Glen Campbell – [Album]

Tuesday, 03 March 2009

In his fifty years of making music professionally, Glen Campbell has made seventy full-length albums and had songs scale the charts seventy-four times. That's shocking when laid out so simply in itself, but that anyone could presume to distill and condense such a mammoth body of work down into a sixteen-track collection is nothing short of amazing. How could it be done? Fans will invariably be disappointed by the omission of one song and inclusion of another but, with so much material to pick through, sixteen tracks could only hope to be a superficial sampling at best. That's the misnomer of Glen Campbell's Greatest Hits compilation – what this set actually collects are those songs that are genuinely timeless and classic in that they are, and will always be, inextricably woven into Americana. These sixteen songs have intermittently reappeared in one capacity or another (that it has sometimes been for comic or ironic value is irrelevant) at a central location in pop culture since their first releases. “Rhinestone Cowboy,” for example, became an anthem for geekery and nerdiness after the death of disco (it's “that song” the DJ scratches in Jon Lovitz' film High School High) and has been covered by pop acts including Soul Asylum, Belle And Sebastian and Radiohead, “Wichita Lineman” has been covered by bands as far flung as Urge Overkill, James Taylor, Kool and The Gang, Gomez, R.E.M., Rolling Stones, Stone Temple Pilots and the White Stripes – just to name a few. Such a list does nothing but illustrate that the Glen Campbell catalog (particularly these sixteen songs) qualifies as genuinely classic – the songs transcend niche or taste, everyone knows them.

So what's the secret to recording (Campbell's strength was never writing) a song that is globally recognized? As the original versions found on Greatest Hits illustrate, while these songs are unmistakably of their time, they've been very adventurously arranged in such a way that, as tastes and production practices have shifted, new ears have found and found new value in the songs, their construction and arrangements.

It's pretty awesome how well they've aged too. From the very beginning (as is evidenced here by “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”), Campbell never stuck to the rules for country or pop music. It was unheard of in the Sixties and Seventies, for example, for a country act to include a big, dance floor-ready bass line in a mix while it was very unusual for a pop act (at that time) to turn in such a genuine, soulful and down-to-earth vocals as songs like “Gentle On My Mind,” “Honey, Come Back” and “Hey Little One” are graced with. Likewise, while string sections were (and remain) common in both genres, country stuck to minimal combos that would often mirror or emulate the singer's melody but pop shot for enormous orchestrations that focused on giving the songs that used them more girth. Those found in Glen Campbell's songs split the difference and came up with a mixture that could (and did) play as easily on disco dance floors (the success of “Rhinestone Cowboy” is legendary, but in 1967 Campbell made history by winning a Grammy in both country and pop categories in 1967: "Gentle On My Mind" snatched the country honours, and "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" won in pop) as at the Grand Ol' Opry.

On Greatest Hits, listeners get acquainted with all of these nuances to Glen Campbell's music and, even if you don't like country music, chances are that you'll take something away from it that fits in with your taste – even if it's the kitsch value of “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Songs including “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” “Gentle On My Mind” and “Country Boy” all play attain a sequined rough-riding dandy nostalgia quality of course but, after the novelty wears off, the songs still stand up from a performance standpoint.

Greatest Hits
, for its part, pulls together those timeless, genre-crossing moments from the Sixties and Seventies (the Eighties and Nineties are utterly ignored) to present the best possible side of the singer at the height his creative powers, but it also includes hints of his 2008 rebirth, Meet Glen Campbell. The covers included from that album (“Times Like These” by Foo Fighters and Jackson Browne's “These Days”) illustrate that while Campbell's methodology has not changed over time (he didn't write at his height, he's not writing now), those things that made always made it very, very to like Glen Campbell (most notably that beautiful, reflective tenor) haven't diminished with time and still hold the same attraction.


Glen Campbell online
Glen Campbell myspace  


Glen Campbell's Greatest Hits is out now. Pick it up here on Amazon .

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