There are a couple of other songs that they've heard many times, as well. But maybe not sung by their patriarch. This performance is previewing the release of a new Glen Campbell album unlike any before, with songs drawn from the catalogs of figures ranging from John Lennon ('Grow Old With Me') and Jackson Browne ('These Days') to Lou Reed (the Velvet Underground's 'Jesus') and Green Day ('Good Riddance'), as well as songs by U2, Travis, Tom Petty and others. The brainchild of producers Julian Raymond (Rosanne Cash, the Wallflowers) and Howard Willing, the collection at once harks back to Campbell's classic hits drawn from some of the greatest songwriters of the time (Jimmy Webb with 'Wichita Lineman' and 'Galveston,' John Hartford with 'Gentle on My Mind' and New Orleans icon Allen Toussaint with 'Southern Nights,' among others), the arrangements at both recalling the classic sounds and sounding remarkably fresh -- and ditto for Campbell's singing. And it comes at a time when the Arkansas native at 72 (72!) is being newly celebrated for his ace work as a '60s session musician on countless landmark tracks by the Beach Boys (of which he was a touring member for a while), the Righteous Brothers and even Frank Sinatra as a member of the vaunted Wrecking Crew, the subject of a new, acclaimed documentary. And his chops are as strong as ever, as shown by the wicked solo he takes on the Sessions rendition of 'Wichita Lineman.' It all makes a case that for several new generations and even some older ones, it's a perfect time to meet (or re-meet) Glen Campbell, which is great since the title of the album is, in fact, 'Meet Glen Campbell.' So let's meet him ... in his real voice:
You've been in this business for 50 years, and yet the title of the album is 'Meet Glen Campbell.'
Yeah, 'Meet Glen Campbell' -- again, I guess. You got to call it something.
Do you think for a lot of people that this will be the chance to meet you fresh?
What do you think will be the attraction?
I think the songs that Julian picked. He said he wanted to do an album with Capitol and I said, "Fine [but] you pick [the songs], 'cause I've run out of ideas. That's why I haven't recorded one in a while. And he brought this whole big list -- there must have been 50 songs in there, and I listened to them, listened to them, listened to them ... And I finally picked out some that I liked -- more than two dozen anyway. And we kind of put our heads together and said, 'Hey, lets do this, this and this.' I was really pleased to find something that's like -- the Beatle guy, I forget his name [John Lennon]. [Starts singing 'Grow Old With Me.'] What a great song that is. Julian just does a great job of picking the stuff.
As you picked the ones you wanted to do, what were you looking for in these songs?
Just a good lyric, actually. I can change a chord progression, I can change a melody, but you got to have the lyric, and I was really a stickler for that one because early on I was working at American Music writing songs, and it really gave me an insight on what went with what. [Producer] Jimmy Bowen and I were really the guys who were making the demos for American Music. They were giving us, I think, ten dollars a song or something like that to put it all together if we wrote them. And then of course we'd all have fun, and it just really helped me as far as picking material goes, especially to work with somebody like Jimmy for all those years when he became the big producer in the world.
You've worked with some great songwriters over the years.
Oh, Jimmy Webb! 'Wichita Lineman' was the most played song in the millennium. I didn't know what that millennium was until he told me. In the history of the world, this is the most played song, period. And he won the award for it, that was 20-something years later -- great song, just a great song. 'Galveston,' oh, everything Jimmy writes. To sit down and write 'MacArthur Park,' and then write the chart and then take it to England and have [Richard Harris] put his voice on. It was just, it's an incredible thing. I don't know if that could ever happen again.
What do you think the name "Glen Campbell" means to Green Day and Foo Fighters fans?
It's because of my musicianship and probably the pick of songs.
On the other side, what do you think "Green Day" means to a Glen Campbell fan?
If they're my fan they should be Green Day's fan, because they had some great stuff. Probably still got it.
Did you know any of these songs beforehand? Were you familiar with them?
GC: Oh, I heard them, yeah. I'd heard them, you know. I didn't hear the John Lennon one. How blessed is that? You know, you get a John Lennon song that's never been recorded. [Begins to sing song] What a great melody.
How about 'Sing'? Did you know that song before with Travis?
I've heard it before, yeah. It's just a good melody, good lyrics, everything.
Do you hold these songs up to 'Wichita Lineman'? Do you think they stand with that?
Yeah, I really do. They're different kinds. We've got more uptempo songs.
'These Days' is just an absolutely gorgeous song.
[Starts to sing song] That's got a good chord progression, too; a good melody and lyrics.
Let's talk about one line from that song, 'Please don't confront me with my failures.'
[Sings the line] It's just a really good -- and I messed them up again. Every time I change it when I sing it I mess it up.
When you sing that line what do you think about?
I think the guy when he wrote the song was hurting.
When you sing a song like that, does it become about your life too?
Oh, yes, definitely. I wrote that [similar-themed] song 'Turn Around, Look at Me' and that's one of the, that's my signature song as far as a songwriter. It was a big hit for me.
Have you talked to any of the people who originated these songs?
No, I haven't. I mean, I've probably talked to them down the line. There was a period when I moved out to Phoenix for a while [and] was out of contact.
As you made these songs your own, did you go back and study the originals?
Oh, yes, Julian gave me them -- and I sat down and listened and culled the ones I didn't like and kept the ones I like. He had a lot of songs. He had a stack of paper two inches high and every one had a song on it.
Do you think it's possible for somebody starting today to have the same kind of career you've had?
People have to find their niche. I fell in a pothole with mine. It just was incredible to have all those songs and have the albums already cut, and then Tommy Smothers said [in 1968], "Host 'The Summer Smother Brothers Show!" Well, I had six albums out probably, and I had Anne Murray on the show, and our two acts sold a zillion records. I couldn't believe the power of television when it comes to people, and they have to like you. On television, people either like you or don't like you. It's no in between, but they obviously liked Anne Murray and my stuff, or the Bobbie Gentry stuff that I did. That was really good to get to do duets with those two gals. Bobbie had her own style of everything, and when you heard her you knew who it was and she was a good writer. She wrote some incredible songs, and look at old Annie, boy, she was incredible.
There's a new movie out about the Wrecking Crew, which you were a part of. Why do you think there's so much interest in that era now?
It was just a great era for just great music. Phil Spector probably had a hand in starting most of that. I was strictly doing sessions then because I could go out and make more money playing on recording sessions. The Wrecking Crew ... it was one of the best bunch of musicians that I've ever worked with -- anyplace, anytime, and I think it's great that they had a name like the Wrecking Crew. Our anniversary with those guys, it was unbelievable, it was a lot of fun.
Are there any young artists today whom you see as a kindred spirit?
Keith Urban, what a talent! When I first met him, he came to my concert in Australia. He was about 8 years old, and he said, 'Mr. Campbell, when I grow up I'm gonna play guitar and sing.' And I said, 'Fabulous.' And look at him. He's a great songwriter, he's the best guitar player in the world, probably, and he's married to one of the most beautiful women in the world. And they just had a kid, that's fabulous!