12
Apr 07

FT Top 100 Songs: 62: GLEN CAMPBELL – Wichita Lineman

FT/4 comments • 1,998 views

20-golden-greats.jpg
I have a firm belief that this is the first song I ever heard.

Really.

As the weeest of wee nippers, I would happily burble along, or toddle precariously around the living room as my mother did no end of never-ending housework. To do these acts she was accompanied by noise, and where Jeremy Kyle or Trisha have sufficed for a later generation, my mother had a tape player as part of our Sony Hi-Fi (my Dad was ever the early adopter, thwarted by how much money he was allowed to spend*). I was not allowed to touch it of course, and my mother was restricted pretty much to the basic operation of turning on the radio (tuned to Capital and Roger Scott) or playing a tape. And my mother only had two tapes.

Abba’s Greatest Hits Volume 1 and Glen Campbell’s 20 Golden Greats.

So its possible that the first track I consciously heard was Ring Ring, but for some reason the Campbell stuck with me longer. And the two tracks which really stand out from kiddie memory are Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman. Mid-tempo country crooners with something alien and peculiarly American about them. Since then Rhinestone Cowboy has dulled in my appreciation a touch (too self-reflexive perhaps, though its great a Karaoke: I WANNA BE WHERE THE LIGHTS ARE SHINING ON ME!!!!) But Wichita Lineman has never faded, to the extent that I bought my own scratched copy of 20 Golden Greats and rediscovered Campbell JUST BEFORE THAT CAPITOL BEST OF CAME OUT AND PROVED ME RIGHT.

I always thought Campbell was naff before then: partially because he did not seem to exist in the UK “history of official pop music” (ie Beatles, Stones, Marrow, Bones). Also my Mum liking him didn’t help**. But fundamentally it was that soft focus cover that really put me off. Glen looks kind of eighty and a bit like a man who might pick me up from school instead of my Mummy and offer me a bag of Black Jacks (which I didn’t like). The tape version maintained the record in the shape of a heart motif, and just put it on a white tape backing. So my early days were soundtracked to Glen from the lows of his stinky version of Amazing Grace to the highs of Lineman, and Where’s The Playground Suzy (which often got changed to Where’s The Playground Peter, and indicated we were off to the swings). I had no choice, and perhaps this indoctrination is why I still like it now. But if that were the case I would like his version of All I Have To Do Is Dream – which is happily not on other Campbell comps I own. And clearly others like Lineman.

Perhaps its continued appeal was the true mystery behind the job in the song. What is a Lineman? Why does he ride the main roads? It sounded awfully rugged and glamorous to me, (in the way Rhinestone Cowboy stopped being so when I realised he wasn’t a REAL cowboy. I know what a lineman is now, my flatmate Dad was one. Doesn’t stop me hanging from the ceiling and singing it a capella whenever I get the opportunity.

*The Sony Record/Tape/Radio Hi-Fi was a thing of beauty, belt driven and with lovely shiny knobs to control volume and tuning. It had heft and craftsmanship and very little plastic about it, chrome being the order of the day. It was the second from top range, the very top being in burnished black metal – which in the catalogue looked appealing like technology never has since. Perhaps this early brush with Sony 70’s design is why I find Apple design a bit underwhelming. I want my gleaming chrome.

**It later transpired that the only reason she bought 20 Golden Great was for Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife, a song which even I find kinda despicable.

Comments

  1. 1
    jeff w on 12 Apr 2007 #

    I think it’s deemed acceptable to put any two-syllable name you like after “Where’s the Playground”. Assuming it’s the same song (both are credited to Jimmy Webb), the Bobbie Gentry version substitutes “Johnny” for Campbell’s “Susie”.

  2. 2
    Lena on 12 Apr 2007 #

    Gleaming chrome and Glen Campbell go together really well. This is one of the few songs that gets stuck in my head that I don’t mind because it’s so stunning.

  3. 3
    Pete on 27 Jun 2008 #

    Since writing this, I have gained a flatmate whose father was a real actual Lineman (though in Rhode Island), so I know exactly what one does now!

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 14 May 2010 #

    “And I need you more than want you/ And I want you for all time” is one of those lines that can be thrown away on Daytime Radio, for a million plays and will never sink in until your heart is broken. Then it assumes all the weight and gravitas of Churchill’s finest speeches. It’s a killer line, and makes Wichita Lineman a poignant piece of music.

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