“Glen Campbell was the original country crossover guy,” Jimmy Webb contends, and he’s basically correct. Campbell’s late-’60s smash hits with Webb’s songs “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston”, as well as John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind”, were an integral part of country moving beyond the farm and into the city, where the masses snapped up his records so voraciously that he soon had his own prime-time TV show to boot.
The Glen Campbell Collection (1962-1989) features those four groundbreaking hits and 36 other tracks that document the ups and downs of Campbell’s popularity over four decades. The contrast between the collection’s first track (the bluegrass-tinged “Kentucky Means Paradise”) and the second (the sunny, rolling folk of “Gentle On My Mind”) speaks to the four years of distance between them, during which time Campbell did tenure on the road with the Beach Boys (as Brian Wilson’s replacement) and as a studio guitarist. Those experiences apparently steered Campbell in a much more pop-oriented direction, as the tracks that follow for the rest of the first disc stress string arrangements and the melodic strengths of classic songwriters such as Webb, John Loudermilk, Boudleaux Bryant and Gordon Lightfoot. The disc’s final track is about as jarring as the first, breaking from the countrypolitan mood with Campbell’s charging guitar leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through a romp of “The William Tell Overture.”
Disc two begins with a handful of lesser-known tunes from the early ’70s, when Campbell’s star power had waned somewhat even though he issued some of his best work during this period. (Reunion, a 1974 album recorded with Webb, was probably the best album of his career, and is sorely absent from this collection.) The disc gains steam a few tracks in with Campbell’s career resurgence of the mid-’70s on the strength of such hits as “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Country boy” and “Southern Nights”. The latter half of the disc covers Campbell’s gradual descent from pop heights once again, his presence occasionally being reaffirmed during the ’80s with a modest hit on the country charts.
As general career overviews go, Razor & Tie’s collection does a reasonable job of representing Campbell’s biggest hits and the cyclical nature of his popularity. For a deeper and often more interesting look beyond the songs that got played on the radio, Capitol’s recent reissues of four Campbell albums from the 1960s — Big Bluegrass Special, Gentle On My Mind, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Wichita Lineman — are well worth seeking out.