Shout it from the mountains - Glen Campbell is cool again! How cool is that? By cool, I mean hip, happening, and relevant. For the first time in a long time there is a buzz concerning the man who has been at or near the center of pop and country music for almost 50 years. And all that talk and excitement revolves around his new standout album Meet Glen Campbell.Campbell has had such a long and storied career, I deem it prudent to revisit that career and render a verdict on the “coolness” or “uncoolness” of the different stages of his life.
Early 1960’s – Campbell began his professional career as a session musician in Los Angeles. He along with other session players became known as “The Wrecking Crew”. Campbell would play as many as three recording sessions a day for the likes of Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Ray Charles, Righteous Brothers, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Way cool!
1964 – Glen Campbell a Beach Boy? This sounds like one of those rumors you find listed on scopes.com. But this one is definitely true, unlike the false one that claims that Frank Zappa is the son of Mr. Green Jeans of Captain Kangaroo fame. Campbell toured with the Boys for a year and a half playing bass and singing harmony at a time when Brian Wilson was ill. It’s always cool to be a Beach Boy.
Mid to late 60’s – With a trio of Jimmy Webb penned hits (By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Galveston, and Wichita Lineman) and one by John Hartford (Gentle On My Mind) Campbell was on the road to pop superstardom. The man from Billings, Arkansas had arrived and in a big way. Campbell was competing with the Beatles, Stones, Elvis, and The Monkees on the pop charts and more than held his own. This was a time when pop music was great and these songs stand the test of time. Cool indeed!
1969 – The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Tommy Smothers was instrumental in launching Campbell’s television career as the "aw-shuck"s good ol’ boy host of his own musical variety show. And while the controversial Smothers Brothers own career went down in flames, Campbell’s flourished by being non-confrontational. To his credit, Campbell exposed many talented, fledgling musical acts to millions of viewers, but his show lacked the biting humor and political satire of the Smothers. Semi-cool!
True Grit. Let me see, film legend and western icon John Wayne asks you to star in a western with him. How can you say no? Campbell didn’t and turned in a respectable performance as Wayne’s sidekick. Definitely cool!
Mid 70’s – 1981. Do we really have to go there? Campbell would score hits with Rhinestone Cowboy and Southern Nights but his personal life would take a tumble as drug addiction and a disastrous relationship with country starlet Tanya Tucker would take its toll on his career. Uncool!
1980’s – 90’s. Campbell would take control of his personal demons. He would marry for the fourth time, undergo a religious conversion, put out some award winning gospel albums, write his autobiography, and play Branson, Missouri. While Branson is a nice enough town (SinCity without the sin), it’s known as a place where former country stars spend their golden years content to rest on their laurels; smile, say a few jokes and churn out the old hits. That’s all that’s required of you. Nothing new and innovative can emanate from these stages. Campbell’s stint in Branson alone makes this period of his career the antithesis of cool.
2003 – A much publicized DUI arrest and subsequent jail stint did nothing to help the Rhinestone Cowboy’s career or reputation. And while some mug shots give off the look of cool defiance, Campbell’s is just plain ugly and only made uglier by smokinggun.com that I assume will keep it posted for years. Again – uncool!
2008 – Meet Glen Campbell. This is an astounding recording, not one of your father’s Glen Campbell vinyl records. This is not so much a comeback as it is a reemergence. Thus the title. 72 year old Campbell hasn’t looked and sounded this good since…the sixties. Producer Julian Raymond was instrumental in the selection of the songs and what an amazing group of songs they are. This is a covers project, but Campbell breathes new life into these “old” songs and makes them uniquely his own. He covers U2, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, John Lennon, and the Velvet Underground. Yes, that Velvet Underground. It’s hard to believe that one could utter Glen Campbell and the Velvet Underground in the same sentence. But Campbell delivers the coolest version of the group’s Jesus that you ever heard. Campbell also covers younger alternative rock artists such as Greenday, Travis, and Foo Fighters. While there is the occasional mandolin and banjo, make no mistake about it – this is a pop record. Bonus tracks consist of classic Glen Campbell hits remixed. This album will surely make the best of 2008 music lists. The coolest!
The Wichita lineman is still on the line and yes he’s doing fine. He’s playing sold out concerts in cool clubs like LA’s Troubadour. Perhaps Glen’s next project would be “unplugged” – just him and his guitar.
Now that would be cool!
Visit http://music.aol.com/video/sing-sessions/glen-campbell/2198840 for a recent Glen Campbell performance.