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‘Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell’: Two Southerners Takin’ It Easy

The ‘Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell’ album is a 1968 country-lounge classic that brought together Capitol Records’ new rising stars.

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Barely a year after her 1967 critical and commercial smash, ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, Bobbie Gentry was not in Capitol Records’ good books. Her second album, the woozy and surreal The Delta Sweete, featured erotically-charged songs about band rehearsals (‘Okolona River Bottom Band’) and spoken-word gibberish (‘Reunion’). It had bombed. Bobbie was displaying a worrying tendency towards not caring about commercial success, and so Capitol sought to team their wayward charge with one of their fastest-rising stars for the collaboration album Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell.

Listen to Bobby Gentry And Glen Campbell right now.

Unlike Gentry, Glen Campbell could do no wrong. Like Gentry, however, Campbell had come from rural poverty; he had left home as a teen to join his uncle’s band, eventually pitching up in LA to work as a highly versatile session guitarist. He had also toured with The Beach Boys in the mid-60s, subbing for Brian Wilson. More importantly, from Capitol’s point of view, Campbell was hot: ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ were killer slices of country melancholia and they had both hit big.

Campbell and Gentry had known one another for a few years, before either was famous. The pair had already co-headlined a tour, and by its end they were regularly performing duets onstage (to the audience’s delight); both were open to Capitol’s idea of a recorded collaboration. Gentry was “loose as a goose”, Campbell has said. “She wasn’t uptight. She was very easy to work with.” This effortless familiarity became the defining feature of Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell, released on 16 September 1968.

A mix of covers and originals, the album solidified Campbell’s appeal and steered Gentry away from her more outré impulses. Campbell contributed two classy songs, ‘Less Of Me’ and ‘(It’s Only Your) Imagination’, while Gentry penned one. ‘Mornin’ Glory’, which Gentry had originally recorded on The Delta Sweete, lost its former paranoid edge and, instead, became a paean to intimacy with Campbell. It’s a mark of the versatility of Gentry’s songwriting that both versions are inspired.

‘Little Green Apples’, ‘Let It Be Me’, ‘Heart To Heart Talk’: all are easy-listening silk, light on the ear and good for the mood. However, the finest cover on the album is the sunshine-pop classic ‘Sunday Mornin’’, originally written by Margo Guryan and made famous by Spanky And Our Gang. On one level, it’s a gently optimistic hum. Gentry has never sounded sweeter, almost anticipating the soft vocals of Karen Carpenter, while Campbell employs his most honeyed harmonies as they relax quietly together over coffee.

However, the gentility of ‘Sunday Mornin’’ has an edge to it. There’s a definite fixed-grin feel by the end, with the repeated “Everything’s alright”, only heightened by Campbell asking Gentry, “Bob, did you say, ‘Everything’s alright?’” as the song fades. In 1968 America, with the ongoing Vietnam war and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, perhaps Campbell and Gentry were disorientated like the rest of the population, far from convinced that everything was alright. Underlining this is the decision to close the album with their version of ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’: one of Paul Simon’s subtlest anti-war statements.

Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell was a No.1 country album and achieved the success that Capitol had wanted. The pair followed it up with another hit together, a version of The Everly Brothers’ ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’, but a second duets album was shelved. For Campbell, Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell was a brief stop-off on a career ticking upwards; ‘Wichita Lineman’, released shortly afterwards, soon eclipsed it. As for Gentry, the album’s legacy was trickier. She found it harder to pull herself completely from its easy-listening quicksand, and none of her subsequent albums fully revisited The Delta Sweete’s ambition.

Bobbie Gentry And Glen Campbell is frequently overlooked, but it’s unfair to dismiss the album as a water-treading exercise. It contains some of the smoothest vocal performances ever laid down by either Gentry or Campbell and, knowing the wily characters of each of them, perhaps a hint of rebellion spiking its saccharin.

The career-spanning Bobbie Gentry 8CD box set, The Girl From Chickasaw County, out now and can be bought here.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Daniel Reed Drown

    September 18, 2018 at 4:10 am

    It’s not really far to categorize ,The Delta Sweete, as ” a bomb” Most female country artists of this era would have been doing cartwheels if their album had made the Billboard top 200 and stayed there for three months. The single, Oklahona River Bottom Band, did rise to #56 pop and sell 200,000 singles. Contrast that with Dolly Parton’s, Jolene, which at #1 country sold 60,000 copies. The minor success of her #1 country singles, in terms of sales, is what pushed her to go pop in the 1980’s. It’s also grossly unfair to imply it was artistically downhill for Gentry after her masterpiece, The Delta Sweete. Both her albums, Touch Em With Love and PatchWork have been failed in critical corners as masterpieces in their own right. All her studio albums showed merit and are worth owning 50 years later. Something few recording artists can boast.

  2. Daniel Reed Drown

    September 19, 2018 at 5:32 am

    Glen Campbell and producer All Delory have been upfront on why a second duets album between Bobbie and Glen was scrapped after being more than halfway recorded. Glen’s second wife, Billie, was intensely jealous of exotic , beautiful Bobbie. The tabloids were ripe with rumors of an affair . Billie put her foot down and made Glen scrap a second album despite the fact the first sold over a global million copies( a rare feat in the 1960’s) and won A.C.M album of the year honors. Glen dodged the issue in his autobiography simply stating” I was never in love with her nor she with me with me” Later he would describe her as” Bobbie was my buddy” The new Bobbie Gentry box set contains what was recorded for a second album. Nice harmonies, good songs but the standouts in the box set( I have heard all of it) are the Gentry original compositions coming fresh to market and her stunning takes on Billie Holiday and Nina Simone on a scrapped jazz album planned in the late 1960’s. There is also some wickedly sick swamp funk in the way of outtakes and demos of Sweet Peony and Mississippi Delta that give C.C.R a run for their money! Glen would go into the studio and quickly record an album with Anne Murray which barely nicked the top 200 album chart(# 186) and fell off. Bobbie’s solo album The Delta Sweete did better , peaking at #111 and having legs for the next 14 weeks.

  3. Daniel Reed Drown

    September 20, 2018 at 5:03 am

    It should also be clarified that, All I have to Do is Dream, came from the unreleased recordings of the second Gentry- Campbell duets album. Released in 1970, the single shot to #3 in The U.K and was certified gold for sales of 250,000 copies. Stateside, the single went to #6 country and #27 pop selling well over half a million copies but as stated before it came almost 2 years after the Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell album of 1968.

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