The Wichita Lineman – Searching in the sun for the World’s greatest song – Dylan Jones
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Dylan Jones' luminous excavation of Jimmy Webb's song 'Wichita Lineman' offers a portal into a defining moment of American cultural history. The sound of Wichita Lineman was the sound of ecstatic solitude - but then its hero was the quintessential loner. What a great metaphor he was: a man who needed a woman more than he actually wanted her. Here, deep in American Arcadia, was a man in deep existential crisis.
Written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb, "Wichita Lineman" is the first philosophical country song: a heartbreaking torch ballad still celebrated for its mercurial songwriting genius 50 years later. It was recorded by Glen Campbell in LA with a legendary group of musicians known as "the Wrecking Crew", and something about the song's enigmatic mood seemed to capture the tensions of America at a moment of unprecedented crisis. Fusing a dribble of bass, searing strings, tremolo guitar and Glen Campbell’s plaintive vocals, Webb’s paean to the American West describes a telephone lineman’s longing for an absent lover who he hears ‘singing in the wire’ – and like all good love songs, it’s an SOS from the heart.
Mixing close-listening, interviews and travelogue, Dylan Jones explores the legacy of a record that has entertained, perplexed and haunted millions for over half a century. What is it about this song that continues to fascinate and seduce listeners, and how did the parallel stories of Campbell and Webb - songwriters and recording artists from different ends of the spectrum - unfold in the decades following the song's success? Part biography, part work of musicological archaeology, The Wichita Lineman opens a window onto America in the late twentieth century through the prism of a song that has been covered by myriad artists in the intervening decades.