I can’t remember when I first heard Glen Campbell sing. It’d be the early 1970’s and maybe before that. I do remember that my first long playing record purchase was an album entitled ‘By the Time I get to Phoenix’ on the Music for Pleasure label. And so, started a love of Glen’s voice and his song interpretations that lasts through to his death and no doubt beyond. Not long after that first LP I got a copy of another album entitled ‘Wichita Lineman’ again on the Music for Pleasure. Both albums gave me a mix of Glen’s back catalogue, both were compilations headed by huge worldwide hits.
Not long after that I received a present of Glen’s album ‘Reunion: the songs of Jimmy Webb’ which was and is a wonderful collection of some of Webb’s most introspective songs plus a wonderful song from Webb’s sister Susan the incredible ‘About the Ocean’ and a cover of Lowell George’s ‘Roll Me Easy’. These non-hit songs showed a young teenager music with more shadows that the bright widescreen hits that I was used to from Glen Campbell. His performance on this album is a testament to his interpretive powers. They might be Jimmy Webb songs but after Glen had wrapped his voice around them they became his.
It was this talent for spotting songs and then through his interpretation and recording of them getting inside them and inhabiting them as if they were his life-force that mark Glen Campbell out as one of the greatest popular singers of his time.
An example of that talent with a non-Jimmy Webb song came with his worldwide smash and comeback hit ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, a song by Larry Weiss that Campbell took to and breathed his magic into. I have the original Rhinestone Cowboy album on cassette, now unplayable through constant use over four decades. Another was his last big hit ‘Southern Nights’ an Allen Toussaint song. Like ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Campbell took an already exceptional song and added to it setting the standard by which any other version would be judged.
When he found a song and there are many examples – John Hartford’s ‘Gentle On my Mind’, Randy Newman’s ‘Marie’ or Webb’s ‘The Highwayman’ those songs became his. His voice was remarkable and gave those songs an identity and strength that made those records so compelling.
Many of the songs that Glen Campbell inhabited so well spoke of enduring loneliness and longing with huge cinematic canvasses that touched people the world over. I’m glad I found my way to his music early and that it has endured and enriched for so long. Thanks for the songs Mr Campbell.