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"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[1] and widely covered by other artists.

"Wichita Lineman"
Wichitalinemansingle.jpg
"Wichita Lineman" single cover
Single by Glen Campbell
from the album Wichita Lineman
B-side "Fate of Man"
Released October 1968
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded
  • May 27, 1968
  • August 14, 1968
Studio
Genre Country, pop
Length 3:05
Label Capitol 2302
Songwriter(s) Jimmy Webb
Producer(s) Al De Lory
Glen Campbell singles chronology
"Gentle on My Mind"
(1968)
"Wichita Lineman"
(1968)
"Galveston"
(1969)
"Gentle on My Mind"
(1968)
"Wichita Lineman"
(1968)
"Galveston"
(1969)

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.[2] It was certified gold by the RIAA in January 1969.[3] The song reached number 7 in the United Kingdom. In Canada, the single also topped both the RPM national and country singles charts.[4][5] As of August 2017 the song has also sold 357,000 downloads in the digital era in the United States. [6]

In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" ranked "Wichita Lineman" at number 195.[7] It has been referred to as "the first existential country song".[8] British music journalist Stuart Maconie called it "the greatest pop song ever composed";[9] 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".[10] "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.[11]

Contents

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[13]

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.[citation needed] 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.[14] 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).[15] The orchestral arrangements were by De Lory.[16][17]

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.[18]

StructureEdit

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.

Cover versionsEdit

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[19] 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.[20] A German cover version was Thomas Fritsch's "Der Draht in der Sonne" (English: the wire in the sun), also sung by Katja Ebstein.[21]

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[22]. Rolling Stone magazine described it as "their most unexpected cover of the tour" [23].

The Finnish singer Topi Sorsakoski recorded a Finnish version of the song on his album Yksinäisyys osa 2 in 1995.[24]

After Campbell's death, Webb sang the song with Little Big Town as a tribute during the 51st Annual Country Music Association Awards on November 8, 2017.

Chart performance and salesEdit

Chart successionsEdit

Preceded by
"Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin
US Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single
(Glen Campbell version)

14 December 1968 (6 weeks)
Succeeded by
"I've Gotta Be Me" by Sammy Davis Jr.
Preceded by
"Born to Be with You"
by Sonny James
US Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

21 – 28 December 1968
Succeeded by
"Daddy Sang Bass"
by Johnny Cash
Preceded by
"Love Child"
by Diana Ross & the Supremes
Canadian RPM 100
number-one single

16–23 December 1968
Succeeded by
"Soulful Strut"
by Young-Holt Unlimited
Preceded by
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
by Merle Haggard
Canadian RPM Country Tracks
number-one single

13 – 20 January 1969
Succeeded by
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
by Merle Haggard

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 261–263. ISBN 978-1-250-03046-7. 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 43. 
  3. ^ RIAA searchable database
  4. ^ The RPM 100, Library and Archives Canada, 16 December 1968
  5. ^ RPM Country Chart, Library and Archives Canada, 13 January 1969
  6. ^ Bjorke, Matt (August 21, 2017). "Top 30 Digital Country Singles Sales Chart: August 21, 2017". Roughstock. 
  7. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Dylan Jones: If You Ask Me
  9. ^ Maconie, Stuart (2004). Cider With Roadies (1st ed.). London: Random House. p. 303. ISBN 0-09-189115-9. 
  10. ^ "Wichita Lineman". BBC Radio 2. April 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  11. ^ "Soul Music - Wichita Lineman". BBC Radio 4. August 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2011. 
  12. ^ MacIntosh, Dan (May 16, 2011). "Jimmy Webb Interview". Songfacts. 
  13. ^ a b Robert Wilonsky (2 November 2006). "Power Lines : Jimmy Webb wrote one of the greatest songs ever. Just don't tell him that". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
  14. ^ What to do if you hear radio communications on your telephone, Missouri Public Service Commission
  15. ^ "Phonograph Recording Contract" (PDF). American Federation of Musicians. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  16. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (26 February 2016). "Hear Restless Heart's Shimmering Tribute to Glen Campbell". Rolling Stone. New York City. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  17. ^ Cole, George (30 September 2010). "Elton John, the Beach Boys and the fine art of pop alchemy". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  18. ^ Presenter: John Wilson; Producer: Jerome Weatherald; Interviewed Guest: Jimmy Webb (10 October 2017). "Director Sally Potter, Composer Jimmy Webb, Anorexia on screen". Front Row. 16:55 minutes in. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 11 October 2017. 
  19. ^ "Wichita Lineman by Wade Hayes". CMT. 26 August 1997. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  20. ^ "Wade Hayes' "Wrong" Is Just Right for Him". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 28 November 1997. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  21. ^ Discover the Original: Der Draht in der Sonne, coverinfo.de
  22. ^ "Guns N Roses - Live in Edmonton 2017 - Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell Tribute)". jzalapski at YouTube.com. 30 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 
  23. ^ "See Guns N' Roses' Surprise Cover of Glen Campbell's 'Wichita Lineman'". RollingStone.com. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 
  24. ^ Country Doctor Teppo Nättilä on YLE on 2017–08–22.
  25. ^ "Go-Set Australian charts - 12 February 1969". Poparchives.com.au. 12 February 1969. Retrieved 8 January 2012. 
  26. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Bac-lac.gc.ca. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  27. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  28. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  29. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  30. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  31. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 

General

  • The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 6th Edition, 1996

External linksEdit