Monday, February 17, 2014

Pieces of poetry, woven in a Webb

Something happened a decade or so before I was born that shaped my life forever.

People were in an introspective mood. It's easy to understand. The upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s -- Civil Rights, feminism, Vietnam, Watergate -- had left their marks.

Everyone from philosophers to filmmakers were trying to make sense of it all. One songwriter in particular, Jimmy Webb, created pieces of poetry. He set them to music. Singers as varied as Glen Campbell and Richard Harris (!) were his interpreters.

Jimmy Webb is my favorite songwriter. He created songs that stretch deep and wide, plucking my heartstrings. Glen Travis Campbell was his most frequent and best conduit. (Although don't miss a fantastic more recent album of Webb's songs as sung by the superb Michael Feinstein.)

Last night I heard a line. No, scratch that. Last night, I heard the line.

And I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time...

So I dug out my vinyl copy of "Wichita Lineman." Whether by Webb or someone else, the songs grabbed me, stabbed me, convinced me this is Glen Campbell's best work.

Besides the title track, the album features Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," "If You Go Away," The Brothers Gibb's "Words," Campbell's own composition "Fate of Man," the unfairly maligned "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife," Sonny Curtis' "The Straight Life," and Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe."

Glen Campbell was at the top of the mountain here, as was Webb and arranger/producer Al De Lory. With a couple of misses (I'd prefer never to hear Billy Edd Wheeler's "Ann" ever again), this is an almost perfect phonograph.

Webb's lyrics, like others of the period, are light-years removed from today's popular music. I even like his mercilessly ridiculed "MacArthur Park," and I don't care what you think about that. It's a beautiful song, bombastic but majestic in its way, particularly the bridge (After all the loves of my life, I'll be thinking of you...).

What's more romantic than saying you need your love more than you want her, and you'll love her for all time?

Poetry, my friends. Pure poetry.

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