Wichita Lineman

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"Wichita Lineman"
"Wichita Lineman" single cover
Single by Glen Campbell
from the album Wichita Lineman
B-side"Fate of Man"
ReleasedOctober 1968
  • May 27, 1968
  • August 14, 1968
LabelCapitol 2302
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Webb
Producer(s)Al De Lory
Glen Campbell singles chronology
"Gentle on My Mind"
"Wichita Lineman"

"Wichita Lineman" is a song written by the American songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1968.[2] It was first recorded by the American country music artist Glen Campbell with backing from members of the Wrecking Crew[3] and was widely covered by other artists.

Campbell's version, which appeared on his 1968 album of the same name, reached number 3 on the US pop chart, remaining in the Top 100 for 15 weeks. In addition, the song topped the American country music chart for two weeks and the adult contemporary chart for six weeks.[4] It was certified gold by the RIAA in January 1969.[5] The song reached number 7 in the United Kingdom. In Canada, the single topped both the RPM national and country singles charts.[6][7] As of August 2017 the song has also sold 357,000 downloads in the digital era in the United States.[8]

In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" ranked "Wichita Lineman" at number 195.[9] It has been referred to as "the first existential country song".[10] British music journalist Stuart Maconie called it "the greatest pop song ever composed";[11] and the BBC referred to it as "one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music".[12] "Wichita Lineman" was featured in series 12 of BBC Radio 4's Soul Music, a documentary series featuring stories behind pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact.[13]

In 2020, the song was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[14]

Background and content[edit]

Jimmy Webb stated in an interview for the BBC Radio 4 Mastertapes programme that the song was written in response to a phone call from Campbell for a "place" or "geographical" song to follow up "By The Time I Get To Phoenix".[15] Webb's inspiration for the lyrics came while driving through Washita County in rural southwestern Oklahoma. At that time, many telephone companies were county-owned utilities, and their linemen were county employees.

Heading westward on a straight road into the setting sun, Webb drove past a seemingly endless line of telephone poles, each looking exactly the same as the last. Then, in the distance, he noticed the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop a pole.[16] He described it as "the picture of loneliness". Webb then "put himself atop that pole and put that phone in his hand" as he considered what the lineman was saying into the receiver.[17]

It was a splendidly vivid, cinematic image that I lifted out of my deep memory while I was writing this song. I thought, I wonder if I can write something about that? A blue collar, everyman guy we all see everywhere – working on the railroad or working on the telephone wires or digging holes in the street. I just tried to take an ordinary guy and open him up and say, 'Look there's this great soul, and there's this great aching, and this great loneliness inside this person and we're all like that. We all have this capacity for these huge feelings'.[18]

Webb delivered what he regarded and labeled as an incomplete version of the song, warning the producer and arranger Al De Lory that he had not completed a third verse or a middle eight. Campbell said "When I heard it I cried...It made me cry because I was homesick."[18] De Lory similarly found inspiration in the opening line. His uncle had been a lineman in Kern County, California; "I could visualise my uncle up a pole in the middle of nowhere. I loved the song right away."[18]

The lack of a middle eight section was addressed by a baritone guitar interlude performed by Campbell, who had made his name as a guitarist with the group of Los Angeles backing musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew", many of whom were featured on the recording.[18][3] The musicians on the recording included Campbell, Al Casey and James Burton (guitar), Carol Kaye (guitar/bass), Don Bagley (bass), Jim Gordon (drums) and Al De Lory (piano).[19] The orchestral arrangements were by De Lory[20][21] with the descending six-note intro added by bassist Carol Kaye.[18]

Webb was surprised to hear that Campbell had recorded the song: "A couple of weeks later I ran into [Campbell] somewhere, and I said, 'I guess you guys didn't like the song.' 'Oh, we cut that' he said. 'It wasn't done! I was just humming the last bit!'. 'Well it's done now!'"[15]


The song consists of two verses, each divided into two parts. The first part is in the key of F major, while the second is written in D major. D represents the relative minor position to F, so a D minor (as opposed to major) section would be expected. The fact that it is nevertheless set in D major arguably contributes to the unique and appealing character of the song.[18]

The lyrics follow the key dichotomy, with the first part of each verse (F major) handling issues related to a lineman's job (e.g. "searchin' in the sun for another overload", "if it snows, that stretch down South won't ever stand the strain"), whereas the second part (D major) dwells on the lineman's romantic thoughts. Set off against the F major of the first part, the D major of the second part sounds distinctively mellow, which is consistent with its content.[18]

The phrase "singing in the wire" is evoked in two ways in De Lory's orchestral arrangement. He uses high-pitched, ethereal violins to emulate the sonic vibration commonly induced by wind blowing across small wires and conductors, making these lines whistle or whine like an aeolian harp. Similarly, the electronic sounds a lineman might hear when attaching a telephone earpiece to a long stretch of raw telephone or telegraph line, i.e., without typical line equalization and filtering ("I can hear you through the whine") are represented by a repeating "Morse code" keyboard motif.[22][18]

Cover versions[edit]

Many adult "middle of the road" (MOR) artists, including Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Robert Goulet, Andy Williams, Bobby Goldsboro, and Engelbert Humperdinck, have covered the song, most of them shortly after the original version was a hit. There were also many instrumental versions, including a notable one by José Feliciano. In 2001 the instrumental band Friends of Dean Martinez included a cover version on their studio album of the same name, featuring lap steel virtuoso Bill Elm. Guitar master Johnny A included an instrumental version on his 1999 release Sometime Tuesday Morning. The song has also been covered by artists such as Ray Charles, The Dells, Freedy Johnston, O.C. Smith, Willie Hutch, The Meters, These Animal Men, Reg Presley of The Troggs, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, Kool & The Gang, Shawn Lee, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, James Taylor, R.E.M., The Clouds, Earl Van Dyke, Zucchero Fornaciari, King Harvest, Johnny Cash, Wayne Newton, Tony Joe White, Stoney LaRue, B.E.F., Urge Overkill [23] and The Nottingham Youth Jazz Orchestra (Combo).

Jazz pianist Alan Pasqua developed an arrangement of the song for jazz trio that appears on his album My New Old Friend and Peter Erskine's album The Interlochen Concert. A soul-jazz version was also performed by Young-Holt Unlimited. A stripped-down version of the song also appears on Villagers' 2016 album Where Have You Been All My Life with a simple piano accompaniment.

Other covers of the song include that of Wade Hayes, who released a version in August 1997[24] that peaked at number 55 on the US country music charts. It was to have been included on an album entitled Tore Up from the Floor Up, but due to its poor chart performance, the album was delayed. That album was finally released in 1998 as When the Wrong One Loves You Right, with the "Wichita Lineman" cover excluded.[25] A German cover version was Thomas Fritsch's "Der Draht in der Sonne" (English: "The Wire In the Sun"), also sung by Katja Ebstein.[26] In 2016, the country-pop band Restless Heart also recorded a cover of the song.[27]

Guns N' Roses covered the song live during their "Not in This Life Time" world tour. The first live performance of the song was on August 30, 2017, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.[28] Rolling Stone magazine described it as "their most unexpected cover of the tour".[29]

The Finnish singer Topi Sorsakoski recorded a Finnish version of the song on his album Yksinäisyys osa 2 in 1995.[30]

After Campbell's death, Webb sang the song with Little Big Town as a tribute during the 51st Annual Country Music Association Awards on November 8, 2017.[citation needed]

Renee Cologne covered the song on her 2019 release Coverlings. Fred Hersch performed a cover of the song at the Village Vanguard on July 23, 2019.

Charts and sales[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The song was used in the opening and closing scenes of the Ozark season 2 episode, "Badger", to emphasize the setting and tone of the beginning and end of Darlene and Jacob Snell's romance.[42]

Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) can be heard briefly singing the song in the season four episode of Parks and Recreation, "The Debate".

Homer Simpson sings the song while mimicking hold music in The Simpsons 15th-season episode "Co-Dependents' Day".

The KLF referenced the song in the title "Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard", on their acclaimed 1990 ambient house concept album Chill Out.


  1. ^ Blake, Mark; DeMain, Bill; Elliott, Paul; Ewing, Jerry; Glass, Polly; Hughes, Rob; August 2016, Henry Yates05. "The 25 best country rock songs of all time". Classic Rock Magazine. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  2. ^ "Wichita Lineman". BBC. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 261–263. ISBN 978-1-250-03046-7.
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 43.
  5. ^ "Gold & Platinum". RIAA. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  6. ^ The RPM 100, Library and Archives Canada, 16 December 1968
  7. ^ RPM Country Chart, Library and Archives Canada, 13 January 1969
  8. ^ Bjorke, Matt (21 August 2017). "Top 30 Digital Country Singles Sales Chart: August 21, 2017". Roughstock.
  9. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  10. ^ "Dylan Jones: If you ask me". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  11. ^ Maconie, Stuart (2004). Cider With Roadies (1st ed.). London: Random House. p. 303. ISBN 0-09-189115-9.
  12. ^ "Wichita Lineman". BBC Radio 2. April 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  13. ^ "Soul Music - Wichita Lineman". BBC Radio 4. August 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  14. ^ "National Recording Registry Class Produces Ultimate 'Stay at Home' Playlist". Library of Congress. 25 March 2020. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  15. ^ a b Presenter: John Wilson; Producer: Jerome Weatherald; Interviewed Guest: Jimmy Webb (10 October 2017). "Director Sally Potter, Composer Jimmy Webb, Anorexia on screen". Front Row. 16:55 minutes in. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 11 October 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ MacIntosh, Dan (16 May 2011). "Jimmy Webb Interview". Songfacts.
  17. ^ Robert Wilonsky (2 November 2006). "Power Lines : Jimmy Webb wrote one of the greatest songs ever. Just don't tell him that". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 20 January 2010.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h Savage, Mark (9 August 2017). "Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman: The unfinished song that became a classic". BBC.
  19. ^ "Phonograph Recording Contract" (PDF). American Federation of Musicians. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  20. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (26 February 2016). "Hear Restless Heart's Shimmering Tribute to Glen Campbell". Rolling Stone. New York City. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  21. ^ Cole, George (30 September 2010). "Elton John, the Beach Boys and the fine art of pop alchemy". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  22. ^ "What to do if you hear radio communications on your telephone" (PDF). Missouri Public Service Commission. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  23. ^ "Gotcha Covered: Wichita Lineman". Stereogum. 24 August 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  24. ^ "Wichita Lineman by Wade Hayes". CMT. 26 August 1997. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  25. ^ "Wade Hayes' "Wrong" Is Just Right for Him". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 28 November 1997. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  26. ^ Discover the Original: Der Draht in der Sonne, coverinfo.de
  27. ^ "Restless Heart Premiere 'Wichita Lineman' Video". Taste of Country. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  28. ^ "Guns N Roses - Live in Edmonton 2017 - Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell Tribute)". jzalapski at YouTube.com. 30 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  29. ^ "See Guns N' Roses' Surprise Cover of Glen Campbell's 'Wichita Lineman'". RollingStone.com. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  30. ^ "Kantritohtori Teppo Nättilä - Rootsterapiaa ja mojomiehekästä menoa!". areena.yle.fi. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  31. ^ "Go-Set Australian charts - 12 February 1969". Poparchives.com.au. 12 February 1969. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  32. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Bac-lac.gc.ca. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  33. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  34. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  35. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  36. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  37. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, January 4, 1969". Archived from the original on 16 December 2018. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  38. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  39. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 27, 1969". Archived from the original on 25 January 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  40. ^ "British single certifications – Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 3 January 2020. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Wichita Lineman in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  41. ^ "American single certifications – Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 3 January 2020. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 
  42. ^ Tallerico, Brian (September 2018). "Ozark Recap: Nothing Personal". Vulture.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (6th ed.). 1996.
  • Jones, Dylan (2019). The Wichita Lineman; searching in the sun for the world's greatest unfinished song. Faber and Faber.

External links[edit]