In 1968, songwriter Jimmy Webb was driving through rural Oklahoma. He was feeling inspired from the success of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which Glen Campbell took to No. 2 on the country charts the year before. “Phoenix” was a cover by Campbell and now the Rhinestone Cowboy wanted Webb to write another song just for him. As he drove by endless telephone poles that stood stark against the desolate landscape, he was inspired to write the first lines of “Wichita Lineman”: I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload.
Webb never expected a song about a lonely lineman in rural America to become a smash success. He was still still struggling with the last verse when he sent it off to Campbell. Campbell recognized what he had and filled in the “missing” last verse with an epic and now-classic guitar solo.
“Wichita Lineman” has been called the “first existential country song”. What better time to be introspective than when isolated atop a utility pole? You can actually hear the narrator’s loneliness and desire as he sings the unforgettable line, “I need you more than want you and I want you for all time.”
“Wichita Lineman” hit No. 1 on Nov. 30, 1968. Watch Campbell’s iconic performance of the song below.
“Wichita Lineman” has been covered from everyone from Johnny Cash to R.E.M., but Campbell’s velvety vocal remains the essential recording. Campbell still calls “Lineman” his favorite out of all the songs he’s cut.
Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in early 2011. The documentary film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me follows Campbell and his family in the days after his diagnosis. Campbell is in Stage 7 of the degenerative disease. Campbell wrote and recorded the Grammy-winning “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” about his battle with Alzheimer’s in 2013.