I Hear You Singin’

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Glen Campbell on The Johnny Cash Show, 1969.)

I need to write a little about Glen Campbell, but it’s daunting. My Twitter timeline exploded with goodness in the hours following the announcement of his death yesterday. I couldn’t possibly summarize it, or do as well as other writers. (The image of the Internet as a firehose of information has rarely seemed more appropriate.) But I can cobble together an annotated list. Campbell enjoyed great success on the pop and country charts, but his strongest performance came on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, including a run of 14 out of 15 singles making the Top 10 between 1968 and 1971. So according to those numbers, here are the Top 10 Glen Campbell hits:

10.  “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” (#2 EL, #31 pop, #7 country, 1971). A Roy Orbison cover in which Campbell, his backup singers, and an orchestra get their Ray Charles on.

9.  “It’s Only Make Believe” (#2 EL, #10 pop, #3 country, 1970). From the fabled fall of 1970, this version stomps the 1959 Conway Twitty original into fine powder.

8.  “Don’t Pull Your Love”/”Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (#1 EL, #27 pop, #4 country, 1976). More than a lot of the other songs on the list, this medley is clearly an artifact of its time. “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” fits Campbell’s voice and style better than “Don’t Pull Your Love.”

7.  “Try a Little Kindness” (#1 EL, #23 pop, #2 country, 1969). If you asked me to pack one Glen Campbell record for the desert island, it would probably be this one.

6.  “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L. A.)” (#1 EL, #11 pop, #3 country, 1976). One night early in my radio career a kid called the studio to ask for it, except he referred to it as “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in a Lake).”

5.  “Sunflower” (#1 EL, #39 pop, #4 country). Written by Neil Diamond, and maybe a little too country for the Top 40 stations that had propelled “Southern Nights” to #1 a couple of months before.

4.  “Rhinestone Cowboy” (#1 EL, #1 pop, #1 country, 1975). The Mrs. tells the story of going on a family vacation during this song’s summertime chart run, and how her four-year-old sister picked it off the radio and sang it, continuously, until it came up in the radio station’s rotation again.

3.  “Southern Nights” (#1 EL, #1 pop, #1 country, 1977). The first time you heard this, it burned itself into your brain, and every time you heard it after that, it stayed with you, continuously, until it came up in the radio station’s rotation again.

2.  “Galveston” (#1 EL, #4 pop, #1 country, 1969). “Galveston” is perfect; there’s not one thing you can imagine that could make it any better. It did six weeks at #1 Easy Listening and three weeks at #1 country. The week it reached #4 on the Hot 100 (4/12/69), it trailed only the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood Sweat and Tears, and “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. (“Dizzy” had recently kept CCR’s “Proud Mary” out of the #1 spot, so Tommy Roe will have a lot to answer for on Judgment Day.)

1.  “Wichita Lineman” (#1 EL, #3 pop, #1 country, 1968/69). This, too, is what perfection sounds like. “I am a lineman for the county / And I drive the main road / Searching in the sun for another overload.” Dude works for the telephone company, or maybe it’s the power company, neither of which is a profession that often makes its way into song. But Jimmy Webb’s genius is that he took this not-easy-to-relate-to job and mined it for metaphors (“I hear you singin’ in the wires”) that anybody could understand. Like “Galveston,” it did six weeks at #1 Easy Listening, and it was a #2 country hit. The week “Wichita Lineman” hit #3 on the Hot 100 (1/11/69), giants walked the earth: it stood behind only “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the Supremes/Temptations collaboration “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” Also in the Top 10 that week: Stevie Wonder, the Temps and Supremes as individual acts, and “Crimson and Clover.”

(Back in 2012, I wrote a thing for Popdose about Campbell’s Wichita Lineman album, which you can read here.)

If you expected to find “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” here, so did I. But it made only #12 on the Easy Listening chart and #26 on the Hot 100, although it was a #2 country hit in 1968. “Gentle on My Mind,” Campbell’s famous theme song, was #8 Easy Listening, but reached only #30 on the country chart in 1967, and #39 on the Hot 100 when it was re-released a year later.

People drinking from the firehose today are either being reminded or learning for the first time of Glen Campbell’s towering importance to popular music in the last half of the 20th century. We shall not see his like again.

11 thoughts on “I Hear You Singin’

  1. Lisa

    Agreed. We won’t see another like him again. Galveston” is a favorite, but I also have a strange thing for “Where’s the Playground, Susie?” Thanks for a great post. “

  2. HERC

    Glen was one of Dad’s most favorite artists and I remember Mom telling stories about how people were always mistaking my military father for the clean-cut Campbell. Watching Campbell’s show with the grand folk during the Summer is a blurry memory but what’s crystal clear is hearing “Rhinestone Cowboy” and singing it over and over, out loud and in my head, for months after I bought the 45 and then repeating the whole thing again when “Southern Nights” came out a year and a half later.

    The news of Campbell’s Alzheimers hit Dad particularly hard but Glen’s death would have hit him so much harder – when that news came down yesterday Dad was more than likely among the welcoming committee, having passed on himself back in 2015. My PC says I have 35 Glen Campbell albums on the hard drive to help me grieve – don’t think that’s gonna be enough but it’s a helluva start.

    Only time will tell if “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” haunts me the way Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart” does a decade and change on down the line.

  3. I knew of Glen Campbell mainly as:
    – the purveyor of two quite charming mid-’70s singles (“Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights”)
    – the guy the Beach Boys called to replace Brian Wilson
    – the guy who popularized Ovation guitars, the ones with the rounded synthetic backs (he is shown playing one in the photo above)

    So the firehose of info and recollections, including this post, is schooling me a little bit.

  4. CalRadioPD

    If we stopped an endeavor when we reached perfection, then there would not have been another recording after “Wichita Lineman” was released. It’s just that damn good.

  5. Guy Kipp

    I am a product of the 1970s and ’80s, and my iPod playlist reflects that: A good 80% of the songs that populate it are from those two decades. But one of the 1960s songs that made the cut, and which never gets skipped over when it comes up on my Shuffle, is Wichita Lineman. I have to agree with the prevailing minds here: It IS perfection, even if I can’t understand how a song about a utility worker can be so absolutely haunting and affecting.

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