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Ten reasons to see Jimmy Webb this Friday

Bill DeYoung



Despite great success as a songwriter, Jimmy Webb never had a hit on his own. He tried for years - even Beatles svengali George Martin produced an album for him. "I began to think ‘I know I’m not singing out of tune. I know that this sounds great – and yet it doesn’t seem to make any difference,'" Webb says. "So at some point I sat down with my demons and I said ‘Look, I can’t do that any more.’" Photo: Rockstars and Babies.

Songwriter Jimmy Webb is back in the bay area Friday, for a concert at the Central Park Performing Arts Center in Largo. There are a number of great reasons to recommend this music-with-memoir show by one of America’s premiere singer/songwriters, but we’ve whittled them down to a handy list of 10.

“Wichita Lineman.” This wasn’t Webb’s first hit, nor was it his first or only collaboration with Glen Campbell. But its sweet melancholy resounded in such a way (1968) that it came to define both their careers – and even today it’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written. Webb gets that a lot. Quoth the BBC: “One of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music.”

“Highwayman.” Campbell cut it first, but it was the 1985 version by (drumroll please) Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson that registered, making “Highwayman” the most-played song about reincarnation in history.

“MacArthur Park.” Many of Webb’s most incandescent works of the 1966-68 period were inspired by the breakup with his longtime girlfriend, including this ambitious, dramatic look back at the days when things began to go south. The Irish actor Richard Harris recorded a heavily-orchestrated version, produced by Webb, peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in the summer of ’68. Donna Summer’s disco-fied arrangement topped the charts a decade later.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Another breakup song, recorded by Campbell in ’67, won two Grammys and charted at No. 2 on the nation’s country chart. Frank Sinatra allegedly called it “The greatest torch song ever written.”

“Galveston.” Campbell’s followup to “Wichita Lineman” might have been the first anti-war song to chart high (“I am so afraid of dying,” Glen the soldier sings as he cleans his gun and dreams of the beach back home in Galveston).

“Crying in My Sleep.” Art Garfunkel lent his angelic tenor to several Webb compositions, including “All I Know” (the singer’s first solo release) and this bittersweet look back at yet another failed love affair, albeit tinged with sarcasm. When the narrator wakes up crying, he accidentally knocks the phone off the hook. The operator’s disembodied voice says “Can I help you please,” and he sings “No thanks baby, there ain’t no help for me.” It is one of Webb’s most goosebump-inducing songs.

“Up-Up and Away.” This paean to passion in a hot air balloon was a massive pop hit in 1967. It was the first single from the 5th Dimension, a vocal-harmony quintet that would go on to work with Webb – as both songwriter and producer – over the ensuing years.

The Magic Garden. Webb produced the 5th Dimension’s second album, and wrote all the songs but one (a Beatles cover). It’s a song cycle, about (you guessed it) a broken relationship, and it includes three Webb/5D classics, “Carpet Man,” “The Girls’ Song” and “Paper Cup,” as well as the first recorded version of Webb’s “The Worst That Could Happen,” later a massive hit for a group called the Brooklyn Bridge.

Earthbound. The original 5th Dimension’s final album, produced (at their request) by Webb. The world’s first Black pop-vocal supergroup (we’re talking non-Motown here) were about to break up, but there’s life in these grooves as they bravely tackled George Harrison’s India-molded “Be Here Now,” “Walk Your Feet in the Sunshine,” the Beatles’ already-soulful “I’ve Got a Feeling” and the Rolling Stones’ weird but melodic “Moonlight Mile.”

This 2001 performance of the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks song “Surf’s Up,” with Webb, Vince Gill and David Crosby:

Here’s the Catalyst interview with Webb from 2019.

Tickets for the Friday concert, “An Evening With Jimmy Webb,” are here.


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    Henry Silcock

    February 3, 2023at10:30 am

    Jimmy met his first wife Patsy in 1968 when she was 12 and he was 22. She delivered the first of their children Christiann when she was 16 and they finally married in 1974 when Christiann was 17 months old.
    None of this is mentioned in Jimmy’s memoir “The Cake and The Rain”. Jimmy and Patsy have now been battling about their divorce in court since 1996.
    More info at these links:

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