Like A 'Rhinestone Cowboy:' Glen Campbell's Life In One Song

By | June 29, 2018

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Singer Glen Campbell performs onstage in July 1974. (Photo by (Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

The late Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy," released in 1975, is the late country singer's biggest ever hit, and it might also be the song he identified with the most on a personal level. With lyrics about "a load of compromising" and the desire to be "where the lights are shinin' on me," it's a song of career frustration and hope. It was a familiar story for Glen Campbell, who'd achieved fame with songs like "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman," but was in a rut by the mid-'70s.

"I thought it was my autobiography set to song," he recalled. 

He'd been to the top, he'd lived the country-star life in the limelight -- indeed, "like a rhinestone cowboy" -- but longed to return. The song, a huge hit worldwide, was just the vehicle he needed.

It's fairly amazing that lyrics written by a songwriter named Larry Weiss, whom Campbell had never met, struck such a nerve and seemed so revflective of Campbell's own life experiences. Weiss's version of the song had been released and had flopped, and Weiss was considering giving up on music and going into the furniture business around the time Campbell was discovering his personal connection to "Rhinestone Cowboy." Just how "autobiographical" were Weiss's lyrics? Let's just say that, line by line, you can see elements of Campbell's life story pretty clearly. Starting from the beginning, with the opening lyric about trudging through the same familiar streets without seeming to get anywhere...

'I've Been Walkin' These Streets So Long, Singin' The Same Old Song'

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Drummer Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell at a Wrecking Crew session, photo by Denny Tedesco. Source:

Glen Campbell was a naturally gifted musician, but personal fame didn't come early. He was in his mid-20s when he moved to Los Angeles in 1960, and got a job writing songs at a music publisher while also working as a session musician. He joined up with a group of players who became fairly legendary as the Wrecking Crew, backing all manner of performers on big hits. Campbell contributed guitar to "Strangers In The Night" by Frank Sinatra, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, "Surf City" by Jan and Dean, "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees, and "Viva Las Vegas" by Elvis Presley. By 1963, his singing and playing had appeared on 586 songs, some recorded under his own name but the vast majority as a session player or singer. He played on a few Beach Boys tracks, and toured with them in 1964 and 1965. He was in Los Angeles for nearly 7 years, trying to launch the solo career we're now so familiar with, but having little success.