Glen Campbell, who died of Alzheimer’s disease at 81 on Tuesday, sang in the clear, caring voice of an American Everyman. With his glistening tone, guileless character and easy phrasing, he invited the listener into the song, highlighting its craft, while inhabiting the life described in the lyrics. In some of his most enduring hits, recorded during the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Campbell idealized the sweeping melodies and yearning lyrics of Jimmy Webb, often grounded in cities like Galveston, Tex., Wichita, Kan, and Phoenix. Over the last decade, as his health faded, he enjoyed a creative resurgence, recording somewhat more contemporary material that resulted in some of the most moving performances of his career. Here are 10 recordings that highlight his talent.
‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ (1967)
In this Jimmy Webb touchstone, Mr. Campbell’s voice mirrors the high, lonesome strings that start the track. Together, they capture the sound of someone displaced, appropriate for a song about a man on the run from a relationship. The lyrics shuttle between the narrator’s flight across the country and his lover’s routine back home, reflecting her loss in his escape. Mr. Campbell’s aching vocals establish the character’s empathy, as well as his guilt.
‘Wichita Lineman’ (1968)
One of Mr. Webb’s most enigmatic songs chronicles the desires of a mysterious telephone worker who listens in on conversations he can never be part of. The bass line and strings couldn’t be warmer, nor Mr. Campbell’s vocal more full of want. It’s the voice of an apparition, a spirit in perpetual need.
Mr. Campbell’s voice sails with grace over the word “Galveston,” a crucial elongation since the city’s name needs to evoke a significant back story. It’s the tale of a scared soldier at war who longs both for home and for a lover he left behind. Mr. Webb’s melody requires whoever sings it to fly. Mr. Campbell soars.
‘Less of Me’ (1968)
In 1968, Mr. Campbell recorded a smart duets album with Bobbie Gentry that went No. 1 on the country charts. The set opened with a song Mr. Campbell wrote, “Less of Me,” that caught his generous spirit. It’s a prayer to set aside ego in favor of service, echoed by the stars’ seamless harmonies.
‘It’s a Sin (When You Love Somebody)’ (1974)
The winning team of Mr. Campbell and Mr. Webb recorded “Reunion” in 1974, an album culminating in a song that showed off the singer’s R&B side. Along with his flair for country and pop, “Sin” added a little bit of soul.
‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ (1975)
The lyrics to Larry Weiss’s song, about a veteran of fame encased in tinsel, suited the phase of Glen Campbell’s career when he recorded it. The single went No. 1 in 1975, returning the singer to a prominence he last enjoyed in the late ’60s. Mr. Campbell’s flexible and resilient vocals capture both a “cowboy’s” wistful look back at his legacy and his determination to continue the ride.
‘Classical Gas’ (1977)
Mr. Campbell wasn’t just a fine singer, but a precise guitarist, reflecting his rich history as a session player. His version of Mason Williams’s instrumental hit from 1968, which was included on Mr. Campbell’s 1977 live album, allows him to show off his quick fingerings, as he adds tricky elaborations and modal variations not found in the original.
‘These Days’ (2008)
Inspired by Johnny Cash’s late-period recordings with Rick Rubin, the producer Julian Raymond convinced Mr. Campbell to go back into the studio, starting in 2008, to record a series of albums that made full use of his experience. Mr. Raymond brought in this classic Jackson Browne song, but Mr. Campbell elected to switch up a key lyric. Instead of singing about the character “losing” so long, he had him “healing” so long, emphasizing the enduring positivity of his own persona.
‘Sadly Beautiful’ (2008)
Paul Westerberg’s heartbreaking ballad voices the regrets of a parent who missed a daughter’s childhood. Mr. Campbell’s observatory vocal communicates a depth of love that transcends time, demonstrating that the narrator’s mind never wandered from the child, no matter the physical distance.
Mr. Campbell released his final album just two months ago. Inevitably, it culminated in this farewell song, penned by Jimmy Webb back in the ’90s. The track, which acknowledges a love that was “too grandiose,” begs the listener not to turn morose in the experience of loss. It’s a song of sweet parting, leading to a final crescendo from Mr. Campbell that can’t help but bring a tear.
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