Glen Campbell: The Legacy of a Guitar Legend

A revamped and updated box set serves as a fitting posthumous testament to the former session man and hitmaker

The late, great Glen Campbell

Newly revamped in the wake of his death in two years ago, The Legacy [1961-2017] covers at Glen Campbell’s storied career from his first Capitol single to his appropriately titled farewell to the music business, “Adios.” Ever the consummate professional, Campbell’s story epitomized the American Dream; a country boy of humble origins who makes his way to the big city, diligently pays his dues, and is finally rewarded with his own moment in the spotlight.

In a sense, this set only covers part of Campbell’s legacy. His track record as a session musician would alone land him a spot in the Hall of Fame, given that he played on classic recordings like “Hello Mary Lou,” “Surf City,” “Danke Schoen,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Strangers in the Night,” and “Everybody Loves Somebody,” to mention just a few. He was in the house band of TV’s rock ‘n’ roll variety show Shindig! He sang demos for Elvis (and played on the soundtrack of Viva Las Vegas). He served the Beach Boys both in the studio and on stage, subbing for an MIA Brian Wilson. Even after his ship had come in and he was racking up hits of his own, he became a pitchman for Chevrolet, smoothly assuring the viewer, “Chevy’s got to put you in the groove/Chevy’s got the big ones on the move.”

 

VIDEO: Glen Campbell performs in a Chevrolet commercial

After recording a handful of singles for independent labels, Campbell’s first record for Capitol, “Turn Around, Look at Me,” released in 1961, gives no indication of just how high his career would ascend. He’s a pleasant whitebread crooner, the type that was just about to be wiped out on the charts by the British Invasion and all that followed. The next few years were lean for Campbell, though the set does include an intriguing take of Buffy St. Marie’s anti-war number “Universal Soldier” from 1965, a surprising statement from a performer who kept his political views close to his chest during that turbulent decade.

Though a songwriter himself, Campbell’s stronger skill was in recognizing how a song written and previously performed by someone else could be recast to give it a broader appeal. He heard John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” slowed it down to make it less of a romp, added a more plaintive vocal, and rode it all the way to the Grammys. He streamlined the rougher vocal Johnny Rivers had on the original “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and won his first substantial success on the country and pop charts. He refashioned Don Ho’s lugubrious rendition of “Galveston” into an upbeat anthem of hope (in part by rewriting the song’s anti-war lines). “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a modest hit for its composer, Larry Weiss; in Campbell’s hands, with more full bodied production, it became an across the board smash.

Glen Campbell The Legacy [1961-2017], Capitol 2019
Campbell’s sweet, well-modulated voice underscored his aw-shucks, wholesome guy image, even as the songs themselves were a little darker than their sunny country pop purity might suggest. The singer who’s anxious to get back to his girl in “Galveston” is just as happy to walk away from his women in “Gentle on My Mind” and “Phoenix.” The “Rhinestone Cowboy” is seemingly eager to sell out, readily agreeing to “a load of compromisin’” to get to “where the lights are shinin’ on me.” He sings cheerfully of the woman who “gave up the good life for me” in “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” imagining her thoughts as she goes through her day. Though since that life sounds pretty dreary, it’s likely she’s thinking something far different from what he supposes.

There were no more pop hits after the ‘70s, but it hardly mattered. Having the aforementioned hits, along with others like “Wichita Lineman” and “Southern Nights,” could easily sustain you for the rest of your career. Campbell continued making his presence felt on the country charts, recorded contemporary Christian numbers, was irked that Capitol wouldn’t let him release “Highwayman” as a single (especially when the Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson-Willie Nelson supergroup the Highwaymen later had a #1 country with the song; Campbell’s commercial instincts never failed him). There were no signature songs from this era, but still well-crafted work.

 

VIDEO: Glen Campbell in Concert – Highway Man

Instead of simply picking up where the previous version of this set (released in 2003) left off, this newest version of Legacy replaces the fourth CD with entirely different songs, covering the time when Campbell had been given a new challenge. The puckishly titled Meet Glen Campbell, released in 2008, matched him with modern rock material, with good results. His now-weathered voice brings a gravitas to his cover of Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These,” and his performance of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” would’ve fit right in on his TV variety show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Paul Westerberg’s reflective “Ghost on the Canvas” has an additional resonance due to the context; it was the title track of what was meant to be Campbell’s last album, in the wake of his announcement that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But there was still more to come, revealing a further maturity; Campbell’s haunting rendition of “Everybody’s Talkin’” (a would-be rhinestone cowboy still dreaming of his day in the sun), the heartbreaking “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” which looks dementia right in the eye (it’s the last song Campbell recorded; if you watch the video, have your hankies handy), and finally “Adios,” another song about movin’ on and leaving a loved one behind.

Above all, Legacy stands as a testament to Campbell’s work ethic. The 78 songs span over half a century of work, highlights from a career that produced 64 studio albums. And no matter how successful Campbell’s previous record had done, he was always on the lookout for the next song to sing. And he always found one.

 

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Gillian G. Gaar

Seattle-based writer Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel.

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