By 1967 Glen Campbell had been a Capitol Records artist for five years. He was well known to the public from his frequent television appearances as well as his stint touring with The Beach Boys in early 1965. He was also in demand as a session musician but he was still having difficulty establishing himself as an A-list solo recording artist.
Campbell’s fortunes began to change in late 1966 when he teamed up with Al De Lory, who produced Glen’s first solo Top 20 country hit “Burning Bridges”, which peaked at #18 in early 1967. Their next notable collaboration was “Gentle on My Mind”, released in June 1967, which became the centerpiece of the album of the same title, released a few months later. As the story goes, Campbell heard composer John Hartford’s original version and quickly recorded a demo version of the song to pitch to DeLory. Unbeknownst to Campbell, DeLory released the demo version as a single after doing a little minor clean-up work, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Gentle on My Mind”, a song about a free spirit who feels genuine affection for a female friend but not enough to settle down with her, is regarded as a classic today, but surprisingly it was not a huge hit at the time. It peaked at #30 on the country chart, far lower than “Burning Bridges”, and it topped out at #62 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart. Employing a strategy that Warner Bros would borrow with Randy Travis nearly two decades later, Capitol re-released “Gentle on My Mind” in mid-1968. This time it performed worse on the country chart (#44) but better on the Hot 100 (#39). It also became a #8 adult contemporary hit as well as a Top 20 country hit in Canada. In 1968 Campbell hosted a variety program on CBS, while The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was on summer hiatus. This led to his own program The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour beginning in January 1969. “Gentle on My Mind” served as the show’s theme song, which eventually pushed the album’s sales past the platinum mark. This is a textbook example of a song that has endured and stood the test of time, despite somewhat underperforming on the charts — and also a lesson in why chart performance should never be used as a measurement of quality.
Gentle on My Mind the album, follows the usual template of its era; the title track is the album’s only single. The rest of the track list is made up of cover versions of songs that had been hits for other artists, and other songs (including one co-written by Glen) that were regarded as filler but still provide for a pleasant listen. First and foremost, one must bear in mind that this is not a country album. At this stage of his career, Campbell was based in Los Angeles, not Nashville, and was working with a pop producer. It was, however, an era when country, pop and adult contemporary relied on orchestrated arrangements, which made it relatively easy for Glen and other artists of the day to score hits in multiple radio formats. There are no fiddles or steel to be found in this collection, although there is a little banjo here and there, and plenty of acoustic guitar picking, which was probably an influence from the then-popular folk music movement.
The album’s most country-sounding track is the Campbell-Joe Allison co-write “Just Another Man”, which is a very nice and understated acoustic ballad. The rest of the album is difficult to categorize, but if pressed, I’d call it melodious late 60s pop, which was the perfect showcase for Glen’s voice. There are country influences on “It’s Over” and “Crying”, both of which had been hits for Roy Orbison. The former was written by Jimmie Rodgers. The latter has always been one of my favorite pseudo-country songs, and I would probably have been blown away by Glen’s version had I never heard the Orbison original. Nobody will ever sing that song like Roy did, but that doesn’t mean that Glen’s interpretation isn’t enjoyable.
There are traces of country on “Bowling Green” which also relies heavily on strings and a double-tracked vocal. In the end it’s more pop than country but still quite good. Ditto for “Catch The Wind”, which has a Byrds-like feel to it. There’s nothing country at all about “You’re My World”, which sounded to me like something Dusty Springfield might have sung, but my research showed that it was Italian in origin, had had been a hit in the English speaking world for British singer Cilla Black.
Gentle on My Mind was meant to capitalize on the success of Glen’s television program, and as such it makes sense that Capitol was aiming for a wider audience than country music typically reached. It contains some country elements, but was clearly intended for mass consumption. The strategy worked; the album sold more than a million copies and Glen’s singles over the next few years for the most part charted significantly higher than anything he’d done up to that point. While this is not an album for hardcore traditionalists, there is plenty here to appeal to those who enjoy the popular music of the late 1960s.