Is this the ultimate late-1960s song?

One late afternoon two or three weeks ago, when I was on my way home to the Manse from work in Belleville, I stopped in the village of Madoc to do a couple of library/post-office errands. When I got back into the car and turned it on, the radio of course came on too – and I caught the last few tantalizing notes of a song that was oh so familiar, and yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Freddy Vette

Here’s Freddy Vette in action as the leader of Freddy Vette and the Flames – the wildly popular live band that he runs on the side of his equally popular radio show. (Photo from freddyvette.com)

(The program I was listening to, Hastings County residents won’t be surprised to hear, was the Freddy Vette Show on CJBQ Belleville, 800 on your AM dial – the station I grew up with here at the Manse in Queensborough. Freddy is a supremely gifted DJ, musician, musical historian [there is nothing about the music of the 1950s and ’60s that he doesn’t know], comic – and graduate of the radio-broadcasting program at Loyalist College, where I now teach. His show, featuring the music of the ’50s and ’60s, is wildly popular locally, and with good reason; he is an entertainer par excellence. [Check out his website here, and an excellent article about him from Country Roads magazine here.] Even though I am not a huge fan of ’50s music [doo-wop and the like], Freddy plays enough good nostalgic stuff from the ’60s, peppering it with his always-entertaining commentary, to keep me tuned in every afternoon.)

Anyway, back to the fading notes of that song I couldn’t quite identify. It had strings. It had bass. And more to the point it had something – something kind of wistful and musical at the same time that I couldn’t identify but that instantly told me (or my subconscious) that it came from the era of bouffant hairdos and Dippity-Do, of Vietnam and TV magazines that featured Green Acres, and movie magazines that featured Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It came from the era of Avocado Green, of living-room-showpiece hi-fi units sold at Pigden Electronics on the main street of Madoc. It came from the time of both the easy-listening vibe of Little Green Apples and the swampy rage of Fortunate Son.

It was, of course – as I discovered when I checked Freddy’s daily blog about his show – Wichita Lineman.

Was there ever a song more representative of the final few years of that incredible decade than that wistful, tuneful and, yes, weird composition by Jimmy Webb (yes, the man who brought you the sublime Galveston and the sublimely awful MacArthur Park, among others), as sung by the truly great Glen Campbell?

People, I am open to your thoughts. But my answer to my own question is this: I think not.

11 thoughts on “Is this the ultimate late-1960s song?

  1. Wichita Lineman! What a wonderful song. I might have mentioned earlier that I had the pleasure of attending Glen Campbell’s last concert in Toronto, at the CNE, two summers ago. It was part of Glen’s farewell tour; he has Alzheimer’s Disease.

    It was a lovely, warm evening in August, with a breeze blowing through the park, with a very large crowd sitting and standing in front of the Bandshell. We all knew of Glen’s illness, and the die-hard fans were there, in great number.

    Glen came onstage promptly at 7.30pm, to a very warm ovation. He wasted no time in getting to the music, and his opening number was his big hit, Gentle on My Mind. Then, Galveston, and By the Time I get to Phoenix were next. His band consisted of several family members, and he did a “duelling banjos” number with one of his daughters. After a few other songs, the one we had all waited for — Wichita Lineman — started, and we were thrilled. Truly, it was the number everybody had wanted to hear, and then Glen followed it with another huge crowd-pleaser: Rhinestone Cowboy.

    The show lasted a bit better than an hour, and as I listened, I was trying to imagine his concert of 1970 at the former Grandstand (now demolished), just next door to the Bandshell, and of all the wonderful music that he’s given us over the years.

    It was a wonderful evening, and everybody left feeling very happy and satisfied and on a natural high. I was speaking with some fans who had followed him since his glory days began, and all were so glad that Glen had appeared once again.

    • What a great story, Sash. I wish I had been at that concert. I know of Glen Campbell’s Alzheimer’s, and I believe he has stopped performing altogether because of it now. And what a loss! Aside from having a beautiful tenor voice, he is widely recognized as an absolute master of the guitar. And such hits! It would have been wonderful not just to hear him sing them in person, but to mingle and talk, as you did, with all the longtime fans. Glen Campbell brought a lot of people a lot of happiness. Isn’t that something we all could wish to be remembered for?

      • Unfortunately, Glen Campbell’s health has deteriorated the point where the family can no longer care for him at home. He was moved to a care-facility for Alzheimer’s patients, April 2014.

        He played the guitar beautifully at the 2011 CNE concert. The entire concert is available on YouTube, in separate clips per song. Glen gave a wonderful concert, and only on a couple of occasions did someone have to help him (for example, when he started one of the songs, he had to ask which key he should be playing.) And I did I mention this was a free concert? The only price was the admission to the CNE, which was only $5.00 after a 5.00pm entry.

      • Hi Katherine. Five dollars would have been the same price to see Glen Campbell in 1969 at the CNE (a ticket to the Grandstand shows also paid for the admission to the CNE.) Who would believe that so many years later, the same deal would apply?

        Here is an interesting interview with Jimmy Webb. The first time I heard of him was when I bought The 5th Dimension’s records.

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/10431591/Jimmy-Webb-interview-I-wont-play-Wichita-Lineman-again.html

  2. An inspired choice. And a cool video has been posted to YouTube wherein Jimmy Webb describes the bizarre conditions under which Witchita Lineman was written. But since you ask, this is the song, and the singular performance, that brings the Sixties to a close for me:

    • Oh my goodness, Tim Hardin! I have always loved If I Were a Carpenter, but am somewhat mortified to admit that I had never seen Tim Hardin himself sing it. (I was more familiar with the versions by Joan Baez and the great one that Johnny Cash and June Carter did.) Is that video from Woodstock? That might explain the fact that Hardin, while playing the guitar brilliantly and improvising on his own song semi-brilliantly, looks to be wildly out of it on some sort of hallucinatory substance(s). So, so sad that he did himself in with heroin so early on. Hey, do you have a link for the video with Jimmy Webb talking about Wichita Lineman? I failed utterly to find it this evening – and would love to watch it!

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