The Wichita Lineman
Dylan Jones’ luminous excavation of Jimmy Webb’s song ‘Wichita Lineman’ offers a portal into a defining moment of American cultural history.
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‘It’s just another song to me. I’ve written 1,000 of them and it’s really just another one.’ Jimmy Webb
‘When I heard it I cried. It made me cry because I was homesick. It’s just a masterfully written song.’ Glen Campbell
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.
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 fifty 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 in America at a moment of crisis. Fusing a dribble of bass, searing strings, tremolo guitar and 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 and haunted millions for over half a century. What is it about this song that continues to 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? Part biography, part work of musicological archaeology, The Wichita Lineman opens a window on to America in the late-twentieth century through the prism of a song that has been covered by myriad artists in the intervening decades.
‘Americana in the truest sense: evocative and real.’ Bob Stanley
A lively and revelatory study of Jimmy Webb's impossibly moving ballad... as Jones authoritatively explores its creation, reception and near-mythic aftermath, one understands why none other than Bob Dylan referred to it as the greatest song ever written. As Jones eulogises its greatest couplet – "And I need you more than want you/ And I want you for all time" – it is impossible not to want to listen to it again.
Author and GQ editor Dylan Jones builds a worthy case... balancing insight from the record’s creators with its influence on American culture and personal reflections on its artistry.
Engaging cultural history.
Jones lovingly unpicks the song’s mystery.
[Jones's] powerful affection for "Lineman" is evidence of music's extraordinary ability to cross cultural and geographical boundaries. The book tracks through the music scene of the time, as the boundaries of pop, country and rock were stretched... Devotees will not be disappointed... Mr Jones's tribute is nothing if not heartfelt.
If you're going to craft an entire book around one song, then it would have to be something like Glen Campbell's 1968 masterpiece 'Wichita Lineman'.
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