The circumstances in which the great Glen Campbell arrives at his 80th birthday today, 22 April, aren't those that anyone would have chosen for him, as he reaches the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. But the anniversary offers an opportunity to celebrate one of the true figureheads of American pop and country music of the last half-century. uDiscover proudly presents our new playlist of Glen Campbell In 20 Songs.
Born in Delight, Arkansas in 1936, Campbell played with the band headed by his uncle, Dick Bills, while still a teenager in the late 1950s. When he moved to Los Angeles, he honed his reputation as a brilliant guitarist for hire. He worked with the Champs in 1960 and then, as a member of the famed Wrecking Crew, groups like the Hondells and, most famously, the Beach Boys, of whom he was also a touring member for a time.
We could have filled another playlist with songs featuring Glen's session guitar work, which included appearances on Beach Boys singles such as 'Dance, Dance, Dance' and 'Help Me Rhonda' and the classic Pet Sounds album. He plays on Frank Sinatra's 'Strangers In The Night,' Frank's 'Somethin' Stupid' duet smash with daughter Nancy; and was part of the studio aggregation Sagittarius with fellow Beach Boys members and alumni Bruce Johnston, Terry Melcher, Gary Usher and colleague Curt Boettcher. Their Hot 100 entry 'My World Fell Down' is a prime example of superior West Coast pop of 1967.
Campbell made his national chart debut as early as 1961 when, signed to the Crest label, he reached No. 62 with 'Turn Around, Look At Me.' By the following year, he had started his long association with Capitol Records, and was already showing his ability to straddle the pop and country markets. 'Too Late To Worry – Too Blue To Cry' was a modest Hot 100 hit, while 'Kentucky Means Paradise' (credited to the Green River Boys featuring Glen Campbell) gave him an initial top 20 country hit.
After a mid-1960s chart flirtation with Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Universal Soldier,' and another country hit with 'Burning Bridges,' Campbell hit the stride that made him a major national and international star, and a much-loved TV series host and personality. His Grammy-winning recording of John Hartford's 'Gentle On My Mind' paved the way in 1967, before he started his enduring association with songwriter Jimmy Webb by covering his 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix.'
The improbable combination of the liberal-minded songwriter and the conservative vocalist would prove unstoppable, most memorably on indelible pop classics such as 'Wichita Lineman' and 'Galveston.' But Campbell and Webb's partnership produced countless other landmark recordings, including the further hits 'Where's The Playground Susie' and 'Honey Come Back' as well as later album projects such as 1974's Reunion: The Songs Of Jimmy Webb.
Five Campbell singles topped the country chart, and he continued to produce major hits in the format even when his recognition from the pop audience declined in the early 1970s. He was also in demand as an actor, starring opposite John Wayne in True Grit (the title song of which was another memorable 45), and later in Norwood and Strange Homecoming.
Glen would prove himself a versatile interpreter of other writers' material, notably of Larry Weiss' 'Rhinestone Cowboy' and Allen Toussaint's 'Southern Nights,' both of which Capitol singles reached No. 1 on the country and pop charts. Country hits such as 'A Lady Like You,' 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle' (with Steve Wariner) and 'I Have You' continued throughout the 1980s, and Campbell continued to be a huge box office draw worldwide, notwithstanding a period of well-publicised marital and drug-related problems.
Happily, he would find lasting love with his third wife Kim, whom he married in 1982 and to whom he is still wed. Her role in his care through his illness, and her decision with their family to go public about it, spoke volumes for their devotion and helped to shine a light on an often unspoken mental condition.
Joyously, in the musical care of such supporters as producers Julian Raymond and Howard Willing, Glen's final years of recording were full of some of the most memorable albums he had ever made. 2008's Meet Glen Campbell, 2011's Ghost On The Canvas and the 2013 release See You There overflowed with imaginatively-chosen covers, admirably suited to Campbell's golden tones, of material by everyone from Jackson Browne and Tom Petty to Lou Reed and Paul Westerberg.
This late career renaissance was further amplified, in the most poignant way imaginable, by the 2014 documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, directed by James Keach. The film followed the artist on his long farewell tour, and the soundtrack included both covers of his hits by modern-day admirers, and the deeply touching song that became his final recording, 'I'm Not Gonna Miss You.'