Still on the line…

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Lineman Working on Utility Pole

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?


  1. I LOVE that song and even though it’s sad, it always takes me back to happy days as a kid… sunny Sundays, butterflies, smell of freshly cut grass…

  2. Ben Folds “Still Fighting It” for me. I found myself driving along the other day in tears listening to it. My daughter has just started preschool and it’s the first time she’s been away from me-this song brings up all those bittersweet feelings about my baby growing up “one day you’ll fly/away from me” sob!

    • oh NO don’t start me on songs about kids growing up… there are so many amazing ones and they reduce me to sobs. ‘Turn around and you’re young girl, walking out of the door…’ is very hard to take when your daughter is 10 and 11/12ths and about to start high school…

  3. I love that song too, but Father and Son by Cat Stevens reduces me to tears within seconds………

  4. All By Myself (Eric Carmen). Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers). I’ll Stand By You (Chrissie Hynde). What About Us/Earth Song (Michael Jackson). Everybody Hurts (REM). Too many to list, really.
    And I think Wuthering Heights is the greatest love story ever told – but maybe that’s just me……..

    • The book or the song? I loved the book when I first read it (17?) but when I tried to revisit it recently I couldn’t get on with it. Sometimes I think it’s better to leave books you have loved to lie… Love the Kate Bush track to bits though!

      • Both, really; but the book mainly. I agree about leaving a good book alone (just keep it in the bookshelf to hold to your heart occasionally); also – not watching a movie made of a book you REALLY love ie: Like Water For Chocolate (ruined it) – but that’s another story…….

      • DOn’t get me started on the terrible film of I Capture The Castle. That red wig was an abomination. I like the Harry Potter films better than the books though.

  5. Corny but…The Way We Were (Streisand). Sigh, that movie. “Your girl is lovely, Hubble” .

    And while we’re on the subject of sparsely told but enduring love stories, how about Bridges Over Madison County (the book, although the movie was pretty good too)? Man, I cried reading that one.

  6. Flame trees by Cold Chisel is the one for me. Don Walker transports us with a few eloquent words back to the country town and love that was left behind

    • ooooh don’t know it. Will have a listen. Khe San does me in fairly well. Any songs about soldiers, see also Galveston, mentioned above.

      • Soldiers? How about And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (sob). John Williamson’s version on YouTube. About a young boy at Gallipoli who learns there are some things worse than dying.

      • WILLY MCBRIDE. You know the Furey’s song? The Green Fields of France? reduces me to a sobbing heap. But in this instance I meant the cropped haired Soviet solders rocking OUT to Metallica.

    • Ditto. It is a must for long road trips back to the country town of my youth.

  7. Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street and Cyndi Laupa’s Time After Time

    • Love love love both those songs. Cyndi Lauper is like my personal sound track. That and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun are two anthems of my youth and so nostalgic for me.

  8. Oh Maggie, I have the exact same reaction to that song… just the unbearable yearning of it. Lovely post- you gave me shivers about the song without hearing it. The only other one that comes close for me is “If you could read my mind” by Gordon Lightfoot. *sniffs*

  9. I get that reaction from For Emily Wherever You May Find Her, by Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon has to be one of the best lyricists of all time.

  10. See your Wichita Linesman and raise you Jolene ( Dolly Parton’s, of course!). For a pair of desperate, longing, goose-bump raisers, they have no equal, IMHO.

    He talks about you in his sleep ‘n
    There’s nothing I can do to keep
    From crying, when he calls your name, Jolene….

    I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.”

    Such longing that you throw yourself on your rivals (unlikely) mercy, as a last resort = songasm!

    • Ha ha – we love our Dolly. Her version of I Will Always Love You does it for me. So much better than that terrible cat wailing version. And if you can find Down From Dover on iTunes that’s a killer. Oh god – I just remembered this: Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.

  11. So funny Maggie. Just this week I was talking to my sister about Ode To Billy Jo and how we remember our mother speculating to our neighbor what in fact old Billy Joe was throwing off the bridge!
    Love everyone’s reminisces. I know every word of most of those songs verbatim! Jolene would have to be up there as my all time favourite (White Stripes version doesn’t cut it at all!) along with The Way We Were and also Send in the Clowns which my mother insisted be played at her funneral as it was her favourite song and delivered a great message to some present that day.
    When I occasionally tune into the easier listening channels in the car I turn upthe volume and sing away!

    • Oh I love all those songs to bits. Send in the Clowns must have been amazing at your mother’s funeral. Such a surprising choice. One of my friends had Go West by the Pet Shop Boys at her cremation which sent us all out smiling, even though she’d died way way too young.

  12. The Pogues “Fairytale in New York”
    Shane sings in a drunken slur: “I could’ve been someone”
    Kirsty sings with anguish: “Well so could anyone”
    Back to Shane: “Can’t make it all alone. I’ve built my dreams around you…”
    Me: Weep

    • Oh I LOVE that song. Me and my daughter play it non stop every Christmas. ‘And the boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay… and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.’

  13. Cradle song by Tomahawk. It’s a new version of a traditional native American song. Sort of terrifying and comforting and sad.


    Tar and Cement by Verdelle Smith. Oh my gosh. Painful nostalgia.

    • Gosh, completely new material! I’m going to be busy on iTuns later x

    • Tar & Cement reminds me of school holidays hanging out out at my friends house. All the parents at work. We played her parents old 45’s, tar and cement, Harper Valley PTA, V-a-c-a-t-i-o-n, My Guy and more. I think it was my intro to old music I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. It was a long way from iTunes as we argued over the next song.

  14. Hi Maggie Another great post! I was a fan of Linda Ronstadt and loved her version of Blue Bayou. I also stumbled across a sensational live concert on you tube. It even has her manager Peter Asher performing percussion. I was a fan of the west coast music scene eg Jackson Browne, but my brother (favourite bands – The Beatles and Who) noted Linda put together a great rock band for her Mad Love album, which this live set is built around. What a voice and what musicianship. Hope you’re getting some warm summer weather over there. cheers for now. Geraldine   PS my late brother rarely had a guitar out of his hands when he was not working/driving/eating etc. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer he started playing songs from our childhood – the memory of which still spooks me to this day. He had those tunes in his head for over 30 years and dragged them out at such an emotional time, it was surreal – the tunes included Do you know the way to San Jose and What do you get when you fall in love (you get enough germs to catch pneumonia). Memories, hey. Little did we know what great music we were taking for granted –  thanks for the Glenn Campbell clip. It’s corny, but I also liked his version of Rhinestone Cowboy.

    • That’s beautiful about your brother. I love pretty much everything Glenn Campbell ever recorded and I’ll have a listen to the Linda Ronstadt, thanks for the tip x

  15. I recently bought Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits just for this song! I love it and it makes me blub too. Had a weekend away in the country (Northern Victoria) and played the CD en route, had a good ole singalong with my travelling companion! We played Wichita Lineman three times! Galveston also makes me cry.

    At primary school we used to sing Glen Campbell songs, John Denver also!

    Happy memories!

  16. Last Kiss, the Pearl Jam version. Eddie Vedder’s voice … he just sounds so heartbroken.

  17. Always makes me cry, as does By the Time I Get To Phoenix, all time Classics

  18. Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye”. I saw him live in Sydney about 12 months before he disappeared – unforgettable. Nick Cave’s/Birthday Party/Roland “Shiver” and “Do you love me?” their live performances utterly unforgettable … three that will always hit the button for me. (I think Mr Cave lives in your neck of the woods?)
    When I was a kid W. linesman always made me feel so sad and I remember thinking that what he was doing “on the line” was so dangerous but he didn’t care ’cause he was so blue. It is an absolute heart thumper of a song. BX

  19. You like “Anna Karenina”? You have time and patience to read it? What about “War and Peace” – another door stopper? Had to do it in school, still wearing scars.

    • Well, I read them in English. War and Peace is my favourite book… I love door stoppers, when they are written with such genius. A Suitable Boy is another favourite…

  20. Got the shivers just because you said Ode to Billy Jo. SO reminds me of singing in the kitchen with my Dad. And Dirty old Town and Country Roads. And any Joan Baez ( and Safe to say my Dad loved a spot of country music.

  21. Seasons in the Sun Jaques Brel and Ol’ man river used to until I did Showboat for a year.

  22. Wichita Lineman is one of my all time favorite songs. Also from the same era, another great fave is Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'”. That scene on the bus in Midnight cowboy is forever associated with it for me. I never get tired of it! Those songs that are attached to a formative time in your life, always have that bitter sweet feel… Love ’em!

    And then there is “Say a little Prayer”, “Son of a Preacher Man” and …I’m getting on a roll..!

  23. Joan Baez. Diamonds and Rust. <<>> JONI MITCHEL!!! ( swoon ) Carey, A Case of You, River,Both Sides Now, Help Me! Nostalgia and Longing are flips sides of the best songs.

    • oh my LORD Diamonds and Rust – especially as you know who it’s about. ‘Your eyes were bluer than robins’ eggs, my poetry was lousy you said…’ It kills me. And yes yes yes Help Me! played that the other day and swooned.

  24. Not the shivers exactly but an extraordinary feeling of fun, excitement and pure sexiness,

    Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick and Patti La Belle singing “Superwoman”
    on Oprah many years ago.

    Galdys and Dionne in thier suits (knee length skirts, thigh length jackets and sensible shoes) and Pattil ..well…being Patt, in shorts and as a concession to limb coverage… is also in a longish jacket.

    The clip is on YouTube ..once you hear it …you’ll never forget

  25. I have been fortunate to see many great musicians in my life – from Elvis Costello to the Indigo Girls, via Elton John. But one of the real highlights was maestro Jimmy Webb, presenting his oeuvre in an intimate setting in Canberra, Australia, just him and the piano. I was in awe of his humility, given the nature of so many of the songs he has written over the years, and their ability to touch, in the way that Wichita Lineman has done for you, and so many of your readers. If you get a chance, get his self titled CD and put it on high rotation. And weep, with joy for the emotion it generates.

    • ooh lucky – I didn’t realise until today he has also wrote Galveston which is one of my other favourites songs. It has the same sketchy outline as Wichita Lineman and the same longing. And McArthur Park…w hat a genius. And I LOVE The Indigo Girls.

  26. Oh I love
    Wichita Lineman too and so many more of the ones mentioned above. Great stuff!

  27. Paul Kelly – the unofficial antipodean poet laureate as far as I’m concerned – “If I could start today again”. So much poignancy and longing in such simple words. And it sounds so heartfelt:

    “I only want one day
    to unsay the things I said
    undo the thing I did
    Twenty-four little hours
    Oh God, please take them all away
    And I promise I will change if I could start today again”

    I don’t know what he did, but boy does he want her back.

    • Oh Katherine! Of course – Paul Kelly “she’s the sweetest fish I ever fried …. little decisions are the kinds I can’t make – big resolutions are so easy to break – I don’t want to hear about your big decisions, I don’t want to hear about your big decisions….”
      St. Paul of Melbourne Kelly – MUCH LOVED and complete heart breaker of a song writer, performer and historian. B … “I came in on the evenin’ bus from St. Kilda to Kings Cross … I’ll give you all of Sydney Harbour, all that land and all that water … for that one sweet boulevard.”
      AND Split Ends – “You in your new blue dress, a bundle of nervous words, I couldn’t believe my luck… “Into Temptation” knowing full well the earth would rebel – straight into the wide open arms of hell …” Oh dear its so completely 1987 again! BX

      • Did you see Paul Kelly singing “Into Temptation” with Neil Finn at the Palai this year? OMG!! What a night that was.

      • Oh, Into Temptation, that song! Love as much now, as I did back then. Timeless,

  28. When I was driving my girls back to boarding school, a ten hour drive from the north coast of NSW to Sydney.. our anthem was Maxine Nightingales back where you started from. We would sing it as loud as possible as we were entering the school gates…..they are now big girls but at parties , weddings , anything it is a fun reminder of those days…..

  29. The Carpenters “On the day that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true, so they sprinkled star dust in your hair and golden sunlight in your eyes of blue, and that is why all the girls in town, follow you, all around, just like me they want to be CLOSE TO YOU ….”

  30. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. Such a beautiful song.
    And “The Greatest Discovery” by Elton John. I have heard it thousands (yes really!) of times and it still makes me cry. About a little boy meeting his baby brother. Shivers.

    • Oh yes the Greatest Discovery – Bernie Tapin at his finest. I love Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters too. It has that abstract quality in the lyrics which I love.

  31. The National’s recent albums, High Violet and Trouble will find me are so beautiful and worth listening to the lyrics which is a rareity these days. Perfect for listening to on a rainy, cold day like today.

  32. My all time favorite is still Vincent. The starry nights image haunts me. As they did him. This world was never meant for one as beautiful as him

    • It’s a beauty, but from the more narrative canon, like Ode to Billie Joe and Summer the First Time (another guilty pleasure ha ha ha). But I do so love the oblique abstract lyrics – Bob Dylan is the greatest exponent, but Bernie Taupin at his best gets close. You know what they’re about, without quite knowing…

  33. Oh, gosh, Maggie, I had forgotten how much I love this song. With the simplest of melodies and lyrics it paints such a poignant picture and transports me back to summer holidays cruising along in our VW beetle – my father cheerfully humming along…… Amazing how a song can do that.
    So many songs have captured my heart and give me the shivers – but my top 3 are:
    ‘The Look Of Love’ by Dusty Springfield, ‘Don’t Give Up’ by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel and ‘Always Something Breaking Us In Two’ by Joe Jackson…….but I could go on forever!
    Thank you for jogging my memory! xx

  34. I LOVE Wichita lineman, and much of Glen Campbells music, thank you for reminding me of it. I also love Gordon Lightfoot’s version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, and ‘If you could read my mind’ he has such a beautiful voice, and ‘Clouds’ by Joni Mitchell always breaks me up. I think songs of unrequited love, loss and longing are the common thread, I’m a sucker for them. Oh, and country roads by John Denver is also beautiful and agree with Cyndi Laupers ‘true colours’, it is as fresh today as when it was written.

  35. And not forgetting Leonard Cohen’ s Hallelujah and so long Marianne, and anything by Jeff Buckley who had an ethereal voice

  36. ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’ – my love died and there sure ain’t no sunshine after that. Every version makes me weep. Bill Withers wrote it at 31, how did he know about loss like that.

  37. Hello, I used to get all the posts on Maggie Alderson but now I don’t. Could I please now get the emails. Thank you.

    Diane Sorensen
    Office Administrator
    hockingstuart Glen Waverley 8 Kingsway Glen Waverley 3150
    E P (03) 9886 6900 F (03) 9886 6933

    Are you happy with my service? My manager would love to know: | Please consider the environment before you print


    • Hi Diane
      Could you try going back to the blog and clicking on the ‘follow with blog lovin’ button – it’s right at the bottom. Let me know if it doesn’t work, because I’ll have to fix it. Mx

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