My friend Melodie and I were talking Glen Campbell last week. I think it stemmed from a conversation about me seeing the movie “True Grit”, and remarking that Glen Campbell starred in the original movie with John Wayne. She remarked that she grew up listening to those great Glen Campbell songs that were written by Jimmy Webb and produced by Al DeLory for Capitol Records (ok, she didn’t go into that much detail…I’m embellishing). Since I have just about the entire Glen Campbell late 60’s output on remastered CD, I brought them into work so she could download them.
Although I’ve always been a fan, it made me remember just how great this stuff was… well orchestrated, well performed classic 60’s country/pop crossover. It also made me think more about Glen Campbell the studio musician and struggling pop artist…and a few things that people may not know about him.
When Glen first came to Los Angeles to seek his fame as a musician, he took just about any gig that came along. He quickly became a top studio session guitarist, but also joined bands here and there to make some extra money from touring. One of those early bands was The Champs, who were famous for the 1958 instrumental classic “Tequila” (that’s right, the one that Pee Wee Herman dances to). Although he joined the band after that hit was recorded, he toured with them for about a year or so.
Into the early 60’s, Glen appeared as a studio musician on many of the Beach Boys early recordings. He got to know the band members so well that when Brian Wilson decided to stop touring due to a nervous breakdown, Glen went on tour with the band, replacing Brian, and was a Beach Boy for about a year. To thank him, Brian used his influence to get Glen a contract with Capitol Records, and even wrote and produced his first single for him. More on that in a moment, along with a little information about a psychedelic song that made the charts in 1967 that Campbell sang lead vocals on, but was not credited.
Without further ado, here is my Glen Campbell Top 5 list:
1 – Wichita Lineman – In my opinion, this Jimmy Webb classic is one of the greatest songs of all time, especially Glen’s version of it (although you should also check out REM’s and Freedy Johnson’s versions). My friend Dan pointed out that the song contains what he thinks is one of the greatest lyrics of all time: “And I need you more than want you…”
2 – Galveston – This came out at the height of the Vietnam War, and many people thought it was an anti-war song. However, Jimmy Webb was on a beach in Galveston when he wrote this one, and was actually referring to a soldier in the Spanish-American War who missed his sweetheart, thus “the cannons flashing”.
3 – Guess I’m Dumb – This was Glen’s first single for Capitol, written and produced by Brian Wilson. Just listening to it, you can tell that it’s not so much a Glen Campbell song as it is a Brian Wilson song. It has Brian’s trademark production, and Glen even tries to duplicate Brian’s high octave range. Silly title, but a great song.
4 – My World Fell Down – Gary Usher was a writer and producer for Columbia Records in 1967, and was mainly working with Chad and Jeremy. A song demo came across his desk called “My World Fell Down”. He was knocked out by the song, and pitched it to Chad and Jeremy right away, telling them they could have a big hit with it. They didn’t like it and wouldn’t record it. Usher believed in the song so much that he recorded it in his spare time with a group of studio musicians. Glen Campbell played guitar on the session, and Usher asked him to supply the lead vocal as well. They named the project Sagittarius, and Campbell is uncredited as the lead singer.
5 – Gentle On My Mind – This John Hartford classic became Glen’s signature song, and the song that he opened his TV show with every week. His performance is great, but you really have to give credit to Hartford for this one. Lyrically, it’s a masterpiece.
If the mood strikes you, and you’re a GC fan, check out the album he recorded in 2008. On it, he covers Green Day, Travis, Tom Petty and John Lennon, among others. Not bad for a good ol’ guitar picker from Delight, Arkansas.