Glen Campbell is a name synonymous with country music. The song that gave his own career a boost was No. 1 on this day in 1968.
“Wichita Lineman” was the first top 10 hit for Campbell and it’s the title track from his album of the same name.
It was written by songwriter Jimmy Webb, who also wrote a couple of other Glen Campbell hits, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Galveston.”
But “Wichita Lineman” is a song that was put together under a tight deadline. While Campbell and his producer Al DeLory were waiting in the recording studio, Webb was trying to come up with another verse.
Time was of the essence, so Webb went ahead and sent over what he’d put together for the song. It was about seeing a lonely telephone pole lineman in the middle of Oklahoma, which turned into Kansas for lyrical purposes.
That loneliness tied the song together and sent a deep, heartfelt message to its listeners.
Glen Campbell Producer Saves Day and Third Verse
After Webb sent over what he’d put together, Campbell and DeLory began looking it over. What Webb and Campbell didn’t realize is that DeLory’s uncle had been a lineman in Kern County, Calif.
So, the producer had an inkling about the life of a real-life lineman. They worked up that third verse and recorded the song.
Glen Campbell says that the first time he read the lyrics it made him cry.
“As soon as I heard that opening line,” DeLory later recalled, “I could visualize my uncle up a pole in the middle of nowhere. I loved the song right away.”
“He wrote it for me in no time,” Campbell agreed. “Jimmy Webb is just that kind of a writer. He’s such a gifted man.”
Webb returned the compliment, telling BBC Four: “He made me sound good. He made me sound like a genius. But really, I just did what I did and he had the wherewithal to follow through – and hit some notes that really, honestly, he shouldn’t have been able to hit.
“A lot of other singers would have said, ‘Hey, listen – take this home and work on this, son. Because I can’t sing on that.'”
Campbell and Jimmy Webb Work Their Musical Magic
It would be pretty hard to find a hotter songwriter in Los Angeles in 1967 than Webb. Late in the year, he’d already racked up two big hits: Campbell’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up And Away.”
Even with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” being on the charts for six months, Campbell and Webb still had not met.
Webb says “Wichita Lineman” was the first time he’d specifically written a song for another singer. He also says he hadn’t thought about any part of the song before writing it.
“I mean I had a lot of ‘prairie gothic’ images in my head,” Webb said. “And I was writing about the common man, the blue-collar hero who gets caught up in the tides of war, as in ‘Galveston,’ or the guy who’s driving back to Oklahoma because he can’t afford a plane ticket (‘Phoenix’).
“So it was a character that I worked with in my head. And I had seen a lot of panoramas of highways and guys up on telephone wires … I didn’t want to write another song about a town, but something that would be in the ballpark for him.”
It was a match made in music between Glen Campbell and Webb.
Here’s Campbell singing “Wichita Lineman” on his CBS variety show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.”
H/T: American Songwriter