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