In the two years from November 1967 to November 1969, Glen Campbell had nine singles on the Billboard Top 40 pop chart. The first, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, was a Jimmy Webb composition. Three of the others were Webb tunes as well: “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston” and “Where’s The Playground Susie?” Within the eclectic milieu of ’60s radio, Campbell and Webb fashioned unique accomplishments. Campbell brought twang to a sustained, widespread popular audience, arguably for the first time in the rock era.
Previous country crossover artists such as Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline and Tennessee Ernie Ford had possessed more classic pop singing voices than Campbell, whose Arkansas inflections were subtle but unmistakable. Webb fused the singer-songwriter sensibility Dylan had popularized with music that owed as much to Tin Pan Alley and Protestant hymnody as it did to rock ‘n’ roll.
While each artist achieved his greatest prolonged chart success during that late-’60s heyday, they reached their creative apotheosis in 1974 with Reunion, an album that was relatively unnoticed when released. Campbell had fallen out of popular favor and was around a year away from re-emerging to the mass audience with his first #1 pop song, “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Webb had pursued a solo career which, while artistically adventurous and prolific, was commercially unsuccessful.
With Reunion, the duo crafted an album that missed in the marketplace but stands as a masterpiece of American popular music, one that has been out-of-print for more than 20 years. Raven (an Australian label) has issued it for the first time on CD on Reunited With Jimmy Webb, 1974-1988, which supplements the original Reunion album with 14 Webb compositions covered by Campbell on six other records during a 15-year period.
The centerpiece of Reunion is “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress”. With an arrangement of lush strings colored by guitar, piano and oboe accents, the Campbell version shines as a masterful example of Webb’s romantic temperament — heartfelt longing for fulfillment with the beloved, balanced with the melancholy of knowing it is just out of reach.
This viewpoint also informs the rest of the album, which consists entirely of Webb originals except for the opener, Lowell George’s “Roll Me Easy”, and “About The Ocean”, a Susan Webb composition that perfectly replicates her brother’s style. Other highlights include “You Might As Well Smile”, later covered by Art Garfunkel; the exquisitely bitter “Adoration”; and the entrancingly rhythmic “Wishing Now”.
The standout among the songs recorded after Reunion is “Still Within The Sound Of My Voice”, the title track of a 1987 Campbell album. The song is an emotional cousin to Springsteen’s “Bobby Jean”, a plea for recognition by a lost companion. The tune (later rendered by Linda Ronstadt) ebbs and flows like a Spector opus, with more spaciousness and delicacy.
Reunited is a landmark for fans of American popular song, compositions of rare beauty standing testament to a uniquely perfect pairing of a singer’s voice with a songwriter’s vision. In an era where lack of craft and deconstructionist outlooks often masquerade as authenticity, and soulless genre exercises occupy much of the mainstream, Webb and Campbell’s may be the most alternative country music of all.