Music Video Of the Week


"Wichita Lineman," Glen Campbell
This week, on my Music Video Of the Week page, I recognize the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Glen Campbell's recording of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," probably the best Campbell-Webb collaboration ever.
Nineteen-sixty eight was heady year for Webb, having written and produced a whole album for actor Richard Harris, who'd displayed his vocal chops in the movie version of Camelot - and yes, that was the record that featured "MacArthur Park," which became to Vegas lounge rooms what "Stairway To Heaven:" would later become to rock radio.  Webb has a knack for writing geography-based songs, and after Campbell's "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" became a hit, Campbell called Webb and asked him if he had another song about place available.  Webb responded by writing about a telephone lineman he saw working on a utility pole in while driving through Washita County, which is located in a rural area in southwestern Oklahoma. Because Washita County owned the local telephone lines, the linemen in the area were county employees. 
Webb had seen the lineman after passing by an endless row of poles, and seeing that man at the top of the pole checking the sound on the wires with a receiver, saw in him "the picture of loneliness."  Webb said he imagined himself in the lineman's place, imagining what the lineman was saying into the receiver.
"It was a splendidly vivid, cinematic image that I lifted out of my deep memory while I was writing this song," Webb said.  I thought, I wonder if I can write something about that? A blue collar, everyman guy we all see everywhere - working on the railroad or working on the telephone wires or digging holes in the street. I just tried to take an ordinary guy and open him up and say, 'Look there's this great soul, and there's this great aching, and this great loneliness inside this person and we're all like that. We all have this capacity for these huge feelings.'"
Webb made one change when he wrote the song.  "Washita Lineman" sounded wrong to his ears, so he changed it to "Wichita," because he thought it sounded better and was a more familiar place name.  (There is a Wichita County in Texas, which includes Wichita Falls, and also a Wichita County in Kansas, but the city of Wichita, Kansas is actually in Sedgwick County; Wichita County, Kansas is in the far western part of of the state.)  Campbell loved the song, as did arranger Al De Lory, who happened to have an uncle who worked as a lineman in Kern County, California.  The musicians on "Wichita Lineman" included Campbell himself, Al Casey, Carol Kaye and James Burton on guitar, Don Bagley on bass, De Lory himself on piano, and future Derek and the Dominos member Jim Gordon on drums. De Lory added a nice touch with high-pitched strings meant to emulate the sound of wind on a telephone line or conductor.
This was produced what one critic called "the first existential country song."  It topped the Billboard country singles chart and reached number three on the Billboard pop singles chart.
This clip shows Campbell presenting "Wichita Lineman" on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."  Enjoy.