My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Wichita Lineman’

220px-Glen_Campbell_Wichita_Lineman_album_coverWichita Lineman, Glen Campbell’s twelfth album, was his sixth working with producer Al De Loy. The project was immensely successful and spent multiple weeks atop both the Billboard Country Albums and all genre 200 charts.

Two singles were released from the record. “Dreams of The Everyday Housewife” came first, peaking at a respectable #3. Written by Chris Gantry, the track spells out a tale of sacrifice:

Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife

You see everywhere any time of the day

An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me

The classic title track, written by Jimmy Webb, was the other single. A multi-genre smash, “Wichita Lineman” topped the Country and Adult Contemporary Charts. On the U.S. Pop Chart, it peaked inside the top five. Webb was inspired to write the workingman’s anthem after spotting a lone lineman worker atop a telephone poll while on a drive through rural Oklahoma. He wrote from the perspective of that man:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road

Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

The remainder of the eleven-song album is peppered with tracks composed by some of the biggest artists of the day. The Bee Gees co-wrote the lush ballad, “Words,” a heartfelt plea from a man to the woman for which he wishes to spend his life.

Sonny Bono contributed “You Better Sit Down Kids,” which was a major hit for his then-wife Cher the year prior. The lyric brilliantly details a father’s sit down with his children as he tells them he and their mother are getting a divorce:

You better sit down kids I’ll tell you why, kids

You might not understand, kids

But give it a try, kids

Now how should I put this I’ve got something to say

Your mother is staying but I’m going away

No, we’re not mad, kids it’s hard to say why

Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye

 

Say your prayers before you go to bed

Make sure you get yourself to school on time

I know you’ll do the things your mother asks

She’s gonna need you most to stay in line

Keep in mind your mother’s gonna need your help

A whole lot more than she ever did before

No more fights over little things

Because I won’t be here to stop them anymore

The slow string-heavy ballad “If You Go Away” is considered a pop standard, which Campbell delivers in his signature smooth style. A paint-by-numbers cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay” gives the album some pep, but lacks imagination. Campbell is much better on “Ann,” a lovely Billy Edd Wheeler love song bursting with energy. I much prefer the grittier 1993 Rod Stewart version of “Reason To Believe,” which gives the track a bit more life than Campbell does here.

Campbell wrote only one track on the album, the string-drenched ballad “Fate of Man.” It’s a rather excellent song in which Campbell traces a life’s trajectory through the ages and stages of a man’s life:

When a man is one and twenty, he thinks he knows it all

He can’t see down the road of life where he’ll ever fall

But fall he will as he travels through life

With all its pitfalls troubles and strife

 

Now at fifty, he’s going real strong

He has him a family and a nice little home

But old age is creeping up his spine

And the day is coming when the sun won’t shine

 

Now at sixty, he won’t have to guess

He’s already missed the boat that leads to success

But he’s done his best and he can’t see why

The fame of life just passed him by

 

Now at seventy, he can see the light

And he knows he’s never been very bright

But he’s done his best as he’s travelled by

And now all he can do is just sit and sigh

I’ll admit that when I review an album released more than forty-seven years ago, (Wichita Lineman came out in 1968) I have trouble truly getting into what I’m hearing. Although this album came out long before my generation, I can appreciate it for what it is. Wichita Lineman is very good, with some exceptionally strong material.

Grade: A-

8 responses to “Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Wichita Lineman’

  1. Paul W Dennis November 9, 2015 at 6:36 am

    I purchased my copy in 1969 when I was living in London, so my copy is on the Ember label. While I was hoping for a somewhat more country album, I found that Glen’s versatility really came through on this album

  2. Paul W Dennis November 9, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    I should have mentioned that the sleeve notes on the Ember album were written by Welsh pop singer Tom Jones. Seems that Ember was trying to get Campbell firmly into the minds of the UK public

    • luckyoldsun November 10, 2015 at 12:44 am

      “Welsh pop singer”–and international megastar.
      I’d be interested to know if there were any association between Jones and Campbell-if they ever worked together and what they thought of each other. First time I heard Tom, I think was when I saw the Sean Connery James Bond movie “Thunderball” as a young child and Tom sang the epic title song.
      Tom Jones is great, but I’ll say one thing. If listening to George Jones makes Campbell sound pop, then listening to Tom Jones makes Glen sound Hank Williams country!

      • Occasional Hope November 10, 2015 at 3:41 am

        Here they are duetting on Tom Jones’ TV variety show in 1969:

        (Definitely not a country performance, and Jones gets the lion’s share.)

        Also together in a skit on the same show, also featuring Jerry Reed:

        And the three together on ‘Are You From Dixie’ which is more country:

  3. luckyoldsun November 10, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Stars had to put up with and take part in some pretty hokey stuff in those variety shows.

  4. Erik North November 10, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Yes, WICHITA LINEMAN, as an album, was at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart for several weeks in early 1969; and I think the album it knocked off from that top spot was the Beatles’ White Album. It was also competing with the second album of the jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and the original cast recording of HAIR. The title track, meanwhile, by peaking at #3 on the Hot 100, was Glen’s biggest pop hit until “Rhinestone Cowboy” hit #1 in September 1975.

  5. Paul W Dennis November 12, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Rewind Music has a newly issued two-for of WICHITA LINEMAN and GALVESTON available for $17.98:

    http://www.musicrewind.com/Glen-Campbell-Wichita-Lineman-Galveston-2-Albums.html

  6. Ken November 12, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    If there’s any fault with most of Glen’s early albums it’s an over-reliance on cover songs. Though his performances were first rate he seldom added any new dimensions to the songs. For core -country fans cover versions of pop tunes were not as much of a negative. The recent songs had not received country radio airplay nor been recorded on country artist’s LP’s so they were not negatively compared to the originals. That said ‘Words” is my favorite song from that category and I can’t find anything not to like about Glen’s performance or the arrangement. In fact I much prefer it to the falsetto vocals of the Bee Gee’s original 1968 hit. Glen’s calypso styled remake of Bobby Goldboro’s 1968 single “The Straight Life” is great fun although that term has a completely different connotation in 2015.

    Next to the title track “Ann” easily wins as my favorite song. It’s the song that I returned to each time I played this LP back when I first bought it. Rapid-fire lyrics coupled with Glen’s exuberant delivery and a catchy melody is a winner. If Capitol was marketing Glen solely as a country act this song would have been a natural choice for a single.

    “Fate Of Man” was released on the flip side of the “Wichita Lineman” single and as such provided Glen with significant publishing revenue. It demonstrates Glen’s country roots but does not follow the usual template for songs of this ilk. Most country songs that take a philosophical look at life from the cradle to the grave tend to conclude on an uplifting or positive note. This one does not. “He comes here against his will and he goes away disappointed” is the unexpected conclusion. I thought it was a downer when I first heard it 47 years ago. Today I better appreciate the point he was making.

    “Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife” found favor with Glen’s female audience during the summer of 1968 while he was hosting the Summer Brothers Smothers Show on CBS-TV. But like “Fate Of Man” it does not carry a positive message. Perhaps that’s why this song has not endured as well as many of Glen’s other hits from that era.

    If you are already a Glen Campbell fan there’s plenty to like in this album. However it is a time capsule for late 1960’s easy listening/country music and I think that you kinda had to be there to really appreciate it.

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