As I was driving to collect my daughter from school today Wichita Lineman came on the radio. As shivers ran over my scalp, I felt like I’d been given an unexpected gift.
It doesn’t matter how many times I hear Glenn Campbell sing that song – and it’s been one of my very favourites, since I first heard it as a child – it always moves me nearly to tears.
It’s like an abstract painting the way with a few brushstrokes it creates a whole world of wanting and yearning.
We are given so little to go on – it’s not one of those songs which tells a whole story, like The Ode to Billie Jo (another long-time favourite…) – but I can’t think of many where you experience the emotions of the character so intensely.
It makes me feel like my heart is being squeezed, the way it does when you’re in unrequited, or in some way, unfulfilled love.
Just as in a Shakespearian sonnet, there are only 14 lines (with the last verse then repeated) , yet we know what he does for a living, we know where he is – up a telegraph pole in the middle of Kansas – and we know what he’s thinking about. Her. Her. Her.
Just the barest of sketches and somehow it seems like one of the greatest love stories ever told. It’s up there with Anna Karenina for me.
I think there’s something about him being a blue collar working man – I always picture his Timberland boots – that gives it such power. And the little off hand detail about ‘that stretch down south’ that won’t take the strain if it snows, that greatly increases the impact of his concurrent longing for the mysterious woman.
It’s how we think, our mind jumping from the job in hand, to the object of our obsession. And then it comes back to those lines, among the most beautiful ever written in popular music:
And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time…
Here’s the maestro singing it, in all his dimple-chinned, polo-necked glory.
Which songs give you the shivers?