Thursday, 30 March 2017

March #1: The Greatest Song In The History Of The Universe

If I was ever asked to go on Desert Island Discs, I'd have a real dilemma at the idea of choosing only eight records to take with me. I'd probably spend days on the selection and I would never be satisfied with it.

However. That bit at the end of the show where Kirsty Young asks the guest to choose just ONE of their eight songs... that bit would be easy.

The most perfect pop song ever written. The most amazing combination of vocal, instrumentation and lyrics. A song that engulfs me with emotion every time I listen to it.

1. Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman - by Glen Campbell

After the video, there's a story I wrote ten years ago, inspired by this song. You don't have to read it. It's not compulsory. There won't be a test. It won't be featured in the final exam. But I dug it out again recently and didn't think it was too bad. Like all writers, there are bits I'd do differently now, bits that don't quite work, but you can't spend your life rewriting old stories. Otherwise, Jimmy Webb would still be working on this one, and nobody would ever have heard it...

And I Need You More Than Want You

“Hi, is Raquel there?”

“I’d like to speak to Raquel.”

“Could you put me through to Raquel, please?”

“Yeah, I can hold while she finishes up on that call.”

“Well, will she be back in tomorrow?”

You were the only person I could ever talk to, you know that? I still remember the first time, once we got past all the phony sexy stuff – once we started to talk like real people… how easy it all was. Course, it was your job to keep me on the line as long as possible, but you sure caught on that all the purrs and the oohs and the moans, they’re weren’t gonna work with me. Not with me, honey.

And so you let me talk. About my wife and the kids. About how Hannah couldn’t even eat breakfast in the same room as me no more; how she’d cook my eggs then go sit out in the yard – or lock herself in the bathroom, rainy days. About Scott getting arrested down in Haysville for possession and distribution – near a playground too. About Caira, pregnant again at 15, and no wonder the way she dresses. About little Larry, stealing all those goddamn cars. You let me talk, and not once did you say how maybe it was all my fault. Not once.

“Aren’t you worried about your phone bill?” you asked me that one time. That’s when I knew you cared too. That’s when I let you in on the secret. This wasn’t costing me nothing.

You know, I remember exactly where I was, every time we spoke. The view from each and every pole. The angle of the sun on the sides of the buildings; a swirl of seagulls over the town hall clock. Clouds shaped like Australia; the rising smell of morning bacon and cars. That couple on the bench, like two budgerigars kissing.

“I’m just testing the connection, ma’am.”

“We’ve had reports of a fault on the line out these parts – you had any trouble yourself?”

“Well, if it snows again, it surely might bring them down. But there’s nothing else I can do ‘til that happens.”

Yeah, it’s only 99 cents a minute, but those minutes sure add up, don’t they? And somebody has to pay the bill. Still, the way I see it, it’s somebody different every time – and they can always dispute the charges, should they like. The county has a whole department set up to investigate that sort of thing – but I know those guys. They’re third-rate. Couldn’t find Colorado with a compass. No way they’re gonna catch me. Still, it was sweet of you to be so concerned, it really was.

You know the day I knew I meant more to you than just another john? I was up on the main road out of town. Jimmy thought maybe there was a line down that way, but I couldn’t find nothing. I realised I had me some time to kill, so I gave you a call. That was the day your ma died, but you needed the money so bad you couldn’t take it off. You sounded so relieved once you heard it was me – you didn’t have to put on that show no more. She was only 65; nobody saw it coming. At least it was quick.

I let you talk that afternoon, while the eighteen-wheelers grumbled by below, shaking the spider webs where the wires joined the pole. It was a cold, blue sky day, and when I extended my bottom lip, breath steamed the tip of my nose. I remember some little chubby bastard rolling by on his skateboard, sat with his feet up at the front, paddling his arms like crazy on the sidewalk.

It was that same night I told Hannah I was leaving. But things change so quickly, and never the way you imagine them.

“I’m sorry, sir, Raquel doesn’t work here anymore.”

“Would you like to talk to one of the other girls?”

“I’m afraid that’s just not possible—“

“Please, sir, if you won’t cease with these calls, I’ll be forced to report this matter to the authorities.”

It’s been almost a year now, but you know something, Raquel? Sometimes I still think I can talk to you. I’ll be up on the lines when the wind gets high, and that noise they make – if I close my eyes, it’s like your voice coming straight at me down the wires, from far, far away. And I always think, if I connect myself up right then – just dial some random number when I hear that whine – you’ll be there at the other end, ready to talk all over again. And though it hasn’t happened yet, honey – one day, yeah? One day…


  1. And this is why you should get back on the horse, fiction-wise.

  2. Wow - what a great piece of writing. Really enjoyed it and even more special as inspired by that great song. As Martin said above - Time to get back on the horse?

  3. As with the above comments - fantastic writing - I would gush but I think I might embarrass you, but really this is a wonderful read and proof of a great talent, so I truly hope you do more (and thank you for sharing this with us).
    Wichita Lineman is such a great song and, although I've never been able to do my own ordered lists and have changing tastes in music, the more I thought about it the more I agree that this one song does deserve its place as the greatest song in the history of the universe. I tried to analyse why (at least for me) and I think it's because it transcends genres, it's timeless, it doesn't need me to be in a particular mood to be able to enjoy it, and I can't imagine I'll ever get bored of hearing it. Plus, of course, as you say - the most amazing combination of vocal, instrumentation and lyrics. And now those lyrics will also conjure up your story.

  4. "Wichita Lineman" is such a beautiful song - the melody, lyrics, Glen's vocal . . . Definitely has a spot in my top playlist.

    A great post!

  5. Still to read your story Rol but Wichita Lineman gets a nod from me
    A pal of mine had a summer job with Scothish Hydro fixing pylons leading him to sing I'm a lineman from the Hydro

  6. A lovely story. I think that, for a lot of people, it's easier to talk almost anonymously on the phone or online rather than in "real life".

    I wouldn't be able to put "Wichita Lineman" as my Number One (that's reserved for "God Only Knows) but it would be a close 2nd.

    1. If you're going to take 2nd place, losing out to God Only Knows is no shame.

  7. Enjoyed reading your story, inspired by the song. Good job on the american-ness. You should have an American narrate the audiobook.

    I like to think I still haven't discovered my favorite song, which keeps me searching. Some of my favorites I love because remind of good times.

  8. Didn't have much time to comment yesterday but I have always loved this song despite the fact that like you it wasn't really from my era. Have been listening to it on repeat today (at work - naughty) and think you just could be right - The most perfect pop song ever. Like with Night Moves it is all about "a feeling" and this song fills you with so many emotions. Jimmy Webb did an excellent job but I do think about 50% of the credit for "the feeling" should go to Glen as he sings this song just so beautifully with just the right phrasing (if that is indeed the term) at just the right moment. A wonderful short story to have come out of it as well - looking forward to reading more of your back catalogue of stories should you wish to share them with us.

    1. I wouldn't want to downplay Glen's role, and having seen Jimmy Webb live, I know he doesn't either. He considers Glen the perfect vessel for his songs, and he's right.

  9. Got round to reading your story as part of a Friday afternoon skive - excellent stuff

  10. I won't add my (increasingly considerable) weight to the claim for it being the greatest song in the history of the universe but you make a well argued case.

    But like everyone else, I'm blown away by your story. Thanks Rol.


  11. Thanks all for the positive feedback on the story. It means a lot to the former writer in me. Maybe I'll dig another one out next month...if I can find a tune to suit it.

  12. There used to be a talk show in Australia called Enough Rope, hosted by Andrew Denton. Webb appeared on the show and told this great anecdote which always stays in my mind. Luckily, there is a transcript of the show online, so I quote directly from it:

    JIMMY WEBB: I got a letter from a woman in Texas one time. "I have always been an admirer of your songs. Me and my husband, Harry, we listen to your songs almost every day. In fact, 'Wichita Lineman', I would say sometimes we listen to three or four times a day. It is such a wonderful song. But one thing that has always perplexed me is: why did the young man to have be electrocuted at the end?" You have to think about that.
    ANDREW DENTON: You don't know what they're hearing.
    JIMMY WEBB: 'The Wichita lineman is still on the line.' (Laughs)
    ANDREW DENTON: So this beautiful story of romance you've written, they're seeing a charred corpse hanging off the ...
    JIMMY WEBB: There you go.


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