” remains Wilson’s most requested in-concert song — she once was showered with letters of complaint when she left it out back in the 1990s — and I get that.

This old Murray Grand-Elisse Boyd composition is, even four decades later, a sophisticated masterpiece of old-fashioned glamour and purring danger. And a high-water mark in a period awash with terrific efforts.

In fact, so popular was Wilson at that time that Capitol issued five of her albums between April 1960 and July 1962 — including her brilliant collaborations with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (1962) and George Shearing (1961). The label only had one other band who sold more records in 1964.

If you never knew why, this tune — or more precisely, its final moment — is all the reason you’ll ever need.

“I’ve never been so shocked before,” Wilson adds, her voice rising ever so slightly. “I headed blindly to the door. They didn’t see me passing through.”

Up to this point, though, Wilson has never answered the title’s central question, which is repeated again as the tension continues to build.

Finally, on the song’s last chilling line — she does:

“I saw … you.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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