Saturday 12 June 2010
Dylan Jones: 'I became obsessed with ‘Wichita Lineman’ – I even wrote about the song for this newspaper'
For years I thought I was the only person who liked Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" (Capitol Records, 1968); in truth I thought I was the only person who had heard of it. The song was as much a part of my childhood as the other records my parents filled the house with, and along with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Matt Monroe, Nina and Frederick and John Barry (whose "Vendetta" was my co-favourite song as a boy), the work of Campbell saturated my life.
As I developed a taste for the loungecore torch song (although in those days it was known as the rather more prosaic term, "middle of the road"), I discovered that "Wichita Lineman", like most of Campbell's great songs, had been written by Jimmy Webb – "By The Time I Get to Phoenix", "Where's the Playground Susie", "Galveston", etc – and that "Lineman" had become known as the first existential country song. I discovered Campbell played guitar on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, recorded the little-known Brian Wilson classic "Guess I'm Dumb", and that he played the bass himself on "Lineman" on a Danelectro six-string. I became obsessed with "Lineman", sought out Jimmy Webb gigs (including his 1994 Cafe Royal gig), and even wrote a piece about the song for this newspaper.
A few weeks ago, I finally got to see Campbell himself, playing at London's Festival Hall. He looked trim, appeared to have all his own hair (he'll be 75 next year), and could still reach the difficult parts of his songs. His band was more than adequate, and the arrangements of his hits were respectful without resorting to karaoke. Of course, he left "Wichita Lineman" till last, and what a thing of great beauty it was. The arrangement was identical to the one he used on Jools Holland's Later a few years ago, which made the song sound modern while almost identical to the original.
I was moved, nearly teary, and decided to go to the Groucho Club for a nightcap. Bizarrely, it was the first night in living memory when Roddy wasn't playing it on the piano. But I'm still on the line and I'm doing fine.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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