Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reconsidering "Galveston"

Jimmy Webb is one of my favorite songwriters of the classic sixties era. He wrote heady, thoughtful, emotionally wringing songs which were often mistaken for pop ditties. His songs are such great little pieces of music that it's no wonder so many different kinds of musicians not so much recorded them as subverted them: Isaac Hayes' 18-minute-plus take on "By the Time I Get To Phoenix" is brilliantly and soulfully seductive just as Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 recording of "Wichita Lineman" becomes a perfect vehicle for bossanova saudade, or melancholy, perky and grooving despite its lyric of loss and regret. Levitating while Donna Summer turned the seemingly inexplicable lyrics of "MacArthur Park" into a transcendant disco vehicle on a late 1970s dancefloor was one of the highlights of my coming-of-gay-age.

Some of his songs were rightly made famous by Glen Campbell: "Where's the Playground, Suzie," "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and of course "Galveston." "Galveston" came out during the Vietnam War, and Glen Campbell's rousing almost martial version leaves some doubt as to the emotions it's meant to summon. While the version sung by its writer above last year is not the most beautiful version of this great song I've ever heard, Webb's explanation of the politics behind the song at the beginning of the clip is fascinating. I've heard "Galveston" described as an anti-war song, and indeed, it seems that's what it was, the intentions of rightwinger Campbell — whose singing I actually love — notwithstanding. Check out the version on Webb's 1972 album "Letters" to hear how beautifully heartbreaking this song can be.


  1. Photographers die in Libya. We forget they really do put their lives on the line to bring us the news. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110420/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya_photographers

    So sad.

  2. I read about that while at work. A terrible tragedy.

  3. I'd only heard Glen Campbell's version of Galveston before, so it's great to hear Webb's take on his own song. Nice find!

    Raises interesting questions about the intentions of the composer vs the interpretation of the performer.

  4. Jim there was another clip on youtube worth watching...I don't have it in front of me but it was an even more recent performance much better recorded in a very small concert venue but with less of an introduction.

  5. Here's Glen singing 'Universal Soldier' in his brief incarnation as a topical singer. Interesting to hear the words and then consider the venue.

  6. SWBoy what IS That venue? "Because We Care"? I'm gonna have to track down Buffy Saint Marie because it just doesn't sound so anti-war coming from him. Thanks for the link.