In the mid to late 70s, EMI suddenly seemed to realize that they were sitting on a goldmine and as a result, no UK household seemed to be without one of their omnipresent “20 Golden Greats” collections.
The three glossy red lips for Diana Ross and The Supremes; The guitar graphic for The Shadows; The surfer illustration naturally for the Beach Boys; The gritty black and white close-up of Frank Sinatra. These sold by the bucketload. Go on have a rummage in your parents’ loft and you’ll find one or other of them.
You might well also find a copy of Glen Campbell’s “20 Golden Greats” not a great sleeve for sure but two wonderful sides of black lacquer within. And you will be amazed how familiar the entire record is to you.
Sadly, as you will know he passed away yesterday.
So many of the tributes focus on his classics “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” which are two of the most achingly sad recordings that it is small wonder that so many think so fondly of them. You can truly understand why they proved so hugely popular with soldiers posted far from home during the Vietnam War.
Now I may sound contentious here but I think it is easier for musicians to portray songs of emotional turmoil – after all many of their songs were kickstarted by some kind of trauma. So loss and anger are often called out as the stimulants for many of the world’s most adored tracks.
Joy is something that is much more difficult to make sound convincing and authentic. Pop’s nature can often bland out the attachment to the emotion. I believe firmly that Glen Campbell was one of the singers who could truly express a feeling of joy and human contentment that only the real masters (Presley, Sinatra etc) ever attempt to attain.
For myself, nowhere is this better exhibited in Glen’s “Gentle On My Mind” – for those who have seen this already I apologize – but in other’s hands (try Dean Martin) it becomes something of a swagger – cocksure – yet here, it is an ode to a relationship of deep relaxed understanding that perhaps we all strive for in life.
And Glen knows it.
So whilst he was always capable of tearing your heart in two the success of his “20 Golden Greats” brought him back to the UK charts for a final time (at least when the charts meant something) and he gave us a similarly smile-laced version of Alain Toussaint’s beautiful but previously ghostly Cajun panegyric “Southern Nights”.
Again, you can here the genuine pleasure in its performance and it I can only delight.
Imagine that was your sole contribution to decorating the corridors of pop pageantry but Glen Campbell was one of the most celebrated session men – he was part of ‘The Wrecking Crew’ for a while who played on many of America’s greatest pop songs.
That’s Glen on “Hello Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson and on “Mary Mary” by The Monkees and on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers and on “Help Me Rhonda” by The Beach Boys and on “Strangers In The Night” (that’s right – “Strangers In The Night”) which became Sinatra’s mid-period theme song. Apparently, his then flower power hair and wardrobe rather offended the eye of The Chairman Of The Board but when he heard his guitar playing he was excused and later personally tipped!
Mid 70s EMI management have a lot to thank him for
He plays on the sessions for “Pet Sounds”, stands in for Brian Wilson when he could no longer tour and is brought into help out Elvis’s band with some wicked licks for one of his 60s best soundtracks (the film also featured Ann-Margret so it was a double winner in my book).
Oh and for good measure, he starred with John Wayne in “True Grit”… This was a man who walked with heroes.
There were some incredible highs and lows in Glen Campbell’s career and his late illness has been well documented but his contemporaries say that he musically he had the most natural ear and could immediately within bars pick up melodies, chord structures and amplify and improvise as if he had known it all along. His life may not have been pure but his musicianship most certainly was.
It is interesting that as Alzheimers took its toll on Glen, he became the most wonderful advertisement for the power of music where his muscle memory allowed him to remain note and pitch perfect.
His contribution is absolutely interwoven into the historical tapestry of some of the greatest music of the late 20th century and we should be forever grateful for a man who could so naturally convey the highs and lows that we sometimes so struggle to express.