Monday, 21 January 2013

Albums for Life: 63: Glen Campbell: Reunion (The Songs of Jimmy Webb)

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time

Glen Campbell started his career as a member of The Wrecking Crew; the brilliant, famously anonymous backing band that played on many of the greatest hits Stateside in the 60s, including The Monkees, Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers etc.
After touring as a member of The Beach Boys (playing bass when Brian went awol) Campbell committed to a solo career. His musical versatility and sweet voice eventually earned him an American TV series even before the huge hits kicked in. He was regarded as bit of a Golden Boy; he ticked all of the boxes; he was wholesome, handsome and... he was a Republican. Bingo! Grannies and virgins swooned. With the weight of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne behind him he was glory bound. Although he had early success in 1967 with  John Hartford's 'Gentle on My Mind' he still took a while to find his true voice, eventually hitting gold dust with a partnership with then budding genius (21) Jimmy Webb. Their first big hit was 'By the Time I Get to Pheonix' which won them a Grammy. Campbell demanded that Webb write him more "of them songs about places" and he dutifully obliged with two corkers; 'Witchita Lineman' and 'Galveston'. 'Where's the Playground, Susie' followed soon after.
'Reunion' was released in 1974 and was later remastered with the addition of 'Wichita Lineman' and 'Pheonix', which is the stellar version that I've got.
Campbell is so easy going that it's easy to overlook his power as a singer. Ask me in a lazy moment what my least favourite (s)hit records are and I'd juggle 'Rhinestone Cowboy' with 'Lady in Red'. I listened to the former recently (his biggest hit) and was gobsmacked; it is one of THE great pop vocals; check out his voice in the verses...
He had me with those early hits, particularly 'Wichita Lineman' which may well be one of my favourite ever sounding songs; from Carol Kaye's flat wound string bass intro through to the morse code strings that haunt the fade; this is an iconic recording. It contains one of the great lyrics too in "and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time'... I think that encapsulates his early appeal; he was a wholesome, hopeful outsider with a dream; wide eyes on the horizon but forever homeward bound. Whenever I see Jon Voigt in 'Midnight Cowboy' it always reminds me of early Glen Campbell. That and the theme tune which could easily be mistaken for one of his own. Having cringed at GC's wretched writhings in 'True Grit' I know who I'd rather see singing...

He later fell into cocaine and alcohol addiction before marrying Kim Woolen who reintroduced him to God and sobriety. Recently diagnosed with Altzheimer's Disease, he made an excellent farewell album 'Ghost on the Canvas' and toured it in an emotional farewell.
He's best remembered with those early Webb hits though.
Brilliant songs, brilliantly recorded with a brilliant backing band the, erm, brilliant, Wrecking Crew.


  1. There's a bit of a Jimmy Webb love in going on..
    Used to love Rhinestone Cowboy - has a sort of desperate sadness. Even his dreams are only fakery. Far, far, better than Lady in Red

  2. Excellent choice and an eloquent tribute to a legend. Would be on my list for sure except for that pesky 'no compilation' stipulation. I've never heard the "write me more of them songs about places" line, but I can certainly hear him saying it. Really good observation about his masterful phrasing and tone. Also a phenomenal guitarist. I don't think he was ever the sharpest tool in the shed, but the natural talent he possessed was just incredible.
    And it's funny you mention the Joe Buck resemblance, as that was my first impression as well. For me it's a toss-up between Neil Diamond in Jazz Singer & GC in True Grit for worst acting performance by a singer. Both worthy of the title.
    The Webb/Campbell chemistry truly made in heaven. I still think "Moon's A Harsh Mistress" is one of the prettiest songs ever written... Pat Metheny does a sweet instrumental take as well.
    I think I've already shared this bio-clip about his recent farewell tour somewhere. It's rather heart-breaking:

    1. The Pat Metheny covers are lovely indeed.
      Touching clip; I think that I inherited my mother's gene when it comes to sickness; if ever she was presented with a bloody knee she'd run a mile. I have a similar disability... See also Edwyn Collins on COS.

    2. Empathy a disability? A burden perhaps, but I think it provides the strength for some of your most poignant songs. Myrna had Deaf Face going on her Ipod today; I have no idea of the inspiration for that beautiful waltz, but when I hear it I have to stop, listen, and be moved.
      Reminds me of Martyn Joseph, who often introduces his haunting tune Good Man, about the suicide of his dear friend John, with an illustration from a Thornton Wilder play called THE ANGEL THAT TROUBLED THE WATERS, based on a Biblical parable. A synopsis...
      The people of the time believed in the power of the pool of Bethesda to heal whenever an angel stirred the waters. When the water was still nothing happened. But when the water began to stir people who were ill would come and try to get into the water. There was only so much room. People would wait and wait and wait. Thornton Wilder tells the story about a physician who is wrestling with melancholy or depression. The physician is waiting because he wants to be healed of his depression. He waits and waits till finally the waters begin to be stirred. The angel is there stirring the waters and the physician rushes forward and is the first to go into the water. But before he gets to the water the angel stops him and says, “No, it is not your time.” The physician says, “Please let me be healed of this depression. If I were healed think of all that I could do for so many people and the healing I could do.” The angel says, “No. “Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love`s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back.” “Later, the man who enters the pool first and is healed rejoices in his good fortune and turning to the physician says: “Please come with me. It is only an hour to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I do not understand him and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour. . . There is also my daughter: since her child died, she sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.” The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being, broken on the wheels of living. In Love`s service only wounded soldiers can serve.

    3. Phew, that's quite a missive for a man to take in; particularly for a man with a hangover in a frozen snow bound cottage who can't light his fire and can't find coffee. Neither can I find 'Good Man' on the iPod but you have me listening to Joseph's quiet wisdom.
      "Broken on the wheels of living." Now there's a line. "Without your wounds where would your power be?" brings to mind the recent wonders of the Paralympic Games. Interesting to see the born 'disabled' standing alongside the recently injured amputees. Endorsement of the human spirit or feisty f*ckers given a platform and desperate to prove their worth? All very humbling. It certainly galvanized and inspired this famously grumpy and cynical nation. I've always excused my shortcomings with the 'your weakness is your strength' schtick, but see clearly the idea that when the going gets tough you keep going. Bloody minded endurance is surely one of mankind's finest virtues. Absorbing the blows, moving on, what doesn't kill you certainly gives you a story to tell...
      'Deaf Face' btw was inspired by Marcus's daughter Rebecca and my young nephew Greg who both have hearing difficulties and (particularly) the story of Lon Chaney who was born to deaf mute parents; grew up in a silent home and had to develop his non verbal skills to communicate; eventually those pantomime tics made him his fortune' 'The Man of 1000 Faces'.
      "We'll be humble and laid low when the brokenhearted roar" sings Martyn Joseph from the iPod (Yet Still This Will Not Be) and I wonder at whose just pressed 'shuffle'?
      Now, where's the frickin' coffee?

    4. "What doesn't kill you, gives you a story to tell"... I like that. Rings much more true (for me) than the original platitude.
      Much appreciate your revealing the idea that sparked Deaf Face. You've got me reading about Chaney's fascinating life. Can't wait to pick up a bio...

  3. Beautifully put and agree re Rhinestone it took ages for me to separate from the fact it was forever being played on radio 2, when radio 2 really was shit and i had to suffer listening to it every bloody day

    it is a great pop song

    the need you more than want you and I want you for all time is in my top 10 fav lyrics it says in one line somethign that wwriters and singers take a whole career to try and express

  4. Maybe Top 150 lyrics should be our next list...