The song “Galveston” was written by songwriter Jimmy Webb, who also wrote Campbell’s hits “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.” The song was popularized by country icon Glen Campbell who recorded it with the instrumental backing of members of The Wrecking Crew. This song ranked number 8 in CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2013. Campbell’s version of the song also went to number 1 on the country music charts. On other charts, “Galveston” went to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the “Easy Listening” charts and It was certified gold by the RIAA in October 1969.
Released in 1969, Campbell’s recording of the song was perceived as being a Vietnam War protest song. However, he performed it up-tempo, conveying a more general message. The protagonist is a soldier, as shown in the original promo video with Campbell dressed up in a military outfit.
“Glen was very, very good at commercializing my songs. He could come up with great intros and great solos, great breaks, and he wrote perfect strings because he wrote very little. It was a minimalist approach and it just left Glen out there with the song and the guitar. I tended to write a little bit more as an arranger, and probably too much. So I could have done better to have stayed out of Glen’s way, I think,” Webb said in an interview in 2011.
Galveston is a city on the coast of Texas that attracts lots of hurricanes. Webb was on a beach in Galveston when he wrote the song. He made up the story about a soldier in the Spanish-American war and the girl he left behind. Most songwriters never find themselves in places like Galveston or Wichita, but Webb found inspiration in the people he encountered in these places.
The Vietnam War was going on when Campbell released this. It was considered an antiwar song.
Don Ho, a Hawaiian singer, was the first to record this song, releasing it as the B-side of his single “Has Anybody Lost A Love?” in 1968. He recalled that when he appeared on Campbell’s show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in 1969, he gave Campbell a copy of the single and told him, “I didn’t have any luck with this, maybe you will.”
Little Richard, who speaks his mind and doesn’t hand out praise lightly, said of this song, “When Glen Campbell says one word – ‘Galveston’ – it shakes me up. It takes me, man, that’s the whole soul of it right there.”
David Nail covered this for his 2014 I’m a Fire album. “Him being a huge hero of mine, it was very important for me to show that I had such a fondness for him,” Nail explained in an interview of his connection to Campbell. “I made a little elementary school note ‘check yes or no’ and just listened to the songs and held it up to my producer Frank Liddell, knowing full well that he would most likely pick ‘Galveston.'”
Nail turned the song into a duet with Lee Ann Womack. The songbird is married to Liddell, and he was able to get her to join Nail for its recording. “My wife is a huge Glen Campbell fan, so she came and sang on it,” said Liddell. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful things on the record.”