Tuesday, April 19, 2011
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.