A Five Star Song: “Gentle On My Mind” by Glen Campbell

Out of about 8000 songs currently in the collection, there are about 110 designated as five star songs, my all time favorites.  A handful of these directly descend from my father’s list of favorites.  I instantly took a liking to some of my dad’s favorites, but It took many years for me to fully embrace this song.  A couple years after Daddy died, I visited his girlfriend’s home in the hills above Palo Alto.  As is my habit, I perused through her small collection of records and noticed she owned a copy of Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell.  A moment of clarity.

After my father died, he was dating and single for a couple of years before he began his romance with his longtime girlfriend, who will remain anonymous.  They fell in love around 1970 and 1971 and stayed together for over thirty years.  They never married, nor did they ever really live together, although she would stay with him a bit more as they got older.  Theirs was a very secret affair.  The two rarely went out in public together, and neither me or my sister Betsy met ” Dad’s girlfriend” until almost twenty years into the relationship.  Slowly the ice began to melt, and we spent a bit more time with the two of them in my father’s last few years.  A certain distance remained between the children and the relationship, but I will always be grateful for her.  My father was a remarkably content and happy man.

Gentle On My Mind must be a song my father associated with the beginning of the love affair.  It wasn’t a marriage, just a committed, long term relationship between two people who cared for each other.  Free to do as they pleased, they always returned to one another.  The first two verses of Gentle On My Mind:

It’s knowin’ that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin’ bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch
And it’s knowin’ I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind

It’s not clingin’ to the rocks and ivy
Planted on their columns now that bind me
Or something that somebody said because
They thought we fit together walkin’
It’s just knowing that the world
Will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along some railroad track and find
That you’re movin’ on the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind

Here’s a clip of Glen Campbell from just a couple years back, singing through a couple verses of the song.  Notice how he gets that guitar to propel the song along:

The lyrics paint a picture of a natural love, the working man who thinks about his love while on the road, and visits when he can, but not because he has to.  Rarely do we see these sentiments in modern country music, where the standard ethic is that of fidelity.  The thoughts in Gentle On My Mind are a bit outdated, as women now work and travel and leave their lovers on a regular basis, too.  Some of Glen Campbell’s other songs have the same ethic, the handsome stranger who moves around the West, sometimes breaking hearts along the way.  My wife particularly objects to By The Time I Get To Phoenix.  Rather than seeing the tough cowboy who moves on, she sees a coward who couldn’t muster the courage to say goodbye.

Tommy Smothers introduces the next clip from “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” as a tone poem, an apt description.  The song is a narrative, with a rapidly changing chord sequence that keeps the song moving.  The song speed is both medium and lightning fast, depending on what the listener focuses on.  Here is Glen Campbell augmenting the song with some fancy pickin’:

Both of these are fine clips, but there’s no replacing the studio recording.  I never tire of Gentle On My Mind. Here are the Glen Campbell songs in the collection:

Gentle On My Mind, Glen Campbell ✭✭✭✭✭ (upgraded from four to five stars)
Gentle On My Mind (live), Glen Campbell ✭✭✭
Galveston, Glen Campbell ✭✭
By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Glen Campbell ✭✭
Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell ✭✭✭

Wichita Lineman, Johnny A ✭✭✭

Check out Johnny A’s instrumental version of Wichita Lineman:

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