In the five-plus years I’ve been doing this, I can’t recall a reaction on social media as strong and across-the-board from every quarter as the outpouring of love and respect for Glen Campbell in the last day-and-a-half. It probably says as much about our fractious times and the natural desire to reach for something–anything–that speaks to a common culture, as it does about Campbell’s remarkable career. I might have more to say about that later.

But there’s one story I haven’t seen referenced anywhere else that’s worth repeating. This is from the liner notes of his 1976 Best of...which happened to be one of the first LPs I ever bought.

“Hank Cochran and Jeannie Seeley were out here, and they happened to fall by the studio for a visit. I happen to have a fairly good vocal range, and I was kinda showin’ it off that day. I was cutting ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ for an album and did the performance live. The performance came off so well that I started carrying the dub of it around with me. I was following Elvis into Vegas, and I said, ‘Hey man, I want you to hear this old song. I think it’d be a gas for you.’ And he said ‘A gas for me? I’d release it just as it is.’ And I thought, yea, I just might do that. And wouldn’t you know it, the record went Top 10.'”

Pop, Country and UK. Deservedly so…

No idea if Glen or Elvis pegged the 1958 original (Conway Twitty’s first big hit and one of the greatest vocals ever waxed) as the sublime best-Elvis-ballad-not-by-Elvis it was–the vocal delivering everything the title denied.

More likely they just knew a good thing when they heard it.

In any case Twitty’s early career was one of the first splits Nashville imposed on its artists–forcing them to choose between country and pop, a barely told story, which resulted in the likes of Brenda Lee and the Everly Brothers, who were literally Children of Nashville, being shut out of country radio. That story still has its fullest explanation in Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City, originally published in 1970, where he outlined a divide which, in the long night between Elvis going in the army in the spring of 1958 and Olivia Newton-John punching through the wall as a true “outsider” in the fall of 1973, only Campbell was able to bridge consistently. (Conway, who hit the Pop Top 40 five times in the fifties–including three Top Tens–didn’t hit the country chart until 1966. After which he never stopped hitting it, but had only one Pop Top 40–1973’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”–the rest of his decades’ long career. Yes, the wall was real. Upon his return from the army, Elvis himself had scant country success until 1974. Don’t ever let anyone tell you Olivia Newton-John wasn’t a working class hero.)

And, yeah, I still wish Elvis had cut it, too.

6 thoughts on “ONE MORE BEFORE WE GO…

  1. I laughed a bit at the sheer forthrightness of your description, “Best Elvis ballad not by Elvis,” as it’s exactly how I’ve always thought of the song, wondering (foolishly, I guess) if I’ve been one of the very few to notice, or to reckon that MGM released it as a single specifically because of the Elvis overtones in the vocal delivery.

    (“Hard-Headed Woman” had recently been #1 — or still was — and “Jailhouse Rock” was at the top in England. In fact, the latter was allegedly the first record of any kind to debut at #1 on the UK pop charts. It even hit the top of the American country and R&B charts. Not that I care about public reception re: whether or not I think a song is any good, but this was around the time when every label wanted its Elvis sound-a-like. Good thing for us, or Capitol would perhaps never have given us Gene Vincent, and Liberty might not have taken on Eddie Cochran after his commercial failures with Crest.)

    The Elvis-ish-ness doesn’t keep Twitty’s biggie from being a great piece of music, of course. It consists entirely of two long builds! You want a climactic melody? This is Exhibit A.

    • It gets weirder when you consider the title–a straightforward (albeit brilliant) imitation of another man’s style. What else would you call it but It’s Only Make Believe? And what would you do with the delivery but make it so intense it couldn’t help both making its own statement and becoming a natural smash? What was it somebody said? Baby that was rock and roll? Glen’s version is excellent, but it would have been interesting to see if Elvis could possibly snatch it back…

  2. Wow! Somehow I missed Glen’s recording but not Conway’s. Nashville’s ‘cold shoulder’ was a reflex from early ’50’s Elvis. Thank goodness they wised up! Love the story ’bout Glen & Elvis. Glen Campbell was pure ‘Americana Talent’ and he was beloved. TCB

    • Thanks Clementine….They were definitely torn between fearing rock and roll and exploiting it…Fear won out (it usually does). Wish there was a figure like Elvis or Glen who could bridge that gap today!

  3. Glen’s voice holds the yearning of the sharecropper’s son and his rags to riches to Alzheimer’s story speaks to our souls. Maybe that’s why so much attention to his passing.
    I would love to have heard Elvis sing this, too. Roy Hamilton’s recording, with Chips Moman, is my favorite.

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