Released in 1968, “Wichita Lineman” is a song you don’t hear very often, and that’s unfortunate. It is an evocative song that will fire your mind with images and flood your heart with emotions, not all of them comfortable.
You walk in the shoes of a telephone lineman longing to hear the voice of his love across the trembling wires overhead.
Written by Jimmy Webb, who Glen Campbell’s widow described as a “soulmate,” the song was considered unfinished when Webb handed it over. Leaving for a day or two, Webb returned to finish writing the song, only to find that Campbell and his fellow musicians — members of the famous California group of session players known as the Wrecking Crew — had already completed the recording, and felt they had a masterpiece on their hands.
The Wrecking Crew consisted of a loosely affiliated group of expert musicians who backed artists from the Beach Boys to John Denver. They played on hundreds of Top 40 hits in the 1960s and 1970s. Campbell was a session guitarist with the Crew, and employed a number of them — Al Casey, James Burton, Carol Kaye, Jim Gordon, and Al DeLory — on this song.
Various organs were used to get the high tones the evoke the whistling and buzzing of telephone lines in the wind.
The song is simple and short, but the melody is so strong — and the chord choices so bold — that it packs many a wallop before it’s done.
"Wichita Lineman" was one of 25 recordings inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2020 as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” work.