This is only under three minutes long. The pain it depicts may take one days to put down in plain words and years to forget. It has a flowing composition with beautiful chord changes. Glen Campbell’s soothing voice makes it worth listening to repeatedly, especially if one has undergone the kind of open-heart love surgery the lyrics describe.
Lyrics, unlike poetry, must remain conversational in their tone if they are to remain potent. To sing lyrics, one requires a melody that must do justice to the meter, the flow, the words and their vowels. And if one analyzed the lyrics of this particular song, one might boast, ‘I could do better than that’, but then only skilled lyricists are able to say complex things using very simple language.
And Jimmy Webb is one such expert who wrote this pop song, while country singer Glen Campbell (session guitarist for Beach Boys and many others) made it famous. Originally recorded by Johnny Rivers in 1965, Glen’s version reached #3 on the U.S. Pop charts in 1967. Dean Martin, Jose Feliciano, and Frank Sinatra, Isaac Hayes also recorded their own versions. Interestingly, Isaac Hayes' version is over eighteen minutes long and narrates a detailed story about the events that supposedly occur as a man decides to leave his beloved by writing her a good-bye note, and describes what he expects she will be experiencing as he arrives at:
‘By the time I get to Phoenix, she'll be rising...’
‘By the time I make Albuquerque she'll be working...’
‘By the time I make Oklahoma she'll be sleepin'...’
Of course, if one wanted, one could replace the above situations with the following:
By the time I get to Jehlum, she'll be cooking...
By the time I make Rawalpindi, she'll be washing...
By the time I make it to Maansehra, she'll be cleanin’...
Or...she’ll be picking kids...she’ll be fighting...she’ll be at her mother’s, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. As one can see, the possibilities are endless.
Glen Travis Campbell (born April 22, 1936, Delight, Arkansas) made history by winning a Grammy in both country (“Gentle On My Mind”) and pop (“By The Time I Get To Phoenix”) categories in 1967. These two songs together earned eight Grammy Awards. The album’s cover of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix" shows Glen in a pensive mood, sitting on a bench with his guitar.
Glen is a Grammy Award and Dove Award winning artist who was twice nominated for the Golden Globe Award American country pop singer and guitarist categories; he is an occasional actor. Best known for a series of hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s, he also hosted a television variety show called “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on CBS television. He earned trophies for Male Vocalist of the Year from both the CMA and the ACM, and took the CMA's top honour as Entertainer of the Year.
During his fifty years in show business, Glen has released more than 70 albums, sold 45 million records, amassed 12 RIAA Gold albums, hit four Platinum albums and one Double-Platinum album. Of his seventy-five trips up the charts, twenty-seven landed him in the Top 10 position.
Actor John Wayne selected Glen to play alongside him in the 1969 film “True Grit”. This venture earned Glen a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer, and Wayne his only Academy Award. Glen scored a hit with the title song bearing the name of the film, and which won an Academy Award nomination. He performed the song live at that year's Academy Awards Show. In 2005, Glen was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Webb, who wrote this song later admitted: ‘I couldn't write a song without God. Sure, I could hack out hackneyed phrases and clichés, but to write anything meaningful I have to be in tune with God. He is the great source, my inspiration, the current that I have to connect to. Sadly I've not always used the gift he's given me—the answered prayer—as best as I could or should have. I've made mistakes. I've done things I wish I hadn't done. I am a strong believer in God... God is important to me. God is bigger than any one particular denomination. I don't like it when people try to confine Him. I don't put any limits on God.’
Audio (original version):
Glen LIVE on TV:
Glen LIVE at a Galveston concert (with an orchestra):
Engelbert Humperdinck version: