ALBUM REVIEW: Glen Campbell, By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Glen Campbell’s album By the Time I get to Phoenix is a classic record never to be forgotten. The title song won Campbell both a Grammy in the pop and country categories. The album as a whole shows Campbell’s vocals at their best. He often channels an Elvis style and expresses his wide vocal range. The liner notes on the back of the sleeve say, “tall he stands and tall he sings.”

This album came out around the time Campbell was 36 and it was only his 7th album of more than 70. Campbell was already on his second marriage. This could be why this album is a heartbreak album. There isn’t a song of love won, it’s all lost. Yet there is a sense of vulnerability.

The true gem on this album is “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” penned by the famed Jimmy Webb. Jimmy Webb, who happens to be from Elk City, Oklahoma (hence, “By the time I get to Oklahoma…”), has written songs for The Supremes, Elvis Presley, R.E.M., and Barbra Streisand. It’s safe to say that he is quite a versatile writer.

“By The Time I  Get to Phoenix” is one of Campbell’s signature tunes, yet it is often overshadowed by “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Gentle on My Mind.” Phoenix is a true musical gem. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? What are his plans? These are often the questions anybody falling out of love ask themselves. He’s confused and has taken to the road, what many of us have wished to do many times in our lives.

When the album is listened to in its entirety it listens like a continuous story. The songs tell a story of an off and on again relationship. It starts with the drive off, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” but he then immediately goes into Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound.” It’s almost a concept album.

Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now he’s speeding back home, yet “Tomorrow Never Comes.” Considering the listeners don’t know where he ended up, this could have been quite a long drive. He must have returned home in the winter, or at least his girl was giving him the cold shoulder. This is explained in “Cold December.” Then she leaves during “My Baby’s Gone.” Although, he bounced back quickly considering he states he is “Back in the Race.” It’s the instant rebound confidence.

Side two shows regret, a slight feeling of low self-confidence, and an eventful depressing end. Campbell’s vocals sore on “Hey Little One,” showing an impressive chest range and suburb stylization. He eventually ends with “Love is a Lonesome River.” There wasn’t a happy ever after, there was a sad reality wrapped in a musical masterpiece.

Each song on this album can stand alone and is memorable. There isn’t a single song that seemed like a “filler.” Campbell’s vocals are in their best shape and they only get better with his continued albums. This record deserves a listen from pop and country listeners alike.

ALBUM REVIEW: Diana Ross, Self-Titled

In the year of 1970, the musical world was going through major adjustments. Civil Rights had finally made its way through and black artists were being recognized in the mainstream music scene. Labels, such as Motown, made this push possible.

Diana Ross
The Supremes in 1965. Left to right: Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross. (Photo credit: Black Enterprise)

The Supremes had emerged as one of the top African American mainstream acts. They had tremendous success with unforgettable, chart toping tunes including “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Baby Love.” As one of their last albums was titled, they were the cream of the crop.

By 1970 it was time for a change and that included The Supremes lineup. Diana Ross had emerged a star and Motown owner and founder, Berry Gordy, saw this. Many accredit this to their once love affair, but her continued and proven success over the last forty years proves that Miss Ross had superstar chops. It was time for Diana to be placed outside of her comfort zone and become a solo act.

How liberating. How frightening.

Diana Ross proceeded to record an album with some familiar tracks on her own. She worked with famed producers and artists, Ashford and Simpson, and she confidently recorded her first solo album.

This album produced two of Ross’ signature hits, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but there is much more to this album. I listened to this album years ago while cleaning my house thinking nothing of the other songs. They only served as background noise. Once I actually sat down and listened to this album I realized I was extremely wrong.

Diana Ross
Ross’s first solo LP, Diana Ross, featured her first solo number-one hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This album is jam packed with amazing songs. First, there is “Keep An Eye.” Ross had recorded this song before with The Supremes on the “Love Child” album, but there is a different feeling in her solo rendition. She hauntingly sings of how you should “keep an eye on your close friends” for a “friend is an enemy you can see.” The song goes on to explain how her friend stole her man, just because she loved him as much as she did. This proves fault on two sides and declares one victim. By the end of the song Ross explains how there used to be three of them, but now there’s only two. She urges listeners to guess who’s missing. Could this have been a situation that she perceived during her Supremes tenure?

Another song that really sticks out is “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is.” The song starts out jazzy and continues into a big band frenzy. One can just imagine Ross upon a piano in one of her signature gowns singing this song. She explains how she’s got a “funny kind of man.” She goes on to explain how he says he can get a long without her, and that she might as well forget candy and roses. She then exclaims how she wouldn’t change the man he is, for he is responsible for her “sunny days” and “although he brings her tears, she still loves the man he is.”

Ross has often spoke and written about her relationship with Barry Gordy. She claims he was very controlling, yet she often knew he had her best interests in mind. Could this have been a song for Mr. Gordy?

These are just two tracks that typify the depth of this album. Some of Ross’ best vocals can be found on this record. One can feel the freedom in her singing style. She no longer had weights to hold her down, she now gained full responsibility for all her actions. This was Diana Ross, the beginning of a legend.

Today, Ross still tours with her plethora of hits that she acquired through her solo recordings. I have been privileged to have seen her 3 times in concert and she is still a force to be reckoned with. Her first album is the prelude to everything Ross would become, both emotionally and musically. She proved there ain’t no valley high or low to keep us from hearing her tunes.