Friday, June 19, 2009

Listening to the Wichita Lineman

Untitled by r fraser used under a Creative Commons License

I was listening to my radio station, which serves songs up randomly, and it served up "Wichita Lineman" by Glen Campbell. I briefly alluded to the song in an August 2008 post in this blog, linking to a post in The Greatest Songs Ever! that focused on the musical aspects of the song. It did, however, briefly refer to the lyrical content:

“Some time earlier,” [Jimmy Webb] says, “I had been driving around northern Oklahoma, an area that’s real flat and remote — almost surreal in its boundless horizons and infinite distances. I’d seen a lineman up on a telephone pole, talking on the phone. It was such a curiosity to see a human being perched up there in those surroundings.”

The image returned to Webb, and he spent two hours that afternoon “noodling on the green baby” until he came up with a tune....

What Webb didn’t know was that [producer Al] De Lory’s uncle was a lineman in Kern County, California. “So as soon as I heard that opening line,” De Lory recalls, “I could visualize my uncle up a pole in the middle of nowhere. I loved the song right away, and I knew it was right for Glen.”

Boy, was it. The song hit number 3 in the pop charts. But is it, as Wikipedia claims, the first existential country song? Judge for yourself; here's the first verse:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin' in the wire, I can hear you through the wine
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

And if you want to see Campbell lip-syncing the song on the Smothers Brothers, go here.

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