5 reasons Glen Campbell was cooler than your average country star
The great Glen Campbell has died at 81 years of age. It’s not a shock death, Campbell and his family had anticipated this day for some time now, but it remains a sad day for fans of great music across many genres.
Campbell was best known as a country singer, crossing over into the pop and adult contemporary realms with his most popular songs. But there was far more to his rich career than a small handful of smash hit singles.
Here are a few reasons why Glen Campbell should be remembered as one of the greatest figures in rock’n’roll history.
He played on more hit records than you probably realise
Glen Campbell was a member of The Wrecking Crew, a group of session musicians who played on a slew of hit records through the 1960s. As part of the group he appeared on albums by Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees and countless others.
The passing of time and the sheer volume of hit records that were being made by a small group of musicians means that the legitimacy of reports on Campbell’s appearances on certain records can be a bit fuzzy.
For instance, he apparently didn’t appear on ‘Viva Las Vegas’, and while his first band was the brilliant instrumental band The Champs, he joined many years after their smash hit ‘Tequila’.
But the list of credits is far more impressive than the list of mistakes. The fact that one man could appear on both The Hondells’ brilliant ‘Little Honda’ and Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers In The Night’ in such a short space of time – and before becoming a star on his own – is astounding.
He was (kinda) a member of The Beach Boys
That session work extended to Campbell being welcomed into the fold as a touring member of The Beach Boys in the mid-1960s. Campbell essentially replaced Brian Wilson in the live band, playing bass and singing backing vocals, after Wilson’s breakdown rendered him unable to tour.
"It's the hardest thing that I ever did live," Campbell says in the documentary The Wrecking Crew. He said that singing Wilson's falsetto vocals and playing his bass lines at the same time was like “rubbing your head and patting your stomach. I thought was going to go nuts. It was fun, but boy, was it scary.”
Campbell’s association with The Beach Boys was deeper than that of any other act from those session days.
Brian Wilson penned this brilliant song, ‘Guess I’m Dumb’, for Campbell in 1965. The song was a flop and didn’t chart at all, but over 50 years later it sounds like an absolute masterpiece.
Had its release been after the brilliant Jimmy Webb penned singles ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Galveston, it might have been another hit.
He covered The Replacements and Guided By Voices, and played with The Dandy Warhols
Campbell is one of the many country musicians who made some incredibly fine work in their later years. His records Meet Glen Campbell and Ghost On The Canvas saw him tackling popular songs – many of them from younger artists – in an effort to introduce him to a new audience.
This meant covering the Foo Fighters, Green Day, U2, Travis and Tom Petty, as well as underground heroes like The Replacements and Guided By Voices.
It didn’t quite have the same impact as Johnny Cash’s legendary American Recordings, but many of these new renditions were stunning and showed us the songwriting genius of some of our favourite artists in a completely new light.
He also enlisted The Dandy Warhols to back him up on ‘Strong’ on Ghost On The Canvas, and this odd combination works remarkably well.
His last ever song won a Grammy
Campbell’s long farewell to the world included a harrowing documentary called I’ll Be Me, which follows him on his final ever US tour as he is struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease.
As a part of the soundtrack to the film, Campbell wrote and performed ‘I'm Not Gonna Miss You’ with his close friend Julian Raymond. It’s a beautiful, powerful song that sees Campbell taking a frank look at his ailing condition and coming to terms with his mortality.
The song won a Grammy for Best Country Song in 2015 and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song in the same year.
His TV show is a treasure trove of legendary performances
For a few years in the late-60s and early-70s, Campbell hosted The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Not only was it the best named variety show in history, it featured some of the great TV performances from stars, both in country and beyond.
ABC Country will celebrate the life of Glen Campbell with a special program from 7pm tonight. Listen in here.