Glen Campbell – more than just a rhinestone cowboy

Mention the name ‘Glen Campbell’ to most people and they’ll probably say ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ or ‘Wichita Linesman’.

However, there’s much, much more to the guy than a few hit records.

I’m prompted to write about Glen because of the sad news that he’s just released what will be his final album and is just about to embark on his last tour because he has Alzheimer’s and won’t be able to do much of anything eventually.

But what is it about him that raises his significance above a few hit records?

Well, you’ve probably heard him more often than you realise because he started off as a session guitarist.  Here what his Wikipedia entry has to say about him:

In 1958, Campbell moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician. He was part of the 1959 line-up of the group the Champs, famous for their instrumental "Tequila". Campbell was in great demand as a session musician in the 1960s. He was part of the studio musicians clique known as "the Wrecking Crew", many of whom went from session to session together as the same group. In addition to Campbell, Hal Blaine on drums, Tommy Tedesco on guitar, Leon Russell on piano, Carol Kaye on bass guitar, Al Casey on guitar were part of this group of session musicians that defined many pop and rock recordings of the era. They were also heard on Phil Spector’s "Wall of Sound" recordings in the early 1960s.

You had to be a consummate musician to be part of the Crew – not just technically brilliant, but able to record track after track as quickly as possible.

He also played on various Beach Boys sessions, including those which produced the sublime Brian Wilson masterpiece ‘Pet Sounds’.

So deeply did Campbell impress Wilson and the rest of the band, that when Brian decided to give up touring and just work in the studio, Campbell joined the band on bass and falsetto harmonies.

 

Beachboys

From L to R – Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Glen Campbell, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine

During this period, he also contributed to a whole slew of cheapo instrumental albums which spotlighted the guitar – this being a very guitar-orientated time in music. This is actually when I first became aware of him as a friend had an LP (remember those?) with Campbell featured on 12-string guitar, which was all the rage then due to its use in folk as well as by the Beatles and the Byrds.

After his stint with the Beach Boys, Campbell embarked on a very successful solo career. Fortunately, he had good taste in material and covered songs by people like John Hartford, Allen Toussaint and, most notably, Jimmy Webb.

It’s fair to say that Campbell has had his fair share of demons with a recurrent drink problem which came to a head when he was arrested for leaving the scene of a road traffic accident when drunk and assault on a police officer – the latter charge was dropped.

His career had a bit of a renaissance in 2008, after several years going through the motions on the usual circuit of venues demanding the ‘golden oldies’, with the release of a new album that once again showed his great taste in covers:

It was announced in April 2008 that Campbell was returning to his signature label, Capitol, to release his new album, Meet Glen Campbell. The album was released on August 19. With this album he branched off in a different musical direction, covering tracks from artists such as Travis, U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jackson Browne and Foo Fighters. It was Campbell’s first release on Capitol in over 15 years. Musicians from Cheap Trick and Jellyfish contributed to the album as well. The first single, a cover of Green Day’s "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", was released to radio in July 2008.

As good as this album is, I don’t think it’s up to the standard of his latest and last offering, ‘Ghost on the Canvas’. This is available from iTunes at a good price and is well worth the download, especially with 2 bonus tracks.

The material is great, with ex-Jellyfish Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. contributing a lot of songs and the session players include all manner of people – listed here.

But back to what originally started off what is a long and successful career – his guitar playing.

Here he is – in 2008 – playing some very nice country style licks:

Great octave work and a very fluent left hand.

How about this – jamming with Steve Lukather on acoustic?

 

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OK, a bit corny I know, but here’s Glen with the late, great Jerry Reed, who Steve Lukather mentioned in the preceding video:

 

To end with, Glen on electric 12-string doing what is very difficult on one of them. No, not fretting it (although for anyone with normal-sized fingers that’s tricky enough!) but bending the strings. Audio only, I’m afraid…

 

Thanks, Glen, and good luck where you’re going.

My favourite albums – 31–40

It’s a race against time to finish this before we up sticks here in the UK and lose internet connectivity for a time, so here’s numbers 31 to 40, hot on the heels of 41 to 50.

#40 Jason & the Scorchers – Lost and Found: Another tough choice, since everything this band does is God-like. However, this album has the amazing ‘White Lies’ which you can see performed live here. Warner E Hodges on guitar and Jason Ringenberg on vocals bring a strange blend of punk and country to the party and what a party this is. If you occasionally like getting shit-faced drunk and then waking up wondering what you did the night before then this may just be the band for you.

#39 Blue Oyster Cult – Spectres: OK, it only has one really well-known song on it – ‘Godzilla’ – but this was the first BOC album I bought so it has a special place in my heart. Rather mellow at times, the sheer range of material impresses, from ballads to straight pop to out and out rockers – and constantly underpinned by the classic line up with the ever-melodic Buck Dharma on guitar. Nice production, too, with lots of overdubs and stereo panning, making it a great ‘headphone’ album. For those who thought that ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ is all there is to BOC, think again. This is intelligent heavy metal with more than a whiff of irony. Or is that what they want you to think so that they can get away with being dumb? Whatever, a great band and still making good albums in their fifth decade.

#38 The Tubes – Completion Backwards Principle: All early and mid period Tubes is fine stuff, but this slick yet rocking sixth album from the band is my favourite. It’s consistently good, with Fee Waybill’s combination of schmaltz and stadium rock vocals in fine form and the band sounding heavier than on previous recordings. Female vocalist Re Styles has gone – no great loss – but the rest of the original band is all present and correct. The opening track features Steve Lukather on guest guitar and still figures in their live set. Elsewhere on the album you’ll find the usual Tubes freakshow with ‘Mr Hate’, ‘Sushi Girl’ and ‘Attack of the 50 foot Woman’ the latter of which deals with an aspect of a relationship with such a lady that you wanted to know about but probably wouldn’t dare ask…

#37 Todd Rundgren – Hermit of Mink Hollow: Typical quirky Todd but a tad more consistent than usual. Quite a lot of his great guitar playing with a lovely guitar ‘choir’ on ‘Lucky Guy’. ‘Onomatopoeia’ is silly and fun with daft sound effects and ‘Out of Control’ features some excessive rock guitar. ‘Can We Still be Friends’ is the classic track here and demonstrates his ability to write a beautifully constructed melody with a chord structure to match. File under ‘eccentric genius’.

#36 The Who – Who’s Next: The best track on the album – ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – is definitely a desert island disc. Big Townshend guitars, classic Moon and Entwhistle rhythm section and Daltrey’s passionate delivery of lyrics which take a while to really understand (they’re not obvious at all, no matter what many people think) make this one of my favourite songs and performances of all time. The rest of the album’s great too, with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Baba O’Reilly’ getting heavy rotation here. A band at their peak – and no concept album bullshit…I hated ‘Tommy’!

#35 Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow: This was very much a transitional album for one of my favourite guitarists. After showing how rock should be played, Jeff moved on to Fusion with mixed but sometimes breathtakingly wonderful results. ‘Diamond Dust’ and ‘Scatterbrain’ reveal a lyricism and frenzy respectively that he tapped into more effectively than previously and are both exceptions to my theory that about 95% of every Beck track is crap, whilst the rest is pure unobtanium. Here the ratios are more like 50:50 which is good for such an unreliable player. If you can look past the glaring flaws, this album is a real keeper.

#34 The Smiths – The Smiths: Damn…they almost didn’t make it as ‘Hatful of Hollow’ is my absolute favourite but it’s a compilation so isn’t allowed inclusion here under my own rules. However, there’s enough of Morrisey’s jaded vocals and troubled and troubling lyrics and Johnny Marr’s glorious guitar here to make up for it. The rhythm section was just perfect, too – even though overlooked now as the Smiths recede further into rock history. We’ve got real songs here that surprise within a standard rock format and it’s always the songs that are important – take out one element for special attention and it lessens their impact. ‘This Charming Man’ is a stone classic – high life guitar combined with Rusholme reality.

#33 Dan Baird – Songs for the Hearing Impaired: Dan used to be chief vocalist with the Georgia Satellites and on this album he has a really good stab at a Stonesy, Facesy, country type album and largely succeeds. It’s hard not to smile when I hear a lot of this – particularly with a goofy song like ‘I Love You Period’ which deals with schoolboy lust channeled to improve punctuation. Nice gutsy playing on this album too. If you like that Stones/Faces ‘chug’ then Dan is most definitely your man.

#32 Donald Fagen – The Nightfly: Maybe just a little too smooth, this is still a wonderful record that perhaps tries just a tad too hard to be jazzbo cool. The playing is stellar – all those top session men – the songs are jazzy and melodic and Fagen’s voice has that cracked vulnerability in spades here.  It’s possibly one of the most played albums I have and yet I far prefer Steely Dan. Becker adds a sharpness and quirkiness that levens Fagen’s jazz excesses. Duff tracks? None, but overall there’s just a bit of energy lacking. Sometimes you can be just too damned laid back.

#31 Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art: I’ve never bathed in warm maple syrup, but this is probably as close as your ears will get to it. Take Brian Wilson’s amazing vocals, add Parks’ idiosyncratic music and lyrics, toss in a bunch of great session players and adjust to taste with a soupcon of Disney. This is what you end up with. ‘Sail Away’ is a great summer song and if you fancy a ‘tropical zone’ in the middle of a cold February, play this track. ‘Hobo Heart’ has some amazing harmony vocals but you don’t find yourself asking where Carl and Al are. An album to relax to and maybe enjoy with a cocktail or two.

Bookends revisited

When I was thinking what to blog about I had the idea of revisiting albums I hadn’t heard for a long while and reviewing them.

By chance I heard a track off Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bookends’ album on the radio a couple of weeks ago, hauled out my copy which I hadn’t played for about 10 years and then was totally blown away by how good it still sounded. Anyway, I thought it might be a good first album to review and mentally filed the notion away.

When I heard that the acoustic guitar genius Davey Graham had died, it brought the Bookends idea right back.

Why?

Because Paul Simon was a big Graham fan and recorded his signature composition ‘Anji’ on one of the albums he did with Art Garfunkel and the same friend who turned me on to Davey Graham turned me on to ‘Bookends’.

So, here goes…a re-appreciation (does that word even exist?) of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bookends’.

I didn’t used to like Simon and Garfunkel.

Whilst Dylan’s first forays into folk rock had drive and far more of a rock feel, tracks like ‘I am a Rock’ and ‘Sounds of Silence’ just seemed a bit lame and ‘pretty’.

However, something about ‘Bookends’ just grabbed my attention from the moment I heard it. The album cover didn’t look very impressive – a black and white photo of two rather nerdy looking guys had no chance in the visual stakes against the garish and trippy exterior of something like ‘Axis Bold as Love’ or ‘Disraeli Gears’…but when you got to the music…

I’ve heard the album described by some as a – eek! – ‘concept album’ and I suppose that the first side (remember vinyl?) has a loose suite of songs bookended with…er…the Bookends tracks. That leaves Side 2 which still, somehow, maintains a sort of continuity with side 1 that may or may not have been intentional.

The album opens with the Bookends Theme – just a brief and simple guitar instrumental that sets the tone of what is essentially a very acoustic album when you strip away everything apart from the guitar, bass and drums. These three instruments are the instrumental ‘core’ of the whole album. There’s Hal Blaine’s perfect drumming – never overpowering but always bang on the money – Joe Osborn’s subtle but inventive and propulsive bass guitar and Paul Simon’s excellent acoustic guitar.

Everything else that’s added is like the ‘seasoning’ to the basic dish served up by the rhythm section and sometimes it’s a bit of OOMPH like cayenne pepper and sometimes it’s a mild fragrancy like rosemary.

The first ‘proper’ track has the cayenne…’Save the Life of my Child’ crashes in with what was back then a very new instrument – the Moog synthesiser. There are also gospel choirs drenched in reverb sitting back in the mix which sometimes sound close, sometimes very distant, sound effects, a bit of backwards ‘Sounds of Silence’, lots of simultaneous spoken accompaniment to Simon’s singing and the whole track just sounds vast. That’s because there’s space in the overall arrangement and mix and underneath it, all the time, the rhythm section with Simon’s rock steady guitar.  The subject matter is a suicide which has various bits of comic relief with the spoken words and the cod Irish accents from Simon. I have no idea why, but the main character always seems to me to be almost the same person as in ‘The Boxer’ – a troubled, buffetted soul who finds some sort of peace at the end. The cyclic codas of both songs seem similar too and ‘The Boxer’ has that same cavernous reverb. A magnificent track and possibly my favourite on the whole album.

‘America’ next, which fades in gently as the previous track fades out. It has some Leslie guitar on it which I’m assuming is acoustic by the sound of it. I don’t recall that effect ever being used before except on electric guitar. So, into what is really a sort of road movie set to a song with some great lyrics ranging from the banal – ‘So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies’ – to the deeply personal – ‘Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping. I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why’. It’s a song about being lost and trying to find where you are both literally and metaphorically I think and it also has a cyclic coda which may be there to emphasise the lost theme – running around in circles with no way out. And, yet again, lots of reverb which is becoming a sort of extra ‘instrument’ on the album.

The sound of a cigarette (maybe even a joint?) being lit opens ‘Overs’. This is the rosemary, tinged with a bitterness; a short and simple song with double tracked acoustic guitars and a chord sequence that shows that Simon was no three chord strummer like Donovan at the time. More of Don later…Not my favourite track by a long shot. It’s OK, doesn’t outstay its welcome and is ‘over’ quickly. Good relief though after the intensity of the previous two tracks. Well sequenced, whoever did it!

Next up, a track called ‘Voices of Old People’ which is exactly what it says on the tin. Garfunkel recorded the collage voices and whilst it’s very appropriate thematically it’s also very skippable most of the time.

Lovely acoustic guitar chords and a distant string section bring us into ‘Old Friends’ which climaxes in a very strange coda with dischords and variations on the main theme from the strings which eventually take over the whole track. Beautiful, gentle and unexpected, but with a hint of menace about the overall feel of the string arrangement. I think the coda is actually meant to be the act of dying (maybe an invading cancer?) represented by the strident strings and then resolves to a calmness (the peace that follows death?) leading into a vocal version of the ‘Bookends Theme’. Again this ends with more cyclic musical motifs this time from the guitar behind the final lyrics: ‘Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you’.

I’m not too sure how I really feel about the ‘old people’ theme of the last half of side 1. I was going to say that I don’t really rate it and that it’s the part of the album I tend to skip, but I think I may be fooling myself. It’s not – to my ears at least – very comforting and it vaguely disturbs me. I guess it’s that old ‘intimations of mortality’ thing rearing its ugly head and when you’ve had more of your life than you have left that can really throw you a curve. I think that Paul Simon may have scared me and what seems something to be avoided is simply something I don’t want to face up to.

Side 2 opens with ‘Fakin’ It’. A strange high note brings it in which sounds like a mellotron but I’m guessing Larry Knethchel on organ with the brass section added. This sound provides the strong flavouring which is maintained through most of the track and is repeated with another long note at the end. Halfway through there’s a sort of dream sequence during which a nod is made to Donovan – ‘Good morning Mr Leitch, have you had a busy day?’ – and the whole lyric gets very trippy with references to ‘the tailor’ the meaning of which eludes me, but the rest of the song  seems to be sung by the same guy as in ‘America’ – and he’s still lost…

‘Punky’s Dilemma’ starts with a jazzy, swinging chord sequence from Simon with nice use of the major 7th in the tonic chord and goes on to some surreal lyrics -‘Talkin’ to a raisin who ‘casion’ly plays L.A., casually glancing at his toupee’ – which seem to be about a whole range of totally disconnected subjects such as draft dodging, treating your neighbours well and imagining what’s it’s like to be a cornflake. I don’t understand the lyrics but it doesn’t matter – especially with Osborn’s great bass lines which are inventive but propulsive. Great S&G harmonies in the middle, by the way.

The best known song on the album comes next – ‘Mrs Robinson’ – originally written for ‘The Graduate’ film. Great ensemble playing from the rhythm section, particularly the guitar. Now a bit over familiar but still a great song with minimal instrumentation and great harmonies. It doesn’t really seem to have much to do with the film and I seem to recall hearing somewhere that it was shoehorned into ‘Bookends’ because it was a hit single. In fact, it would have fitted rather well into side 1. Strange…

‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ was a single too. Simon has switched to his Guild 12 string for this. I seem to recall an interview in which he professed not to like the guitar although it sounds good here. He makes it sound a bit like a harpsichord with the arpeggios and chord inversions he employs. Nice arrangement with a wind and brass section in evidence and Knetchel is back with the Hammond. The song comes across as a distant relative of ‘Californian Dreamin” by the Mamas and the Papas. A sort of happy/sad type song – uptempo with rather dark lyrics.

The album concludes with ‘At the Zoo’ which has a very cute bossa nova type opening which could be from a children’s song although the lyrics soon contradict that mood with their anthropomorhic descriptions of the various animals. So, maybe Simon is talking about us humans as zoo animals. It works either way – as an amusing look at the zoo or at the human race in general. Very piano-based with Simon’s guitar mixed fairly well back most of the time. The phasing at a couple of points was all the rage at the time but it doesn’t date the track at all. I’m guessing here, but it sounds as if it was one of the last tracks to be recorded as it has a sort of similar feel to a couple of tracks on their next album – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.

Well, that’s it for ‘Bookends’ as originally released and that’s the end as far as I’m concerned. The album has been reissued lately with a couple of bonus tracks which add nothing (like most bonus tracks) and just bugger up the end for me.

For me, the star of the album has to be Paul Simon with his amazing compositions, singing and guitar playing. Sure, there are one or two nice harmony moments with Art but, as he showed with his solo career, Simon could make solo albums as good as any he made as a duo.

The other stars are the production and arrangements. Together they introduce variation into the basic tracks of guitar, bass and drums with often minimal use of other instruments and nothing ever gets crowded or messy like it sometimes did in the next album.

I suppose ‘Bookends’ is very much of its time, but it still sounds amazingly fresh to me and not dated. It’s an incredibly dark album for much of the time and would be depressing if it wasn’t for the brightness of the production, often very upbeat arrangements and the occasional spot of humour.

Comparisons are often odious, but if we’re thinking that The Beatles’ ‘Seargeant Pepper’ and The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ and The Byrds’ ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ were around at roughly the same time then ‘Bookends’ stands up really, really well. ‘Pepper’ seems cluttered and messy with some genuinely embarrassing moments which date it terribly. ‘Sounds’ shows that you can use a whole shedload of sessionmen and produce great, great music. Then you hear ‘Bookends’ and you realise that you can produce equally good results with a mere handful. The Byrds album is possibly the closest in terms of overall feel (folk rock innit?) but the compositions really let it down with some real turkeys from David Crosby.

(There’s a strange continuity here – Blaine, Knetchel and Osborn all played on both ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Bookends’…hell, Blaine and Knetchel even played on the Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine Man single…)

As I’ve mentioned, after ‘Bookends’ came the ‘Bridge’ album and it started to all fall apart. From what I can gather, the two albums were both recorded rather piecemeal – I seem to recall reading that that ‘Bridge’ in particular was cobbled together from demos and tracks they weren’t too sure they should include – but whereas ‘Bookends’ has a cohesion that forces you to listen to the whole thing at one sitting, ‘Bridge’ just sounds like a collection of very variable songs that you can dip into at will. It has ‘The Boxer’ which is an amazing track and will one day get an entry here of its very own – but it also has ‘El Condor Pasa’ which might be embryonic ‘world music’ and a precursor of the later ‘Graceland’ album but I just can’t stand the track. It also has ‘Bye Bye Love’ which just has to be padding. I can’t think of any other reason for its inclusion on the album.

If you like the first few solo albums that Paul Simon made then ‘Bookends’ is probably the closest duo album in terms of a similar sound and I unreservedly recommend it as the best Simon and Garfunkel release.

A classic 10!

The next ‘revisitation’ will be on The Tubes’ ‘Completion Backwards Principle’ album.