When he released By The Time I Get To Phoenix in November 1967, Glen Campbell was not only on the seventh album of his career. Remarkably, he was also on his third Capitol LP in the space of just five months.
For all that he’d already been on the chart scene, intermittently, for six years, Campbell was ending the year as one of the hottest new properties in country music, and that status was confirmed not only in a smash hit single with Jimmy Webb’s title song, but also when the album won the 1968 Grammy for Album of the Year — the first time a country LP had ever claimed that title.
Glen’s previous album Gentle On My Mind, released only in the August, produced a title song which became a signature for the rest of his career, although not one with a huge chart presence. Surprisingly, his version of the John Hartford song only reached No.30 on the country chart, and No.44 pop. But the title track of By The Time… was another thing altogether.
The song rose to No.2 on the country countdown, became a top 30 US pop entry and kickstarted Campbell’s career, sending Gentle On My Mind onto the album chart in early December. It was joined there by the follow-up at the end of the year, and both albums became million-sellers.
By The Time I Get To Phoenix was, perhaps, dominated by Webb’s hugely evocative title number, but the album as a whole showed how comfortable Campbell was becoming as an interpreter of both traditional country and contemporary writers. It was produced by Campbell’s regular studio confidant Al De Lory, who would oversee all of his early work, this time with Nick Venet, best-known as the Capitol executive and studio man who signed The Beach Boys.
They put together a fine team that included contributions from A-team session men James Burton on guitar, Joe Osborn on bass and Jim Gordon on drums. The crowning glory, as always, was Campbell’s magnificent voice, whether he was singing Paul Simon’s ‘Homeward Bound’, Bill Anderson’s ‘Bad Seed’ (a top ten country hit the year before for Jan Howard) or Ernest Tubb’s 1945 chestnut ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’.
Campbell also covered the work of younger writers such as Jerry Reed and, from the Limeliters, Alex Hassilev, and had two co-writes of his own, ‘Back In The Race’ (with Vic Dana) and ‘Love Is Lonesome River’ (with Kella Christian). The album delivered another Top 20 country single in an update of Dorsey Burnette and Barry de Vorzon’s ‘Hey Little One’, a top 50 pop single for Burnette in 1960. An emerging Leon Russell was also on board, for the elegant string arrangement on ‘My Baby’s Gone’.
The album was a staging post in Campbell’s early success and, just as importantly, its Grammy recognition showed how country was winning ever more acceptance in the musical mainstream.
By The Time I Get To Phoenix can be bought here.