Our LCM Classic this Friday is a timeless song from Glen Campbell. This song was my grandmother's favourite, so heard I heard it a lot growing up and it has really stuck with me. "Wichita Lineman" is a song written by American songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1968. It was first recorded by American country music artist Glen Campbell with backing from members of The Wrecking Crew and widely covered by other artists. Campbell's version, which appeared on his 1968 album of the same name, reached #3 on the U.S. pop chart, remaining in the Top 100 for 15 weeks. In addition, the song also topped the American country music chart for two weeks, and the adult contemporary chart for six weeks. It was certified gold by the RIAA in January 1969. The song reached #7 in the UK. In Canada, the single also topped both the RPM national and country singles charts.
In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" ranked "Wichita Lineman" at #195. It has been referred to as "the first existential country song". British music journalist Stuart Maconie called it "the greatest pop song ever composed" and the BBC referred to it as "one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music".
Jimmy Webb's inspiration for the lyric came while driving through Washita County in rural southwestern Oklahoma. At that time, many telephone companies were county-owned utilities, and their linemen were county employees. Heading westward on a straight road (arguably Country Road 152) into the setting sun, Webb drove past a seemingly endless line of telephone poles, each looking exactly the same as the last. Then, in the distance, he noticed the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop a pole. He described it as "the picture of loneliness". Webb then "put himself atop that pole and put that phone in his hand" as he considered what the lineman was saying into the receiver.[Glen Campbell added in a statement to the Dallas Observer that Webb wrote the song about his first love affair with a woman who married someone else.
The actual song lyrics mention the name "Wichita" rather than Washita. Campbell said it was because: "Wichita sings better." The musicians used on the recording included Campbell, Al Casey and James Burton (guitar), Carol Kaye (bass), Jim Gordon (drums), Jimmy Webb and Al De Lory (piano). The orchestral arrangements were by De Lory.
The lyrics describe the loneliness that a telephone or electric power lineman feels while he works and his longing for an absent lover.
The phrase "singing in the wire" can refer to the sonic vibration commonly induced by wind blowing across small wires and conductors, making these lines whistle or whine like an aeolian harp. It could also, or even simultaneously, refer to the sounds that a lineman might hear when attaching a telephone earpiece to a long stretch of raw telephone or telegraph line, i.e., without typical line equalisation and filtering. In the recording, a notable feature of the orchestral arrangement is the effort of the violins and keyboards to mimic these ethereal sounds and morse code, and the lyric "I can hear you through the whine" further alludes to them.