On April 22, Glen Campbell will turn 79 years old. The past years haven’t been easy for the artist; his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s was boldly chronicled in the acclaimed 2014 documentary I’ll Be Me for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. Though the disease has reportedly robbed Campbell of his ability to communicate verbally, it’s understood that he still finds solace and comfort in the music of his guitar. It’s a small but important reward for Campbell considering the joy he’s brought to so many over the years, via 21 Top 40 hits, 27 Country Top 10 singles, six Top 20 albums, and nine No. 1 Country albums in the United States alone. Forty years ago, in 1975, Campbell scored one of his most delicious victories when the title track of his Rhinestone Cowboy album reached No. 1 Pop, Country and Easy Listening. It was a validation for him, as he felt that Larry Weiss’ song – said to have been turned down by Elvis Presley, among others – spoke to him on a deeply personal level. Capitol Nashville has just remastered and expanded Rhinestone Cowboy for a compelling anniversary reissue.
Campbell, like so many others of his era, was never considered an “albums” artist; his classic interpretations of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” and Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” all yielded albums of the same names, but the songs are remembered far more than the eclectic LPs. What’s most invigorating about revisiting Rhinestone Cowboy is the discovery that, as produced by Brian Lambert and Dennis Potter (The Grass Roots, The Four Tops), it coheres as a semi-autobiographical song suite by a musician and vocalist at the peak of his considerable powers.
Lambert and Potter, comfortable in a variety of genres from pure pop to R&B and blue-eyed soul, proved themselves the ideal producers to restore Campbell to “crossover’ success on both the pop and country charts. They supplied the first four songs on Rhinestone Cowboy, all crafted with AM-ready hooks but enough lyrical content for Campbell to prove his (all-too-underrated) mettle as a top-drawer vocal interpreter. The tailor-made “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” addresses the same themes as Weiss’ triumphant “Rhinestone Cowboy” and allowed the boy from Delight, Arkansas to reflect on where he came from and where he was going. The public responded to its irresistible melody and universal theme of holding onto one’s roots. It shot to No. 3 Country, No. 11 Pop and No. 1 Easy when it was released as the album’s second single (after the title track). “Comeback” uses showbiz parlance – a term applied frequently to Rhinestone Cowboy itself – to relay its romantic tale, and “[You Can Always] Count on Me” takes advantage of Campbell’s genuine, honeyed tones to cast him as a reassuring ex. On “I Miss You Tonight,” Campbell brought subtle nuance and close identification to the song’s theme of loneliness on the road. One of the most touching performances on the record, it’s a further reminder of just how strong and versatile a singer he was, in addition to being a first-class, first-call guitar slinger.
The Lambert and Potter tracks meshed beautifully with the sentiment of Weiss’ “Rhinestone Cowboy,” yet while the remaining tracks on the LP were more eclectic in nature, Campbell connected with them all. Mike Settle’s ballad “I’d Build a Bridge” finds the singer in the same reflective mode as “Country Boy” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” but with added vulnerability as he yearns to reconnect with a former flame. Johnny Cunningham’s “Pencils for Sale” blends melancholy and sentimentality; even better is Campbell’s crisp take on Randy Newman’s sad but beautiful “Marie.” Newman’s character, only able to express himself honestly while inebriated, is one of the songwriter’s famously flawed narrators. But singer and songwriter both find the dignity in this sad, rambling figure. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “We’re Over” is sung by another contemplative figure as he seeks closure on a relationship. Only a straightforward rendition of The Temptations’ Smokey Robinson-penned “My Girl” feels somewhat out of place, not through any fault of Campbell’s, but because the song is so overly familiar.
Five period bonus tracks have been added to sweeten the pot on this anniversary reissue. “Record Collector’s Dream,” the B-side of “Country Boy,” was best left off the album, but the Lambert and Potter-produced track is enjoyably quirky in its own way. “Coming Home (To Meet My Brother),” released on 45 in Japan only, transcends its origins as a Coca-Cola jingle in Campbell’s buoyant performance. The previously unreleased outtake “Quits,” penned by “Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues” composer Danny O’Keefe, is the best of the lot. A haunting elegy to a romance, it may have been too downbeat for the original album, but makes for a beautiful discovery here. The bonus material is rounded out by two latter-day remixes of “Country Boy” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” from Campbell’s last Greatest Hits album. These remixes subtly modernize the songs with a “dryer” sound largely emphasizing voice and guitar. If they ultimately can’t replace the power of the originals, they make for a testament to the enduring power of the songs and productions.
The attractive, full-color booklet designed by Susan Lavoie includes a fine essay by Brian Mansfield recounting the album’s history. Robert Vosgien has remastered with clarity. A welcome surprise for the album’s 40th anniversary, Capitol’s new Rhinestone Cowboy is a timely tribute to a timeless artist who paved the way for today’s pop-country crossover stars. It’s, well, a record collector’s dream.