Wichita Lineman. Please explain

I’ve been trying out different compositions (ok, chords and tabs) on guitar.

It’s so … different. To anything. Utterly memorable. Not jazz, not country, not blues.

What’s the arrangement about? The chords are why?

I’m fascinated by it. Would love someone to say “yeah, this and that, and the other, is why”.

I’m also enjoying Spanish Boots (Dylan), which I think, having dissected it for 25+ years, I actually understand (it’s not pretty).

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Not sure if it helps, but “Wichita Lineman” was a break-through record for Glen Campbell. Country folk was a big thing in those days (think of John Denver too). Not just with country music people…with a much more general audience all over the country.

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You know, you got me curious, and I found something really interesting in the last paragraph of Behind the song Wichita Lineman:

Why did such an unlikely song become a standard? There are many reasons, but here’s one: the loneliness of that solitary prairie figure is not just present in the lyric, it’s built into the musical structure. Although the song is nominally in the key of F, after the tonic chord is stated in the intro it is never heard again in its pure form, with the root in the bass. The melody travels through a series of haunting changes that are considerably more sophisticated than the Top 40 radio norms of that era. The song never does get “home” again to the tonic – not in either verse, nor in the fade-out. This gorgeous musical setting suggests subliminally what the lyric suggests poetically: the lonely journeyman, who remains suspended atop that telephone pole, against that desolate prairie landscape, yearning for home.

Written by Jimmy Webb, recorded with Campbell backed by his colleagues in the Wrecking Crew. This might explain its reputation as “A thing outside of music history.” An awesome group of musicians and a great song writer at their collective peak.

Edited to add: At the 1968 Grammy Awards, Webb accepted awards for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, and “MacArthur Park”.


I forgot to add to my Wiki report that the song (apparently, I am no musician.) never returns to its tonic after it is stated at the beginning. This might explain the feeling you are talking about @peregrinus_bis.

Yeah, that tonic thing does go some way to establishing the emotional tension, and it’s a classic technique to make the listener want more. What’s incredible is the whole arrangement dances around the tonic without boring the listener or over-stressing them.

A highly connected lyric and arrangement, just amazing.

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