Wednesday, 9 August 2017

My Top Ten Glen Campbell Songs




I'm not sure I can do Glen Campbell justice. I'll let his good friend, songwriting God Jimmy Webb, say it for me...

"One of [Glen's] favourite songs was “Try A Little Kindness” in which he sings “shine your light on everyone you see.” My God. Did he do that or what? Just thinking back I believe suddenly that the “raison d’etre” for every Glen Campbell show was to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two. Leave ’em laughin.’ Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get ’em there. What a majestically graceful and kind, top rate performer was Glen on his worst night!"

I was lucky enough to see Glen Campbell play live on his farewell tour in 2011.It wasn't his worst night, but it could hardly be described as his best. He forgot a few lines, fumbled a few guitar chords. The illness was obviously affecting him. Yet it was still one of the most powerful and memorable performances I've ever had the privilege to see. At the end, he got a standing ovation... and there were tears in all our eyes.

There will be a lot written today about Glen Campbell's contribution to popular music. Not just the big hits, but his guitar work for the Beach Boys, the Monkees, Elvis et al. (Although don't let anyone tell you Glen played guitar on Viva Las Vegas: it's a myth.) There's very little I can add, except to say that whenever I heard a Glen Campbell song, I feel a little better. And whenever I hear the ones listed below... I feel a hell of a lot better.

(Oh, and if you're still in any doubt about Glen Campbell's importance in popular music... here's Alice Cooper. Yes, Alice Cooper.)


10. Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)

I didn't pay a lot of attention to this song until I saw Glen play it live. It obviously meant a hell of a lot to him and that performance made me hear the lyrics properly for the first time.

I'm a country boy myself. I grew up on a farm. There's a part of me that would happily spend all day in the fields... minus the manual labour, of course.

9.  A Thousand Lifetimes

Glen's most-loved songs were all written by other people. Like Elvis, it was his voice, his performance, that brought untold depths to those songs. Plus he was an amazing guitar player - that was still evident when I saw him live. He did write and co-write a number of his own songs though, and this is my favourite, from one of his most recent albums, Ghost On The Canvas. Co-written with his producer, Julian Raymond, it's a song that expresses Glen's fears of living with the illness that blighted his final years, but it also cries "je ne regrette rien" in the face of all that. As powerful in its own way as the latter Johnny Cash recordings.

I've held onto coal in my bare hands, prayin' for diamonds
I've trusted in the words that to my face turned out were lying
I've trapped and I have tripped and I have loved and I've abandoned
Each breath I take is a gift that I will never take for granted

8. Dreams of the Everyday Housewife

There are plenty of country songs about women getting older, losing their girlish charms, and wondering whether they ended up with the right man. They're normally sung (and even written) by women though. Chris Gantry's song manages to find a male perspective that is both loving and respectful though. Glen's performance makes it shine.

She picks up her apron in little girl-fashion
As something comes into her mind
Slowly starts dancing remembering her girlhood
And all of the boys she had waiting in line
Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife
You see everywhere any time of the day
An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me

7. These Days

In his later years, Glen tried to connect with younger audiences by recording songs by contemporary artists. Although not as successful at this as Johnny Cash, there were some outstanding results, including Green Day's Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) and Foo Fighters' Times Like These. But it was his cover of Jackson Browne's These Days which stood out most for me. Not the most up-to-date tune from the set; it was written when Browne was 16... back in 1967. The lyrics take on much greater depth when sung by someone nearing the end of their life.

I stopped my rambling
I don't do too much gambling these days
These days
These days I seem to think about
How all the changes came about my way
And I wonder if I'll see another
Highway

Interestingly, the verse above is missing from Browne's recording. It did feature on Nico's version though.

6. Where's The Playground, Susie?

More epic heartbreak from Jimmy Webb, close in its lyrical ambiguity to McArthur Park. Glen's voice was made for heartbreak in the same way as Roy Orbison's.

5. Galveston

A song as misunderstood as Born In The USA, according to Jimmy Webb. Originally written with a much sadder tune, Glen turned it upbeat, making it seem almost patriotic... rather than the homesick fears reflected by the soldier in Webb's lyrics. The switch works though. For me, this guy is doing whatever he can to survive. It's still an anti-war protest song... it just doesn't hit you over the head with its message.

4. By The Time I Get To Phoenix

Glen leaves his lady and crosses the country to get away from her... feeling bad about it all the way.

Pedants ahoy! Jimmy Webb was challenged about how realistic the journey described in this song's lyrics actually was...

 "A guy approached me one night after a concert [...] and he showed me how it was impossible for me to drive from L.A. to Phoenix, and then how far it was to Albuquerque. In short, he told me, 'This song is impossible.' And so it is. It's a kind of fantasy about something I wish I would have done, and it sort of takes place in a twilight zone of reality."

Iffypedia, however, sides with Jimmy (while disputing his above claim)...

"However, the drive is actually possible. If she "rises" at 6:00 a.m. when he is in Phoenix, and she eats lunch at 12:30 p.m. when he is in Albuquerque, it gives him six and one-half hours to make the 420-mile drive, an average of 65 mph. The drive from Albuquerque to Oklahoma is just 340 miles, giving her plenty of time to get home and go to sleep."

Talk about taking the romance out of a song...

3. Gentle On My Mind

I think I knew Elvis's version of this song first, and that is amazing... but Glen's is superior. It's a desperately sad song if you study the lyrics, but the light guitar refrain makes it sound carefree and joyous. It's a weird song in search of a chorus: I always feel an urge to break into the much bigger chorus of Don MacLean's Castles In The Air whenever I sing along.

Watch the clip above if you're in any doubt about Glen's skills with the guitar.

2. Rhinestone Cowboy

I'm not sure how the wider world sees Rhinestone Cowboy. It is the most well-known Glen Campbell song, but it's viewed by many as a country cliché and isn't afforded half as much respect in muso circles as my number one. Written by Larry Weiss, the man who also penned the lyrics to the similarly themed Hi Ho Silver Lining, it's a song about not giving up and making the most of whatever success that comes your way.

And I dream of the things I'll do
With a subway token and a dollar tucked inside my shoe
There'll be a load of compromisin'
On the road to my horizon
But I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin' on me

1. Wichita Lineman

The greatest song ever written, given its best ever performance. That opening guitar countdown sends shivers down my spine every time.

I've written about how much Wichita Lineman means to me before... here and here... I'm sure I will again. Jimmy Webb + Glen Campbell = Perfection.




I hear you singing in the wire
I can hear you thru the whine
And the Wichita lineman
Is still on the line...


Rest in peace, sir. Thank you for the music.

12 comments:

  1. Great list, of course. His death made me go searching and I discovered he did some terrific covers of U2, Green Day, and Foo Fighters songs. I like this in particular https://youtu.be/G0XF1ey8Ndc

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  2. A fine top ten Rol - I'm particularly pleased to see his version of 'These Days' make the cut. The title track from 'Adios' is another late period favourite.
    Here's my own tiny connection to Glen http://unthoughtofthoughsomehow.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/version-city-48-mad-lads-sing-glen.html

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    1. Got the Adiós album a week or so back. Yes, that's a great track.

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  3. No contest for number one
    I would have Galveston and Phoenix ahead of Rhinestone Cowboy but that is a minor quibble.
    Terrific stuff

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  4. This for me is the biggest obit so far this year - A lot of people will be playing many of your Top Ten today, even if they haven't done so in years. What a voice - Wichita Lineman my favourite too of course but how could it not be.

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  5. If I may, I'd like to add Glenn's version of Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights" and a great duet he did with Mel Tillis, called "Slow Nights".
    RIP one helluva musician.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqCXWicxu4w

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    1. Southern Nights narrowly missed out on the ten. Still haven't been able to track down a copy of that Mel Tillis duet which you recommended before. I did listen to it though. Very nice.

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    2. I think the album "Slow Nights" is from is only available on used vinyl these days. I like that song because it's as if Mel and Glenn are tipping their hats to music acts who never make it to the big time.

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  6. Wichita Lineman on the radio - goosebumps

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  7. Rol,
    Surreal moment as I'm reading the lyrics to Dreams of the Everyday Housewife on your blog at the exact same time as a Seattle radio talk show host is talking about how Dreams of the Everyday Housewife is his favorite Campbell song. It's nice to see Campbell get so much attention on this sad day. Clearly, he will be remembered.

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    Replies
    1. We all live under the same sky.

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  8. I'm glad you got to see him on the farewell tour - undoubtedly poignant but so special to be there, and knowing it must also have meant a lot to him.
    I must make time to listen to all these tracks you've posted. It'll be good to hear more too - but I'll always be happy to to hear Wichita Lineman endless number of times. Your final equation sums it up.

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