7/22/08

Wichita Lineman: Searchin in the Sun for Another Overload

I'm not a huge country fan nor am I much of a Glen Campbell fan. Nevertheless, "Wichita Lineman" ranks as possibly my favorite song ever recorded. Its unique tapestry of sounds, beautiful melody and lonesome melancholy combine to create what can only be called pure mellow gold. It's even been called the first existential country song (have there been others?). So, consider this post a tribute to this timeless Jimmy Webb masterpiece.

So, let's start with the true original. Glen Campbell on his variety show, bringin' us the goods, many years before he became a Rhinestone Cowboy.



Now that you've seen "Wichita Lineman" as it was meant to be sung, let's look at various covers of the tune - some good, some horrifically awful. The first is from Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66, who covered this song perhaps better than anyone else. Instead of recreating the song, they brought their own unique flavor to it, and I love it. Please don't discount this version outright - give it at least a good thirty seconds of your time. It'll grow on you.





Here we have a moog version of the song. Our song, "Wichita Lineman", is the first track on Nashville Gold: Switched on Moog. For some odd reason, I actually enjoy the moog version. I think it is because the hollow feeling emitted by the moog fits in well with the mood of the song. But be forwarned, I am easily the only living person on the planet that feels this way.




RecordRobot has a good helping of "Wichita Lineman" cover versions. Here's a sampling. I encourage you to browse on over to this awesome blog for a second helping. All Electric Love really has going for it is the cover, but, again, there's a certain something here that I like.





Here's a version by Sammy Davis, Jr. courtesy of RecordRobot. I wonder if this was during his Church of Satan phase. A couple posts back I talked about Sammy and his fling with Beelzebub. But enough about that, here's Sammy doin' what he does best... singing other people's material.




And another...




One of my favorites, possibly simply for its rarity, is a version recorded by Campbell himself with the Stone Temple Pilots. The recording never made it to an album, and all that survives is some grainy black and white footage.




Needless to say, the song's been covered countless times. R.E.M. did a version, and I think the song suits their style, but they really didn't add anything to the song except maybe make it more depressing. Andy Williams and Tom Jones also provided a rendition of the tune, which I'll spare you from. Suffice it to say, there's been plenty of tries to capture the magic of the Jimmy Webb song, but no one has come close to Campbell.

It's fascinating to think that Jimmy Webb's lonely drive down an Oklahoma road in the late 60's would result in a timeless classic and an endless supply of cover versions. I for one am mighty glad he took that trip.

7 comments:

  1. I like a lot of Glen Cambells guitar picking stuff and his voice, but often did not like his songs, though I did like Witchita Lineman and a few others, like Galvestan (not sure on the spelling, a city in Tx near houstin). he has some good solo guitar stuff on youtube, like him doing the William Tell Overture.

    I am planning a post soon on Marty Robbins, a country crooner I like alot.

    I thought you were a LAMB? I have you on my LAMB list but someone told me "he is not a LAMB!" like that Star Trek episode "are you of the body brother?" I recommend it for traffic increase and meeting more like minded people.

    Man, I am still having some glicthes with my web site getting stable... I hope it is all settled. Something now about my IP address being in China and my bank being in the US... weird.

    Do you remember Jerry Reed? I am sure you do if you like Smoky and the Bandit stuff. He was a fine guitar picker too.

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  2. Sorry to public demonstrate my blog ignorance, but what's a LAMB?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Er...um, "sorry to publicly demonstrate..."

    I hate that I'm too ADD to proof read my own comments.

    Anyway, I found out about your LAMB and put my name in the hat. My blog is not specifically movies, so I may not fit the bill.

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  4. no, you're blog will be great there. It was Flecth (Dylan) who mentioned to me that you were not an official LAMB. So I brought it up. I think Becca is becoming groomed for membership and Tal and Nick and Petra whom all you comment with I see are LAMBS. I am not some promoter or anything, I just thought you were. It is a little community is all and you wil meet some cool bloggers there, ad they will meet you. And soon all the world will meet us, and bow down before us!!! Arise from your slumbers LAMBS, our time has come!!! The meek shall stomp on the Earth!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! (sorry about that)

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  5. Gil,

    Yeah man, great great great post. I hadn't thought about this song in YEARS. What memories it brings back. The last time I listened to this song was a "mix" tape I had made as an undergrad (around 1990 or so) which had stuff on it like, Nillson's "Everybody's Talkin", John Barry's theme to Midnight Cowboy, "City of New Orleans, Wichita Lineman, Scarborough Fair etc etc. Ya know, one of those tapes to listen to when you gotta trek across campus. I love Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 - didn't know they or ANY of the others mentioned also covered Wichita... And I have a shit load of Sammy Davis Jr.

    Loved Glen in True Grit - lotta great lines came outta him in that film. Again, just an awesome post, I have been listening to Wichita for two days now!

    Yeah, and the Lambs is a cool organization!

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  6. Chick - Funny you should mention Nilsson. I have been listening to some of his albums lately while I mindlessly toil at my computer at work, and I find them to be works of genius.

    I recently published a post on Marmalade, and should do one on Nilsson some day. Both are sinfully underplayed.

    Thanks for the positive feedback, and thanks for the link on your blog!

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  7. I love this album cover from Sammy. It's one of my favorites of his. I also dig that tune you posted in this blog post. Thanks for sending the link my way. Sammy's one of my favorite entertainers of all time. He could do it all.

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