Today Glen Campbell is generally considered to be the epitome of country music cheese. However, he’s also one of the most talented artists in the history of American music. Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”? The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”? Numerous songs on Pet Sounds? Campbell played guitar on every single one of those recordings, as well as dozens of other classic pop songs in his 50-year career.
He’s won numerous Grammys, and in the late 1960s he even had his own network television show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. But during the last 35 years Campbell has been thrust into the spotlight not for his musical chops, but for his turbulent personal life, which has included a tumultuous, drug-filled relationship with fellow country singer Tanya Tucker—as well as a more recent arrest for drunk driving in 2003, despite his assertions of sobriety.
Personal life aside, Campbell has made a long and successful career out of being bland as a bowl of oatmeal, his music entirely inoffensive and perpetually well put together. That said, a few of these inoffensive songs are pop-country’s best, thanks not only to Campbell’s smooth delivery, but also the golden pen of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb. Greatest Hits features the three most widely known songs of this wildly successful partnership: “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. These three songs, along with “Rhinestone Cowboy”, would be enough to cement Campbell’s place in country music history. But Campbell is more than just his most popular work; Greatest Hits also includes lesser-known songs from the Campbell oeuvre, including “True Grit”, the title song of a movie he starred in with John Wayne, the quietly desperate “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife”, and a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe”. High-charting songs, all of them, but repeated listening reveal that most sound incredibly similar: soft strings, perfect tenor, nothing that particularly grabs you, but nothing that makes you want to turn off the record. The songs are not bad, but they certainly don’t point to the sense of variety and willingness to experiment that Campbell showed in his 2008 comeback.
The final two songs on this collection are from last year’s Meet Glen Campbell, an album on which Campbell tried to capture some of the success of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings by offering his own interpretation on songs from the Replacements, Green Day, and other modern pop/rock artists. Oddly enough, the two songs chosen—the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” and Jackson Browne’s “These Days”—are two of the weaker tracks from Meet Glen Campbell. Better songs could have been chosen to close Greatest Hits, and this error ends the record with a poorly covered whimper.
For Glen Campbell fans, or those who need a Campbell primer, Greatest Hits is a strongly assembled retrospective of a five-decade, 75-album career. Sure, most people under the age of 50 see him as a soft-pop cheeseball. But Glen Campbell has more musical talent in a callused fingertip than the whole of NashVegas has in their spray-tanned, Botoxed bodies. And for that, Campbell deserves appreciation.
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