Fact : Jimmy Webb has produced some of the most sublime songs in pop history. By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Galveston, MacArthur Park, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Up, Up and Away are all glorious songs. But one song stands above all the others in my book, and that is Wichita Lineman.
Webb’s collaborations with Glen Campbell have been kind to both men, and the Campbell version is so definitive it is one of those times when it just seems so pointless anybody else releasing a version. Campbell’s recording of the song cannot be bettered (another fact!). I’m not alone in feeling that either – apparently Stuart Maconie called it “the greatest pop song ever composed”, and somebody at the BBC referred to it as “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”.
What makes the song so great is a little hard to pin down. It’s a wistful piece, dwelling on a long-distance absence from a lover. The line “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time” is so evocative, it’s genius. The musical backing should be syrupy and full-on middle-of-the-road, drenched as it is in a sweet string arrangement. But somehow it rises above all of that – from the dramatic opening, the morse-code lines between the verses, the twanging guitar solo, the soaring strings, and the gorgeous fade-out, this is faultless.
So you’ll have guessed that I’m not expecting a ukulele version to improve on the original. But that said, it is a beautiful song to sing, even if me singing it isn’t exactly beautiful. I couldn’t find a ukulele song sheet that I liked, and so have adapted this from a number of guitar tab sites. I’m not claiming this is perfect, but it sounds OK to me (suggestions for improvements gratefully received).
There are two copies – one of which just contains the chords, the other of which contains the chords plus some tab as well – for the introduction, for the morse-code interludes, and for the instrumental half-verse (plus there’s an instrumental whole verse just for fun!).