By Hans Ebert
If I didn’t already love her, then revisiting the music released by Jimmy Webb over the last day made that love that much stronger.
The song stories of Jimmy Webb, my favourite songwriter, and the voice of Glen Campbell came together to create a brand of pop music that was part Tin Pan Alley and equal parts Americana and almost symphonic. It was elegant pop that could not be written on a guitar. Those melodies of Webb’s came from the tunesmith’s heart and soul and piano. As for the words, well, they came from believing in the power of romance even when it’s a long goodbye that lives with you forever.
Glen Campbell gave these songs not only a voice, but an honesty that made one think back to what love really meant- waiting for that phone call, that first date, the first time you held her hand, that first kiss and when making love really meant something and not something so casual that at the end of it all there was always an empty feeling because it wasn’t her. It was a substitute and you were faking it. Oh yes, don’t think only women can fake it.
Perhaps- no, not perhaps- but why Glen Campbell was the only singer with maybe the exception of Linda Ronstandt to truly get to the heart of the matter of Webb’s songs had to do with the fact that he had played on nearly every great pop record ever made.
For a while, he was a Beach Boy when Brian Wilson couldn’t tour. He played on those Wall Of Sound recordings built by Phil Spector like the epic “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” He played on records by Elvis. He was Have Guitar Will Travel and played for everybody who was somebody and also with someone who who could be anyone.
Meanwhile, there was Jimmy Webb trying to get his music heard. The first time I heard a Jimmy Webb song was when Johnny Rivers recorded “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”.
Phoenix could have been anywhere, but this song about leaving a girl while she was asleep and wondering if this was the right move is as relevant today as it was then.
I was growing up with the music of this brilliant tunesmith through his work with Johnny Rivers and an obscure and hugely underrated and ambitious album called The Magic Garden which he wrote and produced for the Fifth Dimension for whom he had written “Up Up And Away”, a strange slice of MOR Pop which became the jingle for a Pan Am commercial.
And though marvelling at MacArthur Park and the heartbreak of “Didn’t We”, it was only when Glen Campbell recorded his version of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, then “Witchita Linesman” and especially, “Where’s The Playground, Susie” did the pieces fit.
One travelled with these songs from dating to falling in love and deciding to live together. It was understanding romance then, and only now understanding what she meant when she asked, “Romance me”.