“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell
As love songs often tend to go, this one (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”) was inspired by a real-life romance which its writer, Jimmy Webb, was involved in. However, unlike the song, in which he comes off as the heartbreaker, it was rather Jimmy himself who was on the receiving end of a dumping.
But anyway, as presented in the lyrics the male vocalist is involved with a certain lady, with the latter actually serving as the primary subject of the narrative. And to make a long story short, he decides to breakup with her by leaving a note on her door and bouncing.
When she first receives the message during the early morning she takes it as a joke, considering that he had the tendency to breakup with her regularly, only to apparently swiftly return in each instance. But by the time the evening rolls around, he anticipates that she will painfully come to realize that this time he’s really for real.
Indeed he’s traveling all the way to Phoenix, as the title indicates. And whereas we’re not sure where he’s setting off from, the implication is that it is a considerable distance away from his point of departure. As such, he is not there to actually witness his lady’s reaction to all of this.
But considering that he knows her well, he feels confident enough to predict how she will respond, which is finally in a miserable way.
And going back to Jimmy Webb for a moment, he has revealed that this story represents a revenge fantasy, if you will. In other words, it was what ‘he wishes he would have done’, i.e. leaving his romantic interest back then, Susan Horton, when the time was ripe, instead of sticking around. For at the end of the day, as implied earlier, she left him to ultimately go on and marry someone else.
Writing Credits for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”
This piece was written by Jimmy Webb, a highly-celebrated songwriter whom we have undoubtedly covered before. And “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was actually one of his biggest hits.
When it comes to these songs from back in the day, you can’t always judge their enduring popularity by their initial chart showing, as music charts in and of themselves were not as pervasive back then.
Indeed despite reaching number 2 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart and topping Canada’s RPM Country Tracks listing, this tune had a modest showing on the US Hot 100, barely breaking the top 30.
But it has been covered by a few artists, such as Dionne Warwick and the late Isaac Hayes, since. And according to BMI, from 1940 to 1990 only two other songs have been performed more than “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” during that 50 year timespan, despite this, the version that really started it all, not being released until 23 October 1967.
Or as Wikipedia puts it, “hundreds of… cover versions” exist of this tune, though not all of them, as implied, are by well-known artists. In fact Glen Campbell’s own rendition was a cover. And the first singer to actually record it, in 1965, was Johnny Rivers.
But the above is not to imply that Glen Campbell’s version was not adequately recognized for its greatness at the time it came out also. For instance, it took home two trophies at the 10th Annual Grammy awards (1968). And those were for Best Vocal Performance, Male and Best Contemporary Male Solo Vocal Performance.
Glen Campbell’s professional career dates back to being a member of the Wrecking Crew, a group of session musicians who served as instrumentalists for just about every big act of the day.
He also had a notable stint as a member of the Beach Boys during the mid-1960s, when Brian Wilson took a break from performing. In fact Campbell left The Beach Boys under his own initiative, as his own solo career began to take off.
And one need only to look at the length of his discography to know that Glen didn’t play around when it came to making music, even if his is a name we rarely hear of these days. Also half of the 10 Grammy Awards he took home in his lifetime were scored in the 21st century, at that point most of them being of the Hall of Fame or Lifetime Achievement variety. In fact his rendition of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award of its own in 2004.
The producer of the track, Al De Lory (1930-2012), was a regular collaborator of Jimmy Webb’s. And the label that sponsored the release of the song is Capitol Records.