Off the Beaten Path with Glen Campbell
by Max Sparber
Glen Campbell passed away yesterday at the age of 81, leaving behind a unique musical legacy. Although born in Arkansas, the bulk of Campbell's career was spent in Hollywood, first as a session musician with the legendary Wrecking Crew, later as a solo artist, and briefly as a member of the band The Champs, most famous for their song "Tequila."
The Hollywood influence is undeniable, especially in the late 60s and 70s, when Campbell's output included a lot of the country equivalent of soft rock. Soft rock wasn't an exclusively Los Angeles phenomenon, but LA was its epicenter, the city that recorded The Carpenters, Seals and Croft (also veterans of The Champs, and early collaborators with Campbell), Fleetwood Mac, Boz Scaggs, Captain & Tennille, Carole King, and dozens of others.
There seems to have been something about the 70s in LA that encouraged singer/songwriters to lounge by the beach, make love in hot tubs, drink chianti, and sing about it over lust arrangements. Campbell was among the first to apply this sound to country music, and, with songs like "Wichita Lineman" and "Rhinestone Cowboy," he did it perfectly.
But no artist is simply one thing. The soft country songs, especially those written by Jimmy Webb, were Campbell's biggest hits, and likely what he will be remembered for, but he had complicated tastes. He was a huge fan of Roy Orbison, and was one of the few vocalists who could handle Orbison's challenging repertoire; as a result, you can go through Campbell's records and piece together a collection that comprises almost all of Orbison's hits.
Campbell was Christian, and so repeatedly returned to country gospel, and he also had a taste for the big, lush sound of the classic Nashville years, and so even on his 70s albums, you hear songs that sound like they might have been produced by Owen Bradley in the 1950s. He also had a taste for soul music and primitive rock and roll, and those influences will pop in now and again.
Here's a short list of terrific Glen Campbell songs that are, for one reason or another, a little off the beaten path.