THE BEST OF Glen Campbell graced my turntable last week, and it struck me how many of his big hits name cities — Wichita, Phoenix, Galveston, Houston, LA. I discovered some of his smaller hits follow a similar pattern: Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Manhattan, Kansas, figure in the names on his 45s. One of his last hits was about Branson, fer god’s sake.
Do you notice a trend here? It’s striking how the places Glen likes are all located solidly in red-state territory. He mentions LA as a place to get away from (with his mind on Tennessee) and Albuquerque as a place to pass through without stopping. It’s no wonder he performed at the 1980 Republican National Convention.
His biggest hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” is an oddball. It seems to be about New York, though it never says, and there’s a little bit of a Midnight Cowboy vibe to it, to which Glen seems oblivious. It’s not quite clear whether the cowboy/hustler likes it there or not. One could argue that this ambiguity makes it interesting, but have you heard the song?
Perhaps the most vexing thing about a Glen Campbell hit, though, is the screwy time frame of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” The song supposedly takes place over the course of the day Glen left his lover and drove east. We don’t know where he started from — it doesn’t really matter — but by the time he gets to Phoenix, the story goes, she’ll be rising. She finds the note. When he reaches Albuquerque in verse two, she’ll be at work. Then she takes a lunch break and calls him. In the final verse, he’s made Oklahoma and she’s asleep and crying.
What’s wrong with this picture? Unless this gal gets up before the chickens and takes a super-late lunch, there’s no way he can get from Phoenix to Albuquerque in the time it takes her to get ready for work, get there, and still not be on her lunch break. I don’t care how much time she spends doing her hair and makeup, I just don’t buy it. That’s a 7-hour drive. (Getting from Albuquerque to Oklahoma by the time she gets to bed would be easy.)
I thought long and hard about this. You know how I am. It finally occurred to me: He must have flown from Phoenix to Albuquerque then rented a car.