By the Time I Get to Phoenix

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"By the Time I Get to Phoenix"
Single by Glen Campbell
from the album By the Time I Get to Phoenix
B-side"You've Still Got a Place in My Heart"
ReleasedOctober 23, 1967
RecordedAugust 29, 1967
Capitol Studios, Hollywood, California
GenrePop, country
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Webb
Producer(s)Al De Lory
Glen Campbell singles chronology
"Gentle on My Mind"
"By the Time I Get to Phoenix"
"Hey Little One"

"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is a song written by Jimmy Webb. Originally recorded by Johnny Rivers in 1965, it was covered by American country music singer Glen Campbell on his album of the same name. Released on Capitol Records in 1967, Campbell's version topped RPM's Canada Country Tracks, reached number two on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart, and won two awards at the 10th Annual Grammys.[1] Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) named it the third most performed song from 1940 to 1990.[2] The song was ranked number 20 on BMI's Top 100 Songs of the Century.[3] Frank Sinatra called it "the greatest torch song ever written."[4]

Background and writing[edit]

The inspiration for "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" originated in Jimmy Webb's breakup with Susan Horton. They remained friends after her marriage to Bobby Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt. Their relationship, which peaked in mid-1965, was also the primary influence for "MacArthur Park", another Webb composition.[5]

Webb did not intend the song to be geographically literal. "A guy approached me one night after a concert [...] and he showed me how it was impossible for me to drive from L.A. to Phoenix, and then how far it was to Albuquerque. In short, he told me, 'This song is impossible.' And so it is. It's a kind of fantasy about something I wish I would have done, and it sort of takes place in a twilight zone of reality."[6][a]

Webb called the song a "succinct tale" with an "O. Henry-esque twist at the end, which consists merely of the guy saying, 'She didn't really think that I would go,' but he did." Although the protagonist in the song plans to leave his lover, Webb did not leave Horton.[6]


"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" was named the third-most performed song from the period between 1970 and 1990, by Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) on September 14, 1990.[2] Many cover versions have been recorded. Charted versions include:

  • Isaac Hayes' version of the song, included on the album Hot Buttered Soul, runs for 18 minutes and 40 seconds, and recounts the events that transpired before the actual roadtrip.[7] The track was edited down to under seven minutes for single release, hitting #37 on both the US pop and R&B charts in 1969, and #48 in Canada.[8]
  • The Mad Lads also covered the song in 1969 for Stax Records; their version reached #28 on the R&B singles chart.
  • The Peddlers recorded a studio version of the song for their 1969 album Birthday.
  • Anne Murray and Glen Campbell recorded a medley of "I Say a Little Prayer" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" in 1971. The track hit #1 on the Canadian country charts, and also charted on the US country charts and the US and Canadian pop charts.
  • Erma Franklin's version was produced by Carl Davis and Eugene Record for her 1969 album Soul Sister on Brunswick Records.
  • Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick released the song as a live medley with "I Say a Little Prayer" in 1977. The single reached #65 on the R&B singles chart.
  • Solomon Burke covered the song on his 1968 album I Wish I Knew.
  • Charlie Rich released his version of the song on his 1968 album Set Me Free.
  • Billy Stewart released his version of the song as a single through Chess Records in 1969, which was featured on his album "Cross My Heart" of the same year.
  • Al Pacino, briefly, sang his own rendition during the 1995 film Heat.[9]

Hundreds of other cover versions exist. Engelbert Humperdinck covered the song in 1968 for his album A Man Without Love. It was the title song of Marty Robbins' 1968 album By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Harry James released a version in 1981 on his album For Listening and Dancing (Reader's Digest RD4A 213). Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds covered the song on their 1986 album Kicking Against the Pricks. John Peel, the British 'alternative music' radio disc jockey, considered Cave's version to be "by some considerable distance" the best version of the song ever recorded. Brídín Brennan, sister of singer Enya, sampled the song for her second single on her Eyes of Innocence album. Reba McEntire recorded the song for her 20th anniversary album in 1995, Starting Over. Paul Frees recorded it as a recitation on his album The Poster People, in the voice of Clark Gable.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1967–1968) Peak
US Hot Country Singles (Billboard)[10] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[11] 26
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[12] 12
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[13] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[14] 9


  1. ^ However, the drive is actually possible, travelling at an average of about 65 miles per hour (105 km/h). If he leaves Los Angeles around midnight, he can drive the 373 miles (600 km) to Phoenix in about six hours to arrive when she "rises" at 6:00 am. If she "stops at lunch" to "give him a call" at 12:30 p.m. when he is in Albuquerque, it gives him six-and-a-half hours to make the 420-mile (680 km) drive. The drive from Albuquerque to the Oklahoma border is about 390 miles (630 km), giving her plenty of time to get home and go to sleep.


  1. ^ "Past Winners Search". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Retrieved December 14, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "BMI list of Most Popular Songs from 1940–1990". Broadcast Music, Inc. September 2, 1990. Archived from the original on April 2, 2003.
  3. ^ "BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century". Broadcast Music, Inc. December 13, 1999.
  4. ^ Takiff, Jonathan (January 17, 1992). "The Man Behind The Hits". Philadelphia Daily News.
  5. ^ Boucher, Geoff (June 10, 2007). "'MacArthur Park' Jimmy Webb, 1968". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.
  6. ^ a b Gross, Terry (February 10, 2004). "Jimmy Webb: From 'Phoenix' To 'Just Across The River'". Fresh Air. NPR.
  7. ^ Birchmeier, Jason. Hot Buttered Soul at AllMusic. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
  8. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - October 4, 1969 (actual chart not avail.)" (PDF).
  9. ^ "Al Pacino sings "By the time I get to Phoenix"".
  10. ^ "Hot Country Singles". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 80 (2): 37. January 13, 1968. ISSN 0006-2510.
  11. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  12. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  13. ^ "Top RPM Country Tracks: Issue 100164." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. January 27, 1968.
  14. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 100145." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. December 30, 1967.

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