It might seem hubristic to write a book about one song, no matter how good it is, but Dylan Jones’s lively and revelatory study of Jimmy Webb’s impossibly moving ballad Wichita Lineman amply justifies its existence. Made popular by Glen Campbell, the song was recorded in an unfinished form, but, as Jones authoritatively explores its creation, reception and near-mythic aftermath, one understands why none other than Bob Dylan referred to it as the greatest song ever written.
Though it’s one of the 20th century’s most captivating and enduring songs, “Wichita Lineman” still seems more suited for a chapter in an anthology than the subject of an entire book. Yet author and GQ editor Dylan Jones builds a worthy case for the long view, balancing insight from the record’s creators with its influence on American culture and personal reflections on its artistry... Less fulfilling is a chapter titled “The Lineman’s Afterlife”, which could have been the perfect place to delve deeper into the hundreds of “Wichita Lineman” covers recorded across a half-century... But a summary-list of three dozen others gives just a namecheck to soul singer OC Smith, whose radiant rendition outshone even those by Ray Charles and Tom Jones. Instead we get self-indulgent reminiscences of Jones crooning the song in piano bars with friends, though lounge pianist Rod Melvin’s eloquent appraisal of its musical sophistication is a redeeming addition.