“Southern Nights” was that song which earned Glen Campbell his fifth and final No. 1 hit on the country chart. Amazingly, the song did not top just one music chart but three in the U.S. That probably made the singer’s appearance atop the country chart end on a high note. But do you know that he did not intend to make the song a big hit? He just wanted to record it for a more personal reason.
How the Song Came to Campbell’s Hands
Campbell first heard of this song from Jimmy Webb’s recording. Webb wrote Campbell’s big hits, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.” In an interview with Webb, he shared a funny story of how Campbell got hold of the song.
“He came over to my house one time and spent some time there, and I remember I was playing an Allen Toussaint record.”
Webb was playing “Southern Nights” and stated how much he liked the song. It’s because of its lowdown kind of delta vibe and the great instrumental accompaniments to the song. When Campbell heard of it, he seemed to like the song instantly. He asked Webb about it and even asked if he can have it. As soon as Campbell got the go signal he was waiting to have from Webb, he took the record immediately and flew away.
“… I said, Yeah, you could have it. And he was gone, man. He had my record and it was like one of those animated cartoons, the roadrunner – *pooow* He was gone.”
Webb even added that, although he didn’t mind, Campbell had never returned the former’s record.
Glen Campbell Reminisces his Childhood in “Southern Nights”
Perhaps, the singer did not really intend to steal the song from Webb. He just liked it that much as it brings him back to his rural childhood in Arkansas. The singer affirmed that the simple life he had as a child was simply the best. And even when he’s enjoying a luxurious life that being a famous artist has brought him, his heart and mind were still there. He also realized his father was right when he told him:
“You’re having the best time of your life, and you don’t even know it.”
The songwriter Allen Toussaint himself considered the song very personal. It’s a tune that portrays the picturesque evenings he got to experience growing up in Louisiana. The best part of it was visiting the old folks who became his inspiration for writing the song.
“They were people from our ancestors, and we loved them a lot,” said Toussaint. “This song was written about them.”
The Song’s Success with Campbell
According to Webb, it took Campbell only four weeks to work the song out. After four weeks since Campbell took his recording, his version was already on air. Campbell’s recording added full instrumentation and Toussaint love it so much. He did not even expect someone like Campbell would ever listen to his song and record it themselves.
“I first heard it on the radio and I was delighted. It was so good to hear it like that because I just hadn’t imagined that someone would listen closely enough to it to want to cover such a thing.”
Little did Glen Campbell know that his record would become one of the greatest hits in his career. Apart from the U.S., the song also topped two different charts in Canada. And by the way, today marks the 42nd anniversary of the song reaching the top of the chart.
To celebrate, let’s listen once again to the song below.
allen toussaint, glen campbell, Jimmy Webb, southern nights