In the first of a new feature, we take a look at some classic songs that, due to the inevitable passing of time, aren’t heard very often yet are too good to be forgotten and consigned to a dusty grave.
1 – Witchita Lineman – Glen Campbell
Made famous by Glen Campbell, Witchita Lineman was originally written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb. Hailed as the “first existential country song” it was inspired by a drive through Washita County in Oklahoma, where Webb passed a seemingly endless row of telegraph poles and spotted in the distance the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop one of them. The lyrics tell of the loneliness of the solitary linesman as he goes about his work whilst yearning for his absent lover. Wishita was replaced by Witchita in the song, because it sang better according to Webb. Campbell stated that Webb had invested part of his real life experience into the song, alluding to his first love who married another man.
The BBC declared it was “one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music” and in 2004 it was ranked #172 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Why is it a classic?
It is a cherished country gem that drifts along on a wave of melancholy and reflection culminating in Campbell’s soaring high note that signifies release and freedom from the solitude. The musical structure of the song also emphasises a feeling of loneliness and longing as the tonic chord (which denotes the reference point for all other pitches of the piece) is played only once at the beginning and never repeated hence the sense of a journeyman trying to find home.
Year of release – 1968
Highest US Chart Position – #3
Highest UK Chart Position – #7
The most recent cover of the song was by REM.