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The World of Jimmy Webb

by Jim Allen

The World of Jimmy Webb


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In the late '60s, titanic tunesmith Jimmy Webb -- along with fellow travelers like Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and Harry Nilsson -- helped bring art to the L.A. pop scene. He penned tunes that freely mixed lyrical impressionism with a harmonic knack that seemed to incorporate everything from Maurice Ravel and Aaron Copland to gospel and country. Fortunately, his artistic emergence coincided with the beginning of pop's courtship of the counterculture. When acts like The 5th Dimension and Glen Campbell needed something sophisticated but snappy, they turned to the boy wonder from Oklahoma, and he cooked up instant classics like "Wichita Lineman," "Up, Up and Away" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

Webb's early art-pop tour de force "MacArthur Park" was rejected by The Association, but was debuted in a landmark recording by Richard Harris. It proved surprisingly adaptable many years later when a disco version became a hit for Donna Summer. In fact, the soulful, R&B-inflected side of Webb's work largely outlived his more ornate tendencies, as '70s recordings of his tunes by the likes of Roberta Flack, The Supremes and Joe Cocker showed. Along the way, Webb has also maintained a solo career. His 2013 release, Still Within the Sound of My Voice, shows just how much of an impact his tunes have had, by featuring guests from the worlds of country, rock and pop on new recordings of vintage Webb tunes. Here's just a small sampling of the wonders to be found within the world of Jimmy Webb.

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