ALBUM (1968)

Rewind, album: 'Wichita Lineman' by Glen Campbell

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 5:49pm

Wichita Lineman

Glen Campbell


Is there a pop song more perfect than Wichita Lineman? Written by prolific genius Jimmy Webb and sung by Glen Campbell, it is faultless. It has poignant romantic lyrics, a glorious string arrangement and a sophisticated and memorable melody.

Campbell sings the song with just the right amount of pathos, never straining for melodrama, and some orchestral effects that mimic the tones of an old telephone even add a pop-art effect. The playing, by famed session group the Wrecking Crew, is similarly top-notch.

Campbell was already a star in 1968, and had recently had a massive hit with By The Time I Get to Phoenix, another Webb composition. Wichita Lineman topped the US country charts and went to number three in the US pop charts. Like Phoenix, the song immediately became a pop standard. It also gave its name to Campbell's 1968 LP.

Webb's song is often mistakenly thought to be about a railwayman. But the titular linemen installed wires on telephone poles. Webb got the idea when he saw a lone lineman up a pole in Washita county in Oklahoma - the lyric was apparently changed to Wichita because it sounded better.

Webb imagined a telephone conversation between the lineman and his wife taking place up the pole, and so emerged a story of a man missing his loved one, perhaps hundreds of miles away.

Campbell is best known for being a country singer, but that tells only part of the story. A musical prodigy, he played guitar with the legendary Wrecking Crew before - and during - his country career. These musicians worked uncredited on many of the big hits of the 1960s.

On the track Wichita Lineman, as with most of the songs on the album, Campbell is channelling the 1960s melodic pop style that was in vogue at the time - notably, Scott Walker's deep, emotive tones - rather than country music. The gentle orchestral arrangements follow suit.

As with many albums of the time, Wichita Lineman is patchy. Dreams of an Everyday Housewife, a story of suburban drudgery, sounds dated; Ann is an annoying light country ditty. Campbell's song Fate of Man is reportedly based on words his grandfather wrote. If You Go Away is well sung, but lives in the shadow of Walker's ear-busting version. But his work on Tim Hardin's Reason to Believe still sounds pleasant.

Campbell went from strength to strength after Wichita Lineman, racking up the hits and achieving superstardom as host of his own TV series. Although he became primarily a country singer, he has never lost the respect of the rock crowd. An Alzheimer's sufferer, he performed his last show in 2012, before retiring at 76.

Richard James Havis