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Glen Campbell: 20 Essential Songs

From his signature “Rhinestone Cowboy” to an unconventional Foo Fighters cover

Glen Campbell had a way of inhabiting every song he recorded, both as a vocalist and an ace guitarist. Whether he was working as a session player, with L.A.’s exemplary Wrecking Crew, or crooning any number of Jimmy Webb-written hits, the Arkansas native always went all-in. In the process, he became one of music’s most believable vocalists and a true crossover success, cultivating a pop and country audience with songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and even instrumentals. From the controversial “Galveston” to the heart-wrenching “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” we look at Campbell’s 20 essential tracks.

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“Let It Be Me” (1968)

Almost 10 years after the Everly Brothers scored a hit with this harmony-heavy ballad, Campbell and Bobbie Gentry got a piece of the action too, turning “Let It be Me” into a conversation between two lovers. The pair pledge their mutual devotion over a Countrypolitan arrangement of flutes and syrupy strings, with Campbell’s vocal run at the 1:10 mark – where he sings about Gentry’s “sweet, sweet love” with surprising swagger – adding fuel to what might otherwise be fairly standard fire.

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“Kentucky Means Paradise” (1962)

Ah, listen to that sound,” Campbell sighs at the beginning of this Merle Travis cover, while an acoustic guitar twangs its way through some bluesy runs in the background. Released on his debut album, “Kentucky Means Paradise” sinks Campbell’s roots deep into bluegrass and country territory. The band is top-notch, too, with Campbell trading guitar licks with Elvis Presley’s eventual right-hand man, James Burton. 

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“Ghost on the Canvas” (2011)

On the 2008 LP Meet Glen Campbell, the singer used the songs of Tom Petty, U2, Lou Reed and others to introduce himself to a new generation of fans. One of the songs on that record, “Sadly Beautiful” was penned by Paul Westerberg, lead singer of alt-rock band the Replacements. For Campbell’s penultimate studio album, Ghost on the Canvas, Westerberg supplied “Any Trouble” and the title track. Written a few years before Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, “Ghost” addresses life, death, spirituality and the mysteries embedded within all of those things, yet still comes off more comforting than haunting.

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“Sunflower” (1977)

Although Jimmy Webb was the go-to source for some of Campbell’s most enduring, recognizable hits, other familiar songwriters contributed to the Campbell canon, including Merle Travis (“Kentucky Means Paradise”), John Hartford (“Gentle on My Mind”) and even Campbell himself (“Less of Me”). In 1977, as the follow-up to the Number One pop hit “Southern Nights,” Campbell sang this effervescent tune from Neil Diamond, notching the last of eight chart-topping AC chart hits with it. Even playing with a broken guitar string, he whistles the impossibly cheery tune with abandon.

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“Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975)

As a kid from Arkansas who now had offers coming over the phone for TV, films (including the John Wayne Western True Grit) and more, Campbell was a natural for this Larry Weiss-penned tune. He took the song’s demo with him to Australia, learning it while he cruised the country’s highways from gig to gig, thanks to an airline strike. A pop Number One, the biggest country hit of 1975, and the ACM and CMA Song of the Year, the only dark spot on its legacy was as the genesis of the 1984 bomb Rhinestone, starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. In the end, it stands as Campbell’s signature song.

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“Burning Bridges” (1967)

His first hit as a solo artist, “Burning Bridges” finds Campbell crooning about lost love over a sad-eyed, slow-moving shuffle. A song about moving on, it helped set the stage for his transformation from sideman to singer, a move that was solidified when “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” climbed its way up the charts less than a year later. 

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“Ticket to Ride” (1965)

The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” was six months old when Campbell tracked an instrumental version of the song for his fourth record, The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell. While not as big- or bad-sounding as the album title claims, “Ticket to Ride” does capture Campbell at the peak of his sideman abilities, showing off the guitar chops that landed him a spot in the Wrecking Crew. The only downside? The the song’s premature ending, which fades out just as Campbell begins to rip into an improvised solo.

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“A Better Place” (2011)

Few artists have faced their inevitable exit with such poignancy, grace and faith as Glen Campbell. In the tender “A Better Place,” featured on 2012’s Ghost on the Canvas, Campbell stares his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in the face, singing, “Some days Im so confused, Lord, my past gets in the way,” before professing belief that a better place awaits after he slips off this mortal coil. The heartrending video features Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, a long-time Campbell fan, as a bartender, who hands Campbell a scrapbook of his life so he can revisit his musical journey alongside contemporaries Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. 

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“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (2014)

When the singer and his family revealed his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011, they were already filming the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me and working on what then was thought to be the last piece of music he would record. (The newly announced album Adiós, cut in 2012, however, is his farewell album.) Co-written with producer Julian Raymond, this Oscar-nominated gem reunited the guitarist with many of his Wrecking Crew buddies, and wasn’t as much for Campbell as it was for those cursing the disease that now cruelly distanced him from us all. This poignant gift to family at home and fans throughout the world was reassurance that grief is temporary, but love is eternal. 

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