My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’

by the time i get to phoenix‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ was the song which made Glen Campbell a star in 1967, thanks to a perfect combination of song, singer and arrangement. It is still an all-time, cross-genre classic, instantly recognisable and exceptionally good. A beautiful melody and wistful vocal are matched by a heavily orchestrated arrangement, which sweetens the record for pop consumption despite the bittersweet lyric, which tells of a man leaving his lover while she sleeps. Glen had already had a few minor country, and even more minor pop, hits, but this was the single which hurtled him into the bigtime, and deservedly so. It was a #2 country hit, and reached the top 20 AC and top 30 pop, although it doesn’t actually sound particularly country even by the standards of the Nashville Sound. It was in the contemporary pop and open categories that he won Grammies for the record (his earlier country single ‘Gentle On My Mind’ won the same year in the country category). Glen was mainly associated with country music professionally, but his work was often hard to categorise, and with a song this remarkable, one ceases to care. The song has enjoyed great staying power; by 1990 it had become the third most played song over the previous half-century, and is known internationally.

A second single, ‘Hey Little One’, was not so successful, but still made the top 20 on both country and AC charts. It was a cover of a Dorsey Burette pop hit from 1960, and it is capably sung by Glen but a little dull.

A cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s folk-rock/pop hit ‘Homeward Bound’ is nicely sung, but here the heavy orchestration (not dissimilar to that on ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’) inappropriately swamps a song about a ‘one man band’ folkie on his travels. A stripped down acoustic version would have been lovely.

Ernest Tubb’s ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ works better with the Glen Campbell-and-orchestra reworking. Glen’s passionate vocal is impressive (although it verges on going over the top towards the end), and completely reimagines the song from Tubb’s original hard country shuffle. Another effective altered interpretation arises with a relaxed loungy version of a lesser known Bob Wills tune, ‘I’ll Be Lucky Someday’.

Glen is more faithful to the original when he takes on ‘My Baby’s Gone’, a Hazel Houser song best known for the Louvin Brothers’ version. Glen’s version is very nice indeed, beautifully sung and interpreted, and while the arrangement has dated a bit, especially the backing vocals, it still sounds good. This is my favourite track here after ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’.

Bill Anderson’s ‘Bad Seed’ has more of a rock feel. Neither Glen nor Bill comes across as much of a rebel, but the song works pretty well, about a bad boy drifter who shows little regret about leaving his latest girl. ‘You’re Young And You’ll Forget’, written by Jerry Reed, is another leaving song portraying a rambling soul. ‘Cold December (In Your Heart)’ is a 60s pop ballad, written by Alex Hassilev of the contemporary folk group The Limeliters, and is pleasantly performed.

Glen co-wrote a couple of the tunes. The perkily upbeat ‘Back In The Race’ is enjoyable. The closing ‘Love Is A Lonesome River’ is a melodic lost love number.

This is a very good album, but certainly not a traditional country one. It mixes country, folk, rock and sophisticated pop/AC sounds even handedly, and helped to set the template for Glen Campbell as an artist.

Grade: A-

2 responses to “Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’

  1. Erik North November 6, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    I think the thing about the orchestration on this album people may want to keep in mind is that it bears the influence of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and that of the Wrecking Crew, that large group of L.A. session musicians that Glen himself was a large part of prior to his career taking off (that and his late 1964/early 1965 stint subbing for Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys).

    But it does show that the man never confined himself to one genre, like it or not, That’s just the kind of musician he was; he believed that there were really only two kinds of music: good or bad.

  2. Ken November 12, 2015 at 10:50 am

    In some respects Glen has Merle Haggard to thank for helping to launch the success of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” From mid-1966 until early 1968 Glen played guitar and sometimes sang harmony on Merle’s Capitol recording sessions. In fact Glen played on Merle’s 1967 “Sing Me Back Home” recording session. Late that year when promotional copies of Merle’s single was mailed to radio DJ’s he requested that Glen’s new Capitol 45 be included in the same envelope. The generous gesture helped “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” to be noticed by country radio’s top decision makers.

    The success of the “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” single fueled sales for the LP released a mere three months after Glen’s previous album. In fact half of the tracks selected for the Phoenix LP were recorded prior to or during sessions for “Gentle On My Mind.” Among my favorites is a song that is the oldest track on that set. Recorded in 1962 “Tomorrow Never Comes” was first released on Glen’s 1963 Capitol album “Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry” and later issued on a 1965 single. I agree that it’s a far cry from Ernest Tubb’s sparse 1945 rendition but Glen’s soaring vocal performance produced by Nick Venet is excellent. “My Baby’s Gone” was recorded in December 1966 during sessions for the “Burning Bridges” album. Al De Lory’s countrypolitan musical arrangement is typical for that era and Glen uses it to his full advantage. Next to the title song this is also my favorite from this LP.

    Remakes of two 1966 hits were strong choices. The message of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” plays as well for a country/pop artist as a folk/pop duo. Glen’s earnest interpretation framed by De Lory’s tasty arrangement makes it a standout track. Bill Anderson’s “Bad Seed” was a top ten country hit for Jan Howard. However I always thought the song worked better with a male voice. Glen’s hard-driving acoustic-based arrangement differentiated it from Howard’s more subdued harpsichord–laden version.

    The same song mentioned by Hope also failed to click with me – Glen’s remake of Dorsey Burnett’s “Hey Little One.” Despite it’s lack of success as a single Capitol reissued it as the title track for Glen’s eighth LP in 1968. Can’t find fault with Glen’s performance but in my opinion that song was plodding and tedious.

    Overall this album was not typical of most music coming from Nashville during that era. A solid west coast influence is evident throughout providing a contrast to most of country music heard on the radio at that time. Though country is my first musical preference I was surrounded by the diverse musical laboratory of the late 1960’s pop/rock music scene. I suppose that’s why this album appealed to my teenage ears when first purchased in 1968. It was my introduction to Glen Campbell on LP and made me want to hear more from him. In my opinion that should be how every artist approaches each album that they make.

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