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.
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.