"Wichita Lineman" is a song written by American songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1968. It was first recorded by American country music artist Glen Campbell with backing from members of The Wrecking Crew and widely covered by other artists.
"Wichita Lineman" single cover
|Single by Glen Campbell|
|from the album Wichita Lineman|
|B-side||"Fate of Man"|
|Producer(s)||Al De Lory|
|Glen Campbell singles chronology|
Campbell's version, which appeared on his 1968 album of the same name, reached number 3 on the US pop chart, remaining in the Top 100 for 15 weeks. In addition, the song also topped the American country music chart for two weeks, and the adult contemporary chart for six weeks. It was certified gold by the RIAA in January 1969. The song reached number 7 in the United Kingdom. In Canada, the single also topped both the RPM national and country singles charts. As of August 2017[update] the song has also sold 357,000 downloads in the digital era in the United States. 
In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" ranked "Wichita Lineman" at number 195. It has been referred to as "the first existential country song". British music journalist Stuart Maconie called it "the greatest pop song ever composed"; and the BBC referred to it as "one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music". "Wichita Lineman" was featured in series 12 of BBC Radio 4's Soul Music, a documentary series featuring stories behind pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact.
Background and contentEdit
Jimmy Webb's inspiration for the lyric came while driving through Washita County in rural southwestern Oklahoma. At that time, many telephone companies were county-owned utilities, and their linemen were county employees. Heading westward on a straight road (arguably Country Road 152) into the setting sun, Webb drove past a seemingly endless line of telephone poles, each looking exactly the same as the last. Then, in the distance, he noticed the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop a pole. He described it as "the picture of loneliness". Webb then "put himself atop that pole and put that phone in his hand" as he considered what the lineman was saying into the receiver. Glen Campbell added in a statement to the Dallas Observer that Webb wrote the song about his first love affair with a woman who married someone else.
The phrase "singing in the wire" can refer to the sonic vibration commonly induced by wind blowing across small wires and conductors, making these lines whistle or whine like an aeolian harp. It could also, or even simultaneously, refer to the sounds that a lineman might hear when attaching a telephone earpiece to a long stretch of raw telephone or telegraph line, i.e., without typical line equalization and filtering. In the recording, a notable feature of the orchestral arrangement is the effort of the violins and keyboards to mimic these ethereal sounds and morse code, and the lyric "I can hear you through the whine" further alludes to them.
The musicians used on the recording included Campbell, Al Casey and James Burton (guitar), Carol Kaye (guitar), Don Bagley (bass), Jim Gordon (drums) and Al De Lory (piano). The orchestral arrangements were by De Lory.
The song is notably short. Webb stated in an interview for the BBC Radio 4 Mastertapes programme, broadcast on 12 December 2017, that the song was written in response to a phone call from Campbell for a ‘place’ or ‘geographical’ song to follow up By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Webb delivered what he regarded and labeled as an incomplete version of the song, and was surprised to encounter Campbell a few weeks later who told him he’d recorded it. In response to Webb’s assertion that ‘it’s not finished’ Campbell replied: 'It is now!' Webb also discussed writing the song on BBC Radio 4's Front Row in October 2017, together with his memoir The Cake and The Rain.
The song consists of two verses, each divided into two parts. The first part is in the key of F major, while the second is written in D major. D represents the relative minor position to F, so a D minor (as opposed to major) section would be expected. The fact that it is nevertheless set in D major arguably contributes to the unique and appealing character of the song.
The lyrics follow the key dichotomy, with the first part of each verse (F major) handling issues related to a lineman's job (e.g. "searchin' in the sun for another overload", "if it snows, that stretch down South won't ever stand the strain", whereas the second part (D major) dwells on the lineman's romantic thoughts. Set off against the F major of the first part, the D major of the second part sounds distinctively mellow, which is consistent with its content.
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Many adult MOR ("middle of the road") artists, including Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Robert Goulet, Andy Williams, Bobby Goldsboro, and Engelbert Humperdinck, have covered the song, most of them shortly after the original version was a hit. There were also many instrumental versions, including a notable one by José Feliciano. The song has also been covered by artists such as Ray Charles, The Meters, These Animal Men, The Troggs, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, Kool & The Gang, Shawn Lee, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, James Taylor, R.E.M., The Clouds, Earl Van Dyke, King Harvest, Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, The Nottingham Youth Jazz Orchestra (Combo) and Guns N' Roses.
Jazz pianist Alan Pasqua developed an arrangement of the song for jazz trio that appears on his album My New Old Friend and Peter Erskine's album The Interlochen Concert. A soul-jazz version was also performed by Young-Holt Unlimited. A stripped-down version of the song also appears on Villagers 2016 album "Where Have You Been All My Life" with a simple piano accompaniment.
Other covers of the song include Wade Hayes, who released a version in August 1997 that peaked at number 55 on the US country music charts. It was to have been included on an album entitled Tore Up from the Floor Up, but due to its poor chart performance, the album was delayed. That album was finally released in 1998 as When the Wrong One Loves You Right, with the "Wichita Lineman" cover excluded. A German cover version was Thomas Fritsch's "Der Draht in der Sonne" (English: the wire in the sun), also sung by Katja Ebstein.
Guns N' Roses covered the song live during their "Not in This Life Time" world tour. The first live performance of the song was on August 30, 2017, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Rolling Stone magazine described it as "their most unexpected cover of the tour" .
Chart performance and salesEdit
Weekly singles chartsEdit
"Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin
|US Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single
(Glen Campbell version)
14 December 1968 (6 weeks)
"I've Gotta Be Me" by Sammy Davis Jr.
"Born to Be with You"
by Sonny James
|US Billboard Hot Country Singles
21 – 28 December 1968
"Daddy Sang Bass"
by Johnny Cash
by Diana Ross & the Supremes
|Canadian RPM 100
16–23 December 1968
by Young-Holt Unlimited
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
by Merle Haggard
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks
13 – 20 January 1969
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
by Merle Haggard
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