Glen Campbell, the legendary country singer who died on August 8 at age 81 after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, was known for countless hit singles, from “Wichita Lineman” to “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.” But easily his biggest hit was “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
Released in 1975 and featured on the album of the same name, the song came out almost 15 years after his first charted hit. It was written by Larry Weiss and was a hit on both the country and pop charts.
Campbell is survived by his wife Kim, their three children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley; and his children from previous marriages, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane and Dillon. He is also survived by his three sisters and two brothers. His family asks fans to make a donation to The Glen Campbell Memorial Fund at BrightFocus Foundation.
Here’s a look at the history of Campbell’s iconic song.
1. ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ First Appeared on Larry Weiss’ First Album in 1974
“Rhinestone Cowboy” was written by Larry Weiss. In 1974, he released his first album, Black & Blue Suite, which included the single. Weiss thought the song would be a big hit for him, but that wasn’t the case. It got local radio play and reached No. 24 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart, notes AllMusic.
Weiss wrote several other hits before “Rhinestone Cowboy.” “Bend Me, Shape Me” was a hit for The American Breed and Amen Corner. Guitarist Jeff Beck had a hit with “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and Eric Burdon & The Animals had a hit with “Help Me Girl.”
Weiss has continued to record, releasing records independently.
Weiss’ song isn’t really about a cowboy who wears flashy clothes. It’s really about a singer who has been itching for a big break in the music business. When he finally gets his break, he’s going to shine on stage… like a Rhinestone cowboy!
2. Glen Campbell Listened to the Song While on Tour in Australia & Performed It During a Telethon Before the Single Was Released
Weiss’ original recording reached the ears of at least one important person: Glen Campbell. According to AllMusic, Campcell heard it played on Los Angeles’ KNX-FM and picked up a cassette tape of Weiss’ album before heading off to Australia for a tour.
Campbell clearly connected to the lyrics, which seemed like they were written just for him. When he got back home, he told Capitol Records A&R vice president Al Coury that it would be a big hit. CAmpbell then sang the song during a telethon before the single was released.
A KHJ radio DJ wanted to play the song, so Capitol sent him a quickly-made “acetate” recording. The song quickly caught fire nationally, and Capitol had to quickly get a single out as soon as possible.
“I heard the phrase and thought, ‘Boy, I like that title’. I put my own meaning to it and wrote the song. I’ll always be a kid at heart, and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ was sort of a summation of all my childhood cowboy movie heroes – particularly Hopalong Cassidy,” Weiss told American Songwirter magazine in 1984.
“The idea for the song was also a crying out of myself. It was the spirit of a bunch of us on Broadway where I started out – Neil Diamond, Tony Orlando – we all had dreams of making it,” Weiss added.
3. The Song Topped Three Billboard Charts in 1975 & Sold Over 2 Million Copies
“Rhinestone Cowboy” became the biggest hit of Campbell’s career. The song was the number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Hot Country Singles by the end of the summer of 1975. It also topped the U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. Eventually, the song sold over 2 million copies.
Amazingly, despite all the success, the song didn’t win any Grammys. It was nominated for Record of the Year and Best Country song, but lost both awards.
Campbell won six Grammys during his life, including a historic four in 1967 for “Gentle on My Mind,” which was considered a Country & Western Recording; and “By The Time I Get to Phoenix,” which was considered pop. In 1968, he won Album of the Year for By The Time I Get to Phoenix and he won Best Country Song for 2014’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” In 2012, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
4. Campbell Re-Recorded the Song for His Next-to-Last Album, ‘See You There’
In 2013, Campbell released what he thought would be his final album. See You There is a collection of re-recordings of Campbell’s most popular songs, with a stripped-down approach. The album came out two years after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
“It [was] on all of our minds that nobody wants to be exploitative when there’s an illness, or race against the clock because there’s another album possibility,” co-producer Dave Kaplan told Rolling Stone. “I knew that there was going to be some possibility that cynics might interpret it that way.”
The album includes re-recordings of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and others.
“The overall theme and concept that I had was ‘back to the living room’,” Kaplan explained. “Very personal and intimate, [without] overpowering instrumentation.
Campbell went on his final tour after recording See You There and felt he had enough time to record more music. Those recordings were finally released in June as Adios. The album featured covers of songs Campbell always loved and never had a chance to record.
5. Sylvester Stallone & Dolly Parton Starred in a Movie Inspired by the Song
“Rhinestone Cowboy” became such a big part of popular culture that it was the basis for a 1984 movie called Rhinestone. The movie paired fellow country music icon Dolly Parton with Rocky‘s Sylvester Stallone.
“Rhinestone Cowboy” has been used in several movies, like Daddy Day Care and High School High, and can be heard in episodes of Family Guy and Amazon’s Red Oaks. It’s also been covered by dozens of singers over the decades.