By Curt Alliaume
I’m really grateful I haven’t had to write many of these in 2017 due to a death, at least compared to last year. And obviously Campbell’s death due to complications from Alzheimer’s wasn’t unexpected. He had a long life, and mostly a good life.
It wasn’t perfect – he struggled for years with alcohol and cocaine abuse, was married four times, and had a notorious relationship with Tanya Tucker in the early 1980s, who was half his age at the time. But he also was part of The Wrecking Crew, a group of musicians that played on most of the best records of the 1960s (Campbell himself played guitar on songs by everyone from Bobby Darin to Frank Sinatra to The Monkees). He toured with The Beach Boys after Brian Wilson’s breakdown in 1965 and was offered the opportunity to join the group (which he declined). But his career kicked into high gear in the late 1960s, thanks to some great material (“Gentle on My Mind,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston”), and continued to hit the country charts consistently and the pop charts occasionally, notching a pair of #1s on the latter with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.” He costarred in the film True Grit and had his own variety show on CBS from 1969 to 1972. And after a fallow period in the 1980s and 1990s, he had a fine comeback in the 2000s, including two top 10 country albums, Ghost on the Canvas and Adios.
Not surprisingly, there are a lot of compilations out there, and unfortunately, my favorite is long out of print. It looks like he didn’t do any rerecordings of his hits (I wouldn’t swear to this in court, however), but there are some live albums on minor labels that are labeling themselves as best-ofs. The easiest thing to do would be to stick with anything bearing a Capitol logo, but Capitol leased out his catalog to at least three other labels by my county, so who knows? I would strongly recommend making sure whatever you get has the following songs, which are essentials:
“Gentle on My Mind”
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”
“Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)”
He had some bigger hits than the ones I’ve listed here (“It’s Only Make Believe,” “Don’t Pull Your Love/Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”), some so-so remakes (“Let It Be Me”), some that should be left in a time capsule (“Dreams of the Everyday Housewife”). Finally, virtually none of these contain any of his Christian music (he recorded several religious albums in the late 1980s and 1990s). But make sure you’ve got the seven songs listed above.
Given that, here’s the easiest one to get, and a decent value for the money:
Obviously he had more than the 16 hits here (37 of his songs charted in the Billboard Hot 100, and he had 42 top 20 hits on Billboard’s country charts), but this is a pretty good selection. In fairness, “Times Like These” and “These Days” are from the last decade (this set was released in 2009) and weren’t really hits, but it brings his collection full circle. $7.99 for the download on Amazon and $8.99 for the disc makes it a reasonable introduction.
Here are some other options (I couldn’t possibly list all of them). Links, when available, go to the Wikipedia page.
Greatest Hits (1971) – his very first hits set, although there were tons of compilations of material he’d recorded for other labels, sometimes as a sideman. It’s a pretty good selection from the era, but it clocks in well under 30 minutes (like most country albums of the era), so don’t be shocked. It was available on CD at one point, but both the CD and vinyl versions are out of print, and it’s unavailable for download.
The Best of Glen Campbell (1976) – rather than releasing a Greatest Hits, Vol. II after “Rhinestone Cowboy” hit, Capitol took that along with “Country Boy” and a few other minor hits (“Houston [I’m Coming to See You],” written by future Toto leader David Paich, is also quite good), took all the good stuff from the first greatest hits set, and made it into a pretty good album. “Southern Nights” hadn’t been released at this point, but in 1987 Capitol released The Very Best of Glen Campbell, which included that hit and a few others, on CD. It’s on Amazon for $16.99, but that’s for a used disc. I have it, and it’s perfectly good, but don’t pay a ridiculous price for it.
Classics Collection (1990) – Capitol had a great reissue program around this time (The Beach Boys benefitted from this), but Campbell’s back catalogue fell into neglect, and the label apparently started leasing out songs to smaller companies; this appeared on Collectibles Records (which is a perfectly good reissue label). Contains all seven songs listed above, but only ten songs overall. In print at an overpriced $11.49, not available for download.
Greatest Country Hits (1990) and Best of the Early Years (1991) – more hits offloaded on another label; this time it’s Mike Curb’s self-named reissue label. Neither of these has anything special beyond the basics, and since they’re issued separately you need to buy both to get the whole story – and they’re overpriced ($13.98 and $12.62, respectively, for the discs; $9.49 each for the downloads, and you can only download the full album, not individual songs).
The Essential Glen Campbell Volume One, The Essential Glen Campbell Volume Two, and The Essential Glen Campbell Volume Three (1994) – rather than putting together a good Campbell box set, Capitol inexplicably issued three individual discs out of chronological order, with the truly great songs scattered among them (if they’d gone chronological, discs one and three would have been the ones to get, with disc two the one to skip). This was greedy and short-sighted; Campbell could really have used a good box set. All three of these are out of print.
The Glen Campbell Collection (1962-1989) (1997) – the good news is on their third try, Capitol finally found a label that assembled an excellent compilation (Razor & Tie Records). 40 songs over two discs, with breadth (the first release is from 1962, and some of his country chart hits on Atlantic and MCA are included as well). It’s nice to hear Jimmy Webb can still write a touching song (“Still Within the Sound of My Voice”), and there are a couple of relative rarities – although it would have been nice to have included “Universal Soldier,” Brian Wilson’s donated “Guess I’m Dumb,” and the psychedelic pop hit “My World Fell Down” that he sang as part of the studio band Sagittarius, but you can’t have everything. The bad news: it’s out of print, of course. And since it’s going for around $45 used on Amazon, don’t expect to find it easily. (I burned a copy from my old library, which I feel a little less guilty about than I did when I started writing this.)
The Capitol Years 65/77 (1998) – well, this will sorta kinda do as a substitute, although it doesn’t include anything from after the Capitol years (and a minor later hit, “Can You Fool”). Out of print, but available for download on Amazon for $15.49, which isn’t bad for 46 songs.
Super Hits (2000) – this is nowhere near super. Campbell was struggling with addiction at this point and had been dropped by Capitol, so these are his country chart hits in the early and mid-1980s with Atlantic (which wasn’t really strong in country music), plus his last pop hit, “I Love My Truck,” released by Mirage Records, which became a mirage shortly thereafter. You get the idea. $6.99 for the download.
20 Greatest Hits (2000) – somebody at Capitol decided to be cute – this has a lot of interpretations of ‘60s classics that were not hit versions for Campbell (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Classical Gas,” “King of the Road,” “Both Sides Now”), but “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” was left off. Skip it. $9.49 for the download, out of print otherwise.
All the Best (2003) – a solid one-disc set – too bad it’s out of print. 25 songs, all the usual favorites, etc. Capitol would do well to make this available in physical form again. $10.49 for the download.
The Legacy (1961-2002) (2003) – hey, Capitol finally got around to a box set. It does include “Universal Soldier” and “Guess I’m Dumb” (but not “My World Fell Down” or anything from other labels), and the fourth disc is short and has nothing but live versions – six of which are no longer available for download at all from Amazon, even if you buy the whole album. $23.99 for the “whole” download (the box itself is out of print), but I’d cherry-pick the rarities instead.
Gentle on My Mind: The Best of Glen Campbell (2016) – I’m not sure about this one. It’s going for $8.99 for the disc on Amazon and isn’t available for download, but it's an import from “Spectrum” (whoever they are). None of the Amazon reviews says they’re rerecordings, but the reviews also look suspciously like they’re for another set. And since there’s no download option, there’s no way to test this. Proceed at your own risk.