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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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“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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