Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" (1975)

1975 was a monumental moment in history. The Vietnam War ended. Gerald Ford struggled through his first full year as President of the United States. OPEC continued to shape the global economy. Epic lines of cocaine and lime green leisure suits were getting people an almost annoying amount of ass. But none of these signal events in human history rivals the release and subsequent success of Glen Campbell's paradigm-shifting hit "Rhinestone Cowboy."

Rarely does a song about the professional ins and outs of the music industry make a splash with the public at large. Today, hipster kids with Nudie suits who've never even seen a rodeo on ESPN love The Byrds' "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" (1967), but since it's not a Dylan cover nor plagiarizes from King James's Bible, it never caught on the public at large. Enter Glen Campbell. His groundbreaking 1975 hit was the cynical how-to for the aspiring and soul-less musician that even John and Jane Knowsnothingaboutmusic could get into. Campbell had previously played guitar in The Champs, joining the group shortly after they recorded their immortal party song "Tequila" (1958). He also served a brief stint as a Beach Boy, subbing for Brian Wilson in live shows during the first of his nervous breakdowns. This would suggest he'd be the last guy on Earth who'd become a megastar in Nashville, right? Well, thanks to Jimmy Webb giving him access to his songbook and a few other strokes of luck, Campbell became the guy he sings about in "Rhinestone Cowboy." Long before American Idol, Campbell sings about "a lot of compromisin' on the road to my horizon," but, unflappable, he's "gonna be where the lights on shining" on him. As a result, he's now bombarded with emails from people he "don't even know" ... well, actually, letters. Does anybody remember writing letters, those things old people used to send to each other in the mail? Well, you get the drift. In summation, 1975 was the year that making artistic compromising became hip -- clearly a transitional moment in the history of life on this planet. Nowhere near a country song (it's straight pop, with only a hint of the most saccharine of countrypolitan string-sections), "Rhinestone Cowboy" has far-reaching implications for mankind. It is also a de facto country classic because of the place of the "rhinestone" in the pantheon of country music fashion. For some reason, I keep thinking about Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton ...


  1. I remember watching him perform this song on Hee-Haw. Look, we didn't have cable and I was starved for something to watch on a Saturday night.

  2. "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" is weak, man. "My Back Pages"--yes, a Dylan cover--tops everything on Younger Than Yesterday. The Notorious Byrd Brothers tops them all, except for "She Don't Care about Time," which finds The Byrds shoegazing back before it was hip.