Last year, while sharing here on a weekly basis the records in my Ultimate Jukebox, I kept my pocket mp3 player loaded with only those two-hundred and twenty eight recordings, listening at odd times to the combinations and juxtapositions those songs created on random play.
Those tunes used up about two-thirds of the player’s memory, so when I was finished with the UJ project, I hooked the player up to the computer and loaded into it another one hundred recordings, stuff that I either forgot when I was compiling my list or that just missed the cut.
Among those additions were a couple of tunes from Glen Campbell, who’d been absent from the UJ. And as they’ve popped up now and then in the past few months, I’ve pondered Campbell’s place in the vague and mostly instinctual ranking of performers that whirls around in my head. He seems somehow absent when I think about singers and groups that I’ve enjoyed and respected over the years. But when I think about some of his individual records, there’s a lot there. Anyone who can pull off three records like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” in less than two years has to be reckoned with.
It’s worth noting that all three of those – and much of the rest of Campbell’s extensive catalog – came from the pen of Jimmy Webb, a writer who I sometimes think has been forgotten.* The richness of the Webb/Campbell collaboration sometimes catches me by surprise, and I’ve spent some time trying to figure out why. And the answer, I think, is timing. Those three records mentioned above did in fact come out in less than two years:
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” entered the Billboard Hot 100 in late October 1967 and went to No. 26. It went to No. 2 on the country chart.
“Wichita Lineman” entered the Hot 100 in early November 1968 and went to No. 3; it was No. 1 for two weeks on the country chart.
“Galveston” entered the Hot 100 in early March 1969 and went to No. 4. It was No 1 for three weeks on the country chart.
And I began listening seriously to the radio and paying attention to the charts in August of 1969. Although I knew of all three of those Campbell records when they were popular, they don’t seem to attach themselves to a particular time as do a lot of the hits that came along – many of them far less good than the trio by Campbell – during my radio/chart years.
In fact, thinking of Glen Campbell and radio at the same time brings up two later and, to my mind, lesser Campbell singles: “Rhinestone Cowboy” from 1975 and “Southern Nights” from 1977. Both of those went to No. 1 on both the pop and country charts, but I didn’t particularly care for either of them.
So when I was collating the records for the Ultimate Jukebox, Campbell’s work didn’t show up. A track or two likely should have. And one would guess that that track or two would be pulled from the three Campbell-Webb city songs. On the other hand . . .
I wrote a while back about my experiences around 1970 as a bugler for military funerals. The funerals were for members of the Disabled American Veterans, so the men being buried were generally veterans of World War I or World War II. A member of the organization by the name of Axel O. would call me and then drive me to the various cemeteries, where I’d stand some distance from the gravesites and then play “Taps” at the end of the service.
Axel knew I liked music, and one day as he picked me up, he handed me a shoebox full of cassette tapes. “Here,” he said. “These came to me, but I don’t listen to tapes. If you do, you can have them.” I’m guessing, but I imagine that the tapes came to him from the estate of one of the deceased veterans whose funerals Axel helped arrange.
Wherever the tapes came from, I was interested. I thanked him, went to the funeral and played “Taps” and then rode home. It wasn’t until I was home that I dug into the box. I don’t recall everything that was there, as most of it was stuff I wouldn’t listen to at the time: Traditional country and easy listening. But there was a two-cassette package of a Glen Campbell live performance, and one of the songs that Campbell performed during that show was a song I’d never heard before.
“Where’s the Playground Susie?” had entered the Hot 100 in early May of 1969 and peaked at No. 26, reaching only No. 28 on the country chart. I don’t recall ever hearing it on the radio, but when I heard Campbell’s live performance of what was another Webb gem, the sweep of its melody, the sadness and confusion in its words and the playground metaphor all made me sit up and take notice.
I do tend to forget the record sometimes amid the presence in Campbell’s catalog of the better-known city trilogy (and his version of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind”), but I think that if I were to make room in that mythical jukebox for a record by Glen Campbell, it would be “Where’s the Playground Susie?”
*Not entirely forgotten: My friend Dan tipped me off earlier this year to Just Across the River, a collection of thirteen classic Webb tunes performed by a ridiculously rich list of performers, including Campbell and Webb himself.
Tags: Glen Campbell