‘Mark, I’ve got a couple of tickets to see Terry Wogan do a live broadcast at the BBC on Sunday, come with me mate, get me there safe and sound…’
I had that call from my mum a few years back now. I mean, I didn’t mind old Wogan, but the thought of sitting with a load of old dears… (whaddya mean sounds like going to Millwall?) when I could be getting a nice lie in on the Sabbath, just didn’t really appeal.
After a lot of huffing puffing, I finally caved in and went with her.
On the morning of the show, Terry came out and told us all who was appearing with him that day. I sincerely can’t recall any names apart from him saying Glen Campbell. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I loved Glen Campbell and as soon as I found out he was in the building, I was praying he performed one song in particular…
I’d say no matter what genre of music you favour, only a few songs seem to cross over any divide and are liked by all. Well all, might be stretching it, but I’d say anyone who doesn’t like the tune ‘Wichita Lineman’ needs to get themselves a ‘check up from the neck up’ immediately, if not sooner.
Anyway, out comes Glen, dressed in enough of a spangly shirt to get a few ‘oohs’ from the old girls in the crowd (and a couple of fellas), and indeed my mum, who followed it up with ‘I say, look at his Dicky Dirt…’ which made me smile no end.
Campbell warmed up with a tune or two and then he opened up with ‘I am the lineman for the county…’ and I was grinning from ear to ear. What a stroke of luck that day was.
So, something different today. Instead of ‘album of the month’, I’m going with ‘song of the month’ and what a beauty it truly is.
It all started with a phone call from Campbell to songwriter Jimmy Webb, who had previously written ‘By The Time To Phoenix’ for Glen, who then had a massive hit with it in 1967. Glen told Jimmy he wanted another geographical song and that set the mind of Webb racing.
At the time, Webb was living in a commune with thirty or so of his best friends, and he had at his disposal a baby grand piano.
After a few hours, structuring the song, Webb recalled he had seen a lineman up a telegraph pole whilst driving out in the flat lands of rural Oklahoma a few days before. The fella was up there all alone, talking on a receiver and Webb wondered what the conversation was and what was going through the guys mind. Before long he had the story down in just twelve lines. ‘I need a small vacation’ and ‘If it snows, that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain’ among them.
As easy as that…
Jimmy delivered the song incomplete because Campbell was in the studio and in a hurry. Webb told Glen, he was working on another section of it. Unbeknown to Jimmy, Campbell had broken down in tears when he first heard it – ‘I was homesick’ – and his arranger and producer Al De Lory identitifeid with the lineman immediately as his Uncle had been one for many years. They were in no mood to wait any longer. Campbell played guitar on the middle eight and the ‘singing in the wire’ line was picked up as a Morse code motif in De Lory’s clever arrangement.
The songwriter recalled: ‘A couple of weeks later I ran into Glen and said I guess you guys didn’t like the song.’ ‘Oh, we cut that’ he said. ‘It wasn’t done!’ I said ‘Well it’s done now!’ said Campbell.
The singer was backed by the famed ‘Wreckin’ Crew’ all top session players, on the tune, with James Burton (guitar) and Carol Kaye (Bass) among them, and it hit the top three in the US and number seven over here in the UK.
‘We knew that this tune was special,’ said bassist Carol Kaye later, who had added the famous descending six-note intro.
‘When he started singing, the hair stood up on my arms and I went, ‘Whoa, this is deep’.’
The song has lived on in a multitude of cover versions by the likes of Sergio Mendes, Smokey and the Miracles, Tom Jones, Tony Joe White, O.C. Smith and even Kool and the Gang had a bash.
But for many others, and me, it is the Glen Campbell version, which is what everything else is judged by.
Glen – ‘Jimmy Webb is just that kind of a writer. He’s such a gifted man.’
Jimmy – ‘He made me sound good. He made me sound like a genius.’
Well, I say amen to the pair of them.
Altogether now…’and I need you more than want you / and I want you for all time….’
The Mumper of SE5