By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Jimmy Webb wrote a tremendous song, very poignant and oozing with romantic imagery. Glen Campbell’s version is the most famous version of the song, but he is not the only one to cover it. Campbell was not the first one to record the song, Johnny Rivers was in 1965.

The 1967 Glen Campbell version was a Top 40 pop hit and number two on the country chart, scoring Campbell two Grammy Awards. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was the third most performed song between 1940 to 1990, and the 20th most performed song of the 20th Century.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” has likely made Jimmy Webb a rich man. Webb is also remembered for “MacArthur Park”, “Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, Up Up and Away”, “The Highwayman”, “Worst That Could Happen, “Crying in My Sleep” and many others.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is the kind of song that causes singers to salivate. Within a year after Campbell recorded the song, many popular artists had recorded their version. Although the words and vocals add a lot to the overall song, many instrumental versions have been released that use a horn, piano or guitar to play the vocal line. Supposedly, Frank Sinatra get this was the greatest torch song ever written. That’s high praise and recognizes the opportunities in this songscape and why it was recorded so often. It can be played as a sad love ballad, more of an mid-tempo tune, an aching R&B song, or with a lot of flash like a big showtune.

A song like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” becomes part of the post-Standards Songbook era of New Pop Classics. That’s a term I made up to describe from the 1950s onward. If you use that term, please be sure to send me $0.05 in the mail.

So, let’s look at some different recordings of Webb’s hit. There may be hundreds of recordings of the song, but here are a few.

Johnny Rivers – Not that much difference from the Campbell version, a bit faster.

Isaac Hayes released his version on Hot Buttered Soul (1969) lasting almost nineteen minutes. Many people think of Hayes from the “Theme From Shaft” or other aggressive piece of R&B, but Hayes was also a great interrupter of a variety of music, including ballads. Hayes’ version is a slow, extended sermon of soulful love. It was edited to a shorter version for radio.

Frank Valli – Much different arrangement, not one I liked.

Andy Williams – A soulful, jazzy version, released in 1968.

Reba McEntire – Reba included this song on her 1995 album release. Not a country version, close to the original Campbell version. A very lush version, she owns it.

Marvin Gaye – Again, the arrangement is very similar to the Campbell version, with a different horn arrangement, and Gaye’s vocals soar higher than Campbell’s version.

Dean Martin – Dino recorded a studio version with lush arrangement. He also sang it on his weekly variety show, a less disciplined version, much like the way he did everything else on his show.

Engelbert Humperdinck – He covered the song in 1968. Slight string and horn differences. His voice has more silk and warmth than Campbell.

Mantovani – Another easy listening version with a woodwind taking the place of the vocals.

Lorrie Morgan – Released in 2009, Morgan has a throatier vocal performance. Fine version.

Thelma Houston – A 2007 version, this seven minute arrangement has a cool, steady R&B groove that allows Houston to talk over the intro, much like Isaac Hayes’ version, kind of a backstory to the song. Houston has great emotion on this performance.

Vikki Carr – More of an upbeat arrangement, Carr has a huge voice when she opens up. Her version is not better than others, just a different interruption.

Herbie Mann – An easy listening, instrumental version released in 1967.

Bobby Goldsboro – Released in 1968, a slightly more upbeat version in style than Campbell’s. It feels more hopeful than other versions.

Soloman Burke – An R&B version, with Stax horns and tripping electric piano.

Robert Goulet – Deep, rich vocal by Goulet. He can hit the big notes, but he’s almost too powerful for the poignancy of the song. Fine version, very big sound if that’s what you want.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Recorded in 1986, kind of a cross between Elvis Costello and Chris Isaacs musically. Quite a different interpretation.

Charlie Rich – Country singer Charlie Rich released a version very similar to Campbell.

Tennessee Ernie Ford – Ernie has a really deep voice, he dials it down a few notches. This is a jazzy arrangement with vibes and guitar-picking.

Ray Price – Another easy listening version, more orchestra than Campbell’s version, released in 1968.

Conway Twitty – A bit of a twangy guitar in the arrangement, still the easy going arrangement of many versions. Conway does have an interesting vocal performance.

The Ventures – A 1970 release, an instrumental version with guitars in place of the vocals. Interesting, but not among the best of the covers.

Johnny Mathis – Johnny uses deep echo on his vocal, something that does not quite sound good for this song. I just don’t think this song suits him and vice versa.

Henry Mancini – Usually Mancini is on the mark, but this one is so different in his piano soloing that it is distracting. Difference is not always better.

Marty Robbins – Good version, middle of the road, much like most other versions. The only thing distinctive from the others is Robbins’ voice.

The Lettermen – Smooth vocal harmonies, pretty standard arrangement. 1968.

Frank Sinatra – Released in 1968, a longer instrumental lead-in. More Sinatra, scaled back arrangement. I was disappointed in this version.

Even the songwriter recorded his own version, playing it the way he imagined it.

The 100 Most Performed Songs of the 20th Century

  1. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – Barry Mann, Phil Spector, Cynthia Weil
  2. Never My Love – Donald & Richard Addrisi
  3. Yesterday – John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  4. Stand By Me – Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller
  5. Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio
  6. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Steve Cropper & Otis Redding
  7. Mrs. Robinson – Paul Simon
  8. Baby, I Need Your Loving – Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland & Eddie Holland
  9. Rhythm of the Rain – John Gummoe
  10. Georgia on My Mind – Hoagy Carmichael & Stuart Gorrell
  11. Killing Me Softly with His Song – Charles Fox & Norman Gimbel
  12. More – Marcello Ciorciolini, Norman Newell, Nino Oliviero, Riz Ortolani
  13. I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
  14. When A Man Loves A Woman – Calvin Lewis & Andrew J. Wright
  15. Every Breath You Take – Sting
  16. Gentle on My Mind – John Hartford
  17. Something – George Harrison
  18. Sounds of Silence – Paul Simon
  19. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Paul Simon
  20. By the Time I Get to Phoenix – Jimmy Webb
  21. Angel of the Morning – Chip Taylor
  22. Cherish – Terry Kirkman
  23. You Can’t Hurry Love – Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland & Eddie Holland
  24. Proud Mary – John Fogerty
  25. Sunny – Bobby Hebb
  26. Oh Pretty Woman- William Dees & Roy Orbison
  27. Everybody’s Talkin’ – Fred Neil
  28. I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield
  29. Goin’ Out of My Head – Teddy Randazzo & Bobby Weinstein
  30. Suspicious Minds – Mark James
  31. Scarborough Fair – Art Garfunkel & Paul Simon
  32. Traces – Buddy Buie, J.R. Cobb, Emory Gordy
  33. All I Have to Do Is Dream – Boudleaux Bryant
  34. Only You – Ande Rand & Buck Ram
  35. Canadian Sunset – Norman Gimbel & Eddie Heywood
  36. Oh Girl – Eugene Record
  37. Your Song – Elton John & Bernie Taupin
  38. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) – Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland & Eddie Holland
  39. (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher – Gary Jackson, Raynard Miner & Carl William Smith
  40. I Can’t Stop Loving You – Don Gibson
  41. Wind Beneath My Wings – Larry Henley & Jeff Silbar
  42. Michelle – John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  43. Up, Up and Away – Jimmy Webb
  44. Happy Together – Garry Bonner & Alan Gordon
  45. On Broadway – Jerry Leiber, Barry Mann, Mike Stoller & Cynthia Weil
  46. Twilight Time – Al Nevins, Morty Nevins & Buck Ram
  47. Strangers in the Night – Bert Kaempfert, Charles Singleton & Eddie Snyder
  48. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do – Howard Greenfield & Neil Sedaka
  49. Save the Last Dance for Me – Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
  50. For the Good Times – Kris Kristofferson
  51. We’ve Only Just Begun – Roger Nichols & Paul Williams
  52. What a Wonderful World – Lou Adler, Herb Alpert & Sam Cooke
  53. Snowbird – Gene MacLellan
  54. Everlasting Love – Buzz Cason & Mac Gayden
  55. My Special Angel – Jimmy Duncan
  56. The Most Beautiful Girl – Rory Bourke, Billy Sherrill & Norro Wilson
  57. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
  58. Girl From Ipanema – Vinicius DeMoraes, Norman Gimbel & Antonio Carlos Jobim
  59. My Cherie Amour – Sylvia Moy, Henry Cosby & Stevie Wonder
  60. Always on My Mind – Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher & Mark James
  61. Windy – Ruthann Friedman
  62. If You Don’t Know Me by Now – Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff
  63. Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett
  64. Spanish Eyes – Bert Kaempfert, Charles Singleton & Eddie Snyder
  65. Daydream Believer – John Stewart
  66. Daniel – Elton John and Bernie Taupin
  67. Take It Easy – Glenn Frey & Jackson Browne
  68. Let Your Love Flow – Larry Williams
  69. The Rose – Amanda McBroom
  70. The Heart of the Matter – Don Henley, J.D. Souther & Mike Campbell
  71. Don’t Be Cruel – Otis Blackwell & Elvis Presley
  72. Listen to the Music – Tom Johnston
  73. A Groovy Kind of Love – Carole Bayer Sager & Toni Wine
  74. Crying – Joe Melson & Roy Orbison
  75. Put A Little Love In Your Heart- Jackie DeShannon, Jimmy Holiday & Randy Myers
  76. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me – Elton John & Bernie Taupin
  77. Help Me Make It Through the Night – Kris Kristofferson
  78. Best of My Love – Glenn Frey, Don Henley & J.D. Souther
  79. The Letter – Wayne Carson
  80. Dreams – Stevie Nicks
  81. Mr. Bojangles – Jerry Jeff Walker
  82. Fire and Rain – James Taylor
  83. Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye – John D. Loudermilk
  84. Hooked on a Feeling – Mark James
  85. Blue Bayou – Joe Melson & Roy Orbison
  86. Born Free – John Barry & Don Black
  87. Release Me – Eddie Miller, Dub Williams & Robert Yount
  88. It’s Just a Matter of Time – Brook Benton, Belford Hendricks & Clyde Otis
  89. Let It Be- John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  90. I’d Really Love to See You Tonight – Parker McGee
  91. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
  92. Up on the Roof – Gerry Goffin & Carole King
  93. Layla – Eric Clapton & Jim Gordon
  94. I Honestly Love You – Peter Allen & Jeff Barry
  95. California Girls – Mike Love & Brian Wilson
  96. Imagine – John Lennon
  97. You Send Me – Sam Cooke
  98. How Deep Is Your Love – Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
  99. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden – Joe South
  100. Sometimes When We Touch – Barry Mann & Dan Hill

2 thoughts on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix

  1. This is awesome. Thanks for this! I did a wrap up on Earl Sink, myself, today. It’s part of the review of White Lightin’ Road, which starred Sink, aka Earl “Snake” Roberts.

    Like

  2. Did you know? Nick Cave sings the lyrics “By The Time I Get To Phoenix on the radio” on his new album of 2021 Carnage, the song called Old Time! 🙂

    Like

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