Song of the Day, April 10: All I Know by Art Garfunkel

garfunkelalliknowToday’s song is a majestic tribute to love. When Simon and Garfunkel went their separate ways, Art Garfunkel took a little time to craft his solo debut. Angel Clare, produced by Garfunkel with long-time S&G partner Roy Halee, is a smart collection of songs that shows off the singer’s strong, flexible voice.

The highlight is the Jimmy Webb song All I Know, also Garfunkel’s first (and most successful) solo single. Soaring and anthemic, it looks at the transitory nature of life and relationships. In the face of this, the singer asserts, simply, “I love you, and that’s all I know.” It’s a smart construction, moving in its structure and delivery. After a full build with strings and horns, it drops so a simple piano line, emphasizing the need to focus on the basic truths in our lives. It’s a masterpiece of writing, singing, and production.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

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Song of the Day, March 27: Easy For You To Say by Linda Ronstadt

ronstadtclosereasyToday’s song is a smart moment by a master interpreter. By the time she recorded her 11th solo album, Linda Ronstadt was a superstar with a proven approach. Each disc included songs written by longtime friends and regular collaborators, a couple of classic covers, and a few songs by emerging songwriters. Get Closer is a solid effort that follows this pattern to good effect. The standout track was written by veteran composer Jimmy Webb.

Unlike the lush, intricate songs for which he is best known, Easy For You To Say is a simple track. It explores the frustration of a woman whose lover has abandoned her, offering shallow excuses. Ronstadt is in fine voice, mining the subtle ache of the lyrics nicely. She saves up her dismay for the chorus, smoldering as she sings the title line. With a crack band and smart production from long-time partner Peter Asher, she offers one of her finest moments on record.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, March 13: MacArthur Park by Richard Harris

rharrismacarthurToday’s song was a surprise chart smash — twice. The first version of MacArthur Park came about through a serious of interactions. Producer Bones Howe challenged Jimmy Webb to write a radio-friendly song with a classical structure in multiple movements. Webb rose to the challenge, crafting a four-part suite about the end of a romantic relationship. Howe offered it to the Association, but they passed. Not long after that, Webb was playing piano at a fundraiser and was approached by Richard Harris. The actor had just finished a successful run in Camelot and enjoyed singing, so he wanted to put together an album. Webb was skeptical, but the pair hit it off, and he wound up composing and producing A Tramp Shining for Harris. The centerpiece was MacArthur Park.

Famously complicated and filled with rich imagery, the song has been the object of admiration and scorn for nearly five decades. Webb was inspired to write it after breaking up with a long-time girlfriend whom he often met in the titular park. Although the song was released in 1968, he maintains that there were no psychedelic influences. The musical structure was a response to Howe’s challenge, and the images were adapted but literal.

Everything in the song was visible. There’s nothing in it that’s fabricated. The old men playing checkers by the trees, the cake that was left out in the rain, all of the things that are talked about in the song are things I actually saw. And so it’s a kind of musical collage of this whole love affair that kind of went down in MacArthur Park.

Despite its multiple movements and seven-and-a-half minute running time, the song was a smash, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #10 on the Easy Listening chart.

Even more surprising was its next incarnation. Producer Giorgio Moroder was looking for a classic 60s song to adapt to disco for Donna Summer. He ran across the Harris recording of MacArthur Park and knew he had the right one. He thought the range and dynamics of the song were a good fit for her powerful voice. The song was included in an 18-minute suite on her double live album. A radio edit became an even bigger hit than the Harris version, spending three weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 while the full suite topped the Dance chart for five weeks.

Enjoy the amazing original recording of this song and its fun disco successor today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending August 17, 1985

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Shout Tears For Fears 3
R & B Freeway of Love Aretha Franklin 3
Country Highwayman Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson,
Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson
1
Adult Contemporary Everytime You Go Away Paul Young 2
Rock Money For Nothing Dire Straits 3
Album Reckless Bryan Adams 2

Highwayman(men)This week sees an all-star quartet top the Country charts. Superstar songwriter Jimmy Webb wrote Highwayman for his 1977 album El Mirage. A brief bio-epic about a soul that wanders through four adventurous incarnations, it’s a classic Webb tune: reflective, mystical, and energetic. Frequent Webb collaborator Glen Campbell recorded the song in 1978. He wanted to release it as a single but was stymied by long-time label Capitol, an event that made him leave the company after 30 albums there.

A few years later, Campbell played the song for Johnny Cash, who thought it would be perfect for a collaborative project he was beginning with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. Coincidentally, Webb had offered Jennings the song earlier but he “just couldn’t see it.” Campbell played it again for the whole group and they agreed that the structure — four verses and four souls — was a perfect fit for four singers. It inspired them enough that they named their collaborative album Highwayman and nicknamed their quartet the Highwaymen.

The superstar version of Highwayman entered the Country chart in May 1985. This week, its 14th of a 20 week run, it hit the top. Given the star power of the song — and the weekly turnover at the top of the Country chart for most of the 80s — that peak is no real surprise. It added more weight to the significant chart legacies of all four performers.

  • Johnny Cash notched his last of 14 Country chart-toppers with the song, giving him 68 total weeks at the top. With 135 Country hits, he’s the 4th biggest performer on that chart. His biggest hit, 1958’s Ballad of a Teenage Queen, spent 10 weeks at the top and went to #14 on the Hot 100. His biggest of nearly 50 pop hits was the novelty song A Boy Named Sue [#2, 1969], which also topped the Adult Contemporary charts for two weeks, his biggest of a dozen hits there.
  • Waylon Jennings, another all-time top 20 Country chart legend, made the song his 14th of 15 chart-toppers (three of which he shared with Willie Nelson). He’s logged over 100 Country hits and crossed over to the Hot 100 a dozen times. His biggest single was 1977’s Lukenbach, Texas, with six weeks at #1 Country and a #25 peak on the Hot 100.
  • Kris Kristofferson has a smaller chart footprint but a long musical legacy. His biggest hit is 1973’s Why Me, which topped the Country chart for one week. It was a slow monster on the Hot 100; although it only peaked at #16, its record-setting 38-week run landed it at #6 in the year-end countdown.
  • Willie Nelson ranks #9 on the Country charts, with over 120 charting singles, 20 of which went to #1. Highwayman was his 16th chart-topper. A frequent collaborator, he had his biggest hit in 2002 with Beer For My Horses, a six-week #1 duet with Toby Keith. He’s had respectable crossover success as well. His cover of Always On My Mind was his best non-Country success, going to #5 as one of his dozen Hot 100 singles and to #2 in a similar run of Adult Contemporary hits.

Song of the Day, September 4: Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell

glen-campbell-wichita-lineman-1969Today’s song is Wichita Lineman, written by Jimmy Webb. It was first recorded and made famous by Glen Campbell. After some limited early success Webb burst onto the scene in 1966 when Johnny Rivers signed him to a publishing deal. He and Campbell experienced early success in 1967 with By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Campbell’s first big hit [#26 Pop, #2 Country, #12 Easy Listening]. That same year, Webb collaborated with the 5th Dimension, contributing five songs to their debut album including the big hit Up-Up and Away [#7 Pop, #9 Easy Listening]. At the 1968 Grammy Awards, those two songs took home eight awards.

While driving through Oklahoma, Webb noticed the seemingly endless line of telephone poles; in the distance he saw a lineman atop one pole and found the loneliness inspiring. He wrote Wichita Lineman and decided it was perfect for Campbell, who agreed. The result was an even bigger smash, #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 for six weeks on the Easy Listening and for two weeks on the Country charts in 1969. It’s easy to see why. The song is brilliantly composed, with a beautiful series of haunting images (including the perfect “singing in the wires”). Campbell’s delivery is aching but restrained, allowing the power of the song to be in the words as much as the music. Wichita Lineman has been named one of the 500 greatest songs of all time [#195] by Rolling Stone, “the first existential country song,” and “the greatest pop song ever composed.”

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line

Webb was something of a conundrum, writing deceptively simple, insightful lyrics and rich, complex compositions. He wrote a handful of other Top Ten hits including

  • MacArthur Park by Richard Harris, a seemingly impossible seven-minute baroque masterpiece that went to #2 in 1968
  • The Worst That Could Happen by Brooklyn Bridge: #3 in 1969
  • Galveston by Glen Campbell: #4 Pop, #1 Easy Listening [six weeks], #1 Country [three weeks] in 1969
  • All I Know, Art Garfunkel’s first solo hit: #9 Pop and #1 Easy Listening [four weeks] in 1973
  • MacArthur Park, an even more improbable disco cover by Donna Summer: #1 Pop [three weeks], #1 Dance [five weeks], #8 R&B, #24 Easy Listening in 1979

He also recorded a number of albums of his own work.

Campbell launched a massive career, including three more Top 40 Webb compositions. In the 1970s he was the #8 Easy Listening artist of the decade with five #1s; the #24 Country artist (two #1s) and the #6 Pop artist (two #1s).

Wichita Lineman remains the high point of this productive collaboration and one of the finest songs of all time. Enjoy this transcendent masterpiece today.

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