"Wichita Lineman" single cover
|Single by Glen Campbell|
|from the album Wichita Lineman|
|B-side||"Fate of Man"|
|Producer(s)||Al De Lory|
|Glen Campbell singles chronology|
"Wichita Lineman" is a song written by American songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1968. It was first recorded by American country music artist Glen Campbell with backing from members of The Wrecking Crew and widely covered by other artists. Campbell's version, which appeared on his 1968 album of the same name, reached #3 on the U.S. pop chart, remaining in the Top 100 for 15 weeks. In addition, the song also topped the American country music chart for two weeks, and the adult contemporary chart for six weeks. It was certified gold by the RIAA in January 1969. The song reached #7 in the UK. In Canada, the single also topped both the RPM national and country singles charts.
In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" ranked "Wichita Lineman" at #195. It has been referred to as "the first existential country song". British music journalist Stuart Maconie called it "the greatest pop song ever composed"; 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".
Background and content
Jimmy Webb's inspiration for the lyric 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 (arguably Country Road 152) 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. 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. Glen Campbell added in a statement to the Dallas Observer that Webb wrote the song about his first love affair with a woman who married someone else.
The actual song lyrics mention the name "Wichita" rather than Washita. Campbell said it was because: "Wichita sings better." The musicians used on the recording included Campbell, Al Casey and James Burton (guitar), Carol Kaye (bass), Jim Gordon (drums), Jimmy Webb and Al De Lory (piano). The orchestral arrangements were by De Lory.
The lyrics describe the loneliness that a telephone or electric power lineman feels while he works and his longing for an absent lover.
The phrase "singing in the wire" can refer to the sonic vibration commonly induced by wind blowing across small wires and conductors, making these lines whistle or whine like an aeolian harp. It could also, or even simultaneously, refer to the sounds that a lineman might hear when attaching a telephone earpiece to a long stretch of raw telephone or telegraph line, i.e., without typical line equalisation and filtering. In the recording, a notable feature of the orchestral arrangement is the effort of the violins and keyboards to mimic these ethereal sounds and morse code, and the lyric "I can hear you through the whine" further alludes to them.
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.
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. "searching 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 mellowly, which is consistent with its content.
Many adult MOR ("middle of the road") artists, including Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Robert Goulet, Andy Williams, Bobby Goldsboro, and Englebert 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. The song has also been covered by The Meters,These Animal Men, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, Kool & The Gang, Urge Overkill, Naked Prey, Freedy Johnston, Optiganally Yours, Dennis Brown, Shawn Lee, Scud Mountain Boys, Blueground Undergrass, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, James Taylor, R.E.M., The Clouds, Earl Van Dyke, King Harvest, Friends of Dean Martinez, Johnny Cash, B.E.F., Hussey-Regan, and Stray Dog. 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.
Other covers of the song include Wade Hayes, who released a version in August 1997 that peaked at number 55 on the U.S. 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. A German cover version was Thomas Fritsch's "Der Draht in der Sonne" (English: the wire in the sun).
Chart performance and sales
Weekly singles charts
"Those Were the Days" by Mary Hopkin
|US Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single
(Glen Campbell version)
14 December 1968 (6 weeks)
"I've Gotta Be Me" by Sammy Davis Jr.
"Born to Be with You"
by Sonny James
|US Billboard Hot Country Singles
21 – 28 December 1968
"Daddy Sang Bass"
by Johnny Cash
by Diana Ross & the Supremes
|Canadian RPM 100
16–23 December 1968
by Young-Holt Unlimited
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
by Merle Haggard
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks
13 – 20 January 1969
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
by Merle Haggard
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