By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Album: By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1967)
Charted: 26
  • Like "MacArthur Park," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" was written by Jimmy Webb about a love affair he had with Suzy Horton, whom he began dating when they were high school students in Colton, California. She caused him considerable anguish when she ran off to Lake Tahoe to work as a dancer; it got worse when she married another guy, inspiring Webb to write "Worst That Could Happen," a hit for the Brooklyn Bridge in 1969. That marriage failed, and in 1993, Horton became Suzy Ronstadt when she married Linda Ronstadt's cousin, Bobby.
  • This was originally recorded by Johnny Rivers in 1965, who had a hit with "Memphis" the year before. The story of how the song was recorded starts with Jimmy Webb's first job: staff songwriter at Motown Records. Webb told us: "I worked for Motown when I was about 17, 18 years old. I was a white face. There were a lot of black faces and mine was a white face. But they always treated me very kindly, treated me like family there and really taught me a lot. And they had another kid there who had been on The Donna Reed Show, his name was Paul Petersen, and he had a couple of records. They're almost novelty records. One of them was called 'My Dad.' Kind of a ballad called (singing), 'My dad, now he is a man.' And it was a hit. And then he had another one called 'She Can't Find Her Keys.' He went out on a date with this girl and I don't know, she can't find her keys.

    And they came to me and said, 'We need a song for Paul Petersen.' And I wrote 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix.' And they didn't like it for him. They didn't like it for anybody. They ended up cutting it with a couple of different people and not really being happy with it. And when I left the company they gave me the song and said, 'You can take this one with you.' And I said, 'Okay, I will. I like it.' They liked verses and choruses there. Verses and big choruses. And 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix' is three verses, very simple, very direct storyline.

    The guy who hired me at Motown, Mark Gordon, who managed the Fifth Dimension, he was signing them over at Soul City, which was Johnny Rivers' company. I ended up going over there. They bought my contract out, I went over there. And I took 'Up, Up and Away,' 'By the Time I Get To Phoenix,' 'Worst that Could Happen, and a handful of hit songs that were there with me.

    So after all that, Johnny Rivers cut 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix.' Went in and did it with the Wrecking Crew and Marty Paich doing the strings. And then the story loops back to me from Glen Campbell. He was driving along the street one day, heard Johnny's record and thought, 'I could cut that record and make a hit out of it.' I think they both cut them in the same room, in Western 3. I remember working in there with Lou Adler on the first one, but I don't remember working on Glen's records. I wasn't always around for Glen's records. So there are these long, torturous stories for most of these songs that have not had easy lives." (See our full interview with Jimmy Webb.)
  • This was Campbell's first Top 40 hit after filling in on tour for Brian Wilson with The Beach Boys. When Webb heard Campbell's version of this, he wrote him a followup song, "Wichita Lineman," which reached #3 in early 1969. Webb said in his Songfacts interview: "I think that Glen's voice is perfectly suited to early JW - 'Wichita Lineman' and 'By the Time I Get To Phoenix' - there was some kind of a surreal fit between his voice and those songs. It's very hard for me to look back and say, 'Oh, a-ha, now I see why we were successful.' Because at the time it certainly wasn't anything that I was in control of."
  • Before Campbell recorded this, he played guitar on a version by Pat Boone.
  • Jimmy Webb was 21 when he wrote this song, which became his second songwriting hit after Up-Up and Away.
  • This was Campbell's first hit as a solo artist. Through his session work, he was well known in the industry, and Brian Wilson tried to make him a star by writing and producing a song called "Guess I'm Dumb," which Campbell recorded in 1965 but failed to dent the charts. Once Campbell recorded "Phoenix," his career as not just a singer but as an all-around entertainer took off: In 1969, he got his own TV show that ran for 3 years.
  • Campbell thought about changing the line at the end, "By the time I get to Oklahoma" to "By the time I get to Arkansas," because that's where he's from. He decided not to because he wasn't sure Jimmy Webb would like it.
  • Isaac Hayes recorded a 19-minute version of this song, including an eight-minute spoken introduction, on his 1969 million selling Hot Buttered Soul album. Like the other songs on the album, it was recorded in one take. Hayes explained to Rolling Stone magazine: "You know, I don't plan it, I just rap, man. Cause if you go over it too many times it just gets mechanical."

    Hayes explained to National Public Radio: "The rap came out of the necessity to communicate. There's a local club in Memphis, primarily black, called The Tiki Club. One day there I heard this song by Glen Campbell - 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix.' I thought, 'Wow, this song is great, this man must really love this woman.' I ran down to the studio and told them about the song, and they said 'yeah, yeah.' They didn't feel what I felt, I thought maybe they weren't getting it. The Bar-Kays were playing the Tiki Club a few days later, so I told them to learn the song and that I would sit in. I told them to keep cycling the first chord, and I started talking, just telling the story about what could have happened to cause this man to leave. Halfway through the song, conversations started to subside, and by the time I finished the song, there wasn't a dry eye in the house."
  • This won 1967 Grammys for Best Contemporary Male Solo Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.
  • What did Jimi Webb think of Isaac Hayes' version? He recalled to Uncut magazine June 2014: "When it came out, I thought, 'Wow, that's unusual!' It took up virtually the whole side of an album, but I really liked it."

    "The whole talking blues thing at the beginning was like a novel - a major opus," he continued. "It was to do with the Delta blues tradition, that way of telling a story, although people sometimes forget he did a great job at singing the song too, I'd produced The Supremes, I understood R 'n' B and soul artists, so it wasn't so far-fetched to me. Isaac was a precursor to rap and hip-hop, he was trying to create something new."

    "We later became friends, and I thanked him for doing a song," he concluded, "I told him it was a blessing for me."
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Comments: 30

  • Manman from The ZooThe criticisms about the timeline in the song have never made sense to me. A drive from LA->Phoenix->Albuquerque->Oklahoma City, OK would take about 20 hours (according to Google Maps), and that's assuming you don't speed. The lyrics imply that he has already left when she wakes up, so he could easily have left at, say, 1 am. 6 hrs later, 7 am, "She'll be risin." 6-1/2 hours later, around 1:30 PM, he's in Albuquerque. The lyrics say "she'll probably stop at lunch" to call him, but it doesn't say he'll be in Albuquerque by then. He's in Oklahoma City by 9 PM. Let's allow a couple of hours to stop for rest, food, etc, okay 11 PM. And by then, "she'll be sleeping"

    I don't know, nerdy though it may be, if you think this through, it does work.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 16th 1969, Isaac Hayes performed "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    One week & one day later on August 24th it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #88; and on October 12th, 1969 it peaked at #37 {for 1 week} and spent 8 weeks on the Top 100...
    It also reached #37 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    On the same 'Bandstand' show he also performed the record's A-side, "Walk On By", and it peaked at #30 on the Top 100...
    Between 1969 and 1979 he had thirteen songs enter the Top 100 chart; with one making the Top 10 and it reached #1, "Theme from 'Shaft'" for 2 weeks on November 14th, 1971...
    R.I.P. Isaac Lee Hayes, Jr. {1942 - 2008} and may God bless & watch over Mr. Campbell.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 9th 1967, Glen Campbell performed "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" on the late Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand'...
    Two months earlier on October 28th it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eventually it peaked at #26 and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #2 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart...
    Was originally recorded by Johnny Rivers, and its a track on his 1966 LP "Changes"...
    May God bless and watch over Mr. Campbell.
  • Terry from Valliant, OkWho said he was driving? He could have just as easily been in an airplane. It's roughly 1300 miles 'twixt LA and OKC, at 200mph that's just 6.5 hours. Fuel stops at Phoenix and Albuquerque, he crosses the Texas Panhandle into OK in about 8 hours.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaAssuming she had day job and the start-time/lunch scenario was flexible, the supposedly impossible timeline of this song WOULD work if he left L.A. (apparent starting point) six hours before she rose (L.A. to Phoenix = 6 hours), she woke up 2 hours before going to work and took lunch 5 hours into it (Phoenix to Albuquerque = 7 hours), then got home about 5 hours later and went to sleep early (Albuquerque to Oklahoma border = 5 hours). All times are approximate per Google Maps, and this assumes equivalent roads existed when the song was written.
  • David from Edinburgh, United KingdomI realise it is impossible to complete the journey in the timeframe Jimmy Webb suggests as the song is not about geographical but emotional distance. But IF it were possible to do those miles then the problem is - where does the songwriter begin the journey? You only know the places through which he travels - so where is the girl he is leaving and therefore where he starts? Without that information the possibility of achieving the journey if only in my head is impossible!
  • Michael De Patria from Paterson Nj, NjIn this song Jim Webb shows us once again how the simpleist lyric can produce the most intricate emotions. "By the time I get to Phoenix" in my opinion is about the first day of closure to dysfunctional and tedious relationship. This person finally realizes that getting out of this relationship will save his life, becuse they both have exhausted all of the possibilities to salvage it. The only option is a total break. He must have left early in the morning and mentally goes through the scenario of what his love would be doing and realizing at differnt points of her day and how much further he will be from her, where he can't go back. How many of us have played this tape over and over in our minds but never acted on it? When you know a relationship is trulely over but you are stuck due to fear, insecurities,etc.As humans to"stick with the familiar is very common". That is where,again, Mr. Webb is truly brilliant. He can take a simple story (like this song) but make it a canvas for someone to color in their own personal experiences. Where they wish the were this man goine to oklahoma,etc. We endure much pain and severe suffering as humans do to the courage not to change.That is the premise of this lyric when love is so worn out one must change. This song is a masterpiece.
  • Michael De Patria from Paterson Nj, NjThis song to me is another masterwork by Jim Webb. He is the grand storyteller. This particularv song goes through the first day of a perminant
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn 1991 Public Enemy released "By the Time I Get to Arizona", it was not a heartbreaking song like 'Phoenix' but very political!!! {The song deals with former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, who faced harsh criticism during his time in office after he refused to recognize Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday}
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyGreat song! For me it's a toss up between Glen Campbell or Johnny Rivers version. In 1971 Glen did a remake of this song with Anne Murray, it peaked at No. 81...
  • Rj from Pittsburgh, PaOne of my favorite songs, ever since I first heard Glen Campbell's version. It puts everyone who hears it right into the picture, which is what most great songs do. As much as I like it, however, I've come to enjoy Wichita Lineman even more. It has an ethereal quality and a little mystery. The line "And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time" is one of the greatest ever.
  • Carol from Nashville, TnLast night (9/24/09) my husband and I heard Glen Campbell sing "By the Time I get to Phoenix", live, with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and accompanied by the song's writer Jimmy Webb. It doesn't get any better than that! I used to think of this song as sad, especially because the couple was evidently still in love with each other. Then it struck me that the man had probably not even left the house yet. Might not even have written the note and put it on her door. The lyrics might be his fantasy. I was then sure that he would not really leave her, once he started thinking of things from her point of view, imagining her in a loving way. The whole situation could be gently humorous, as in the song, "What do you get when you fall in love?"
  • Joel from Wheeling, WvI really like this song despite the theme of it
  • Edward Pearce from Ashford, Kent, EnglandTony, the Wikipedia entry for this song (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/By_The_Time_I_Get_To_Phoenix), has a section on the possible journey from LA to Phoenix and it concludes that the song's time frame is unfeasible.
  • Tony from Cincinnati, OhEvery time I hear this song, I try to imagine the trip. Has anyone else tried to determine: When did he leave? What route did he take? Where did he leave from? etc.
  • Richard from Brighton, United KingdomGlen Campbell does not sing the line "By the time I get to Oklahoma" but sings "By the time I hit Oklahoma"
  • Steve from Milpitas, Ca steve from calif. in the song "by the time i get to phoenix," suppose to be "she'll turn softly and call my name out low." on the "view lyrics" for the song "by the time i get to phoenix" it has "she'll turn softly and call my name out loud."
  • Fred from Laurel, MdMark (Sydney), and Bobodobo (LA): I'm with you there. Another (semi-?)obscure JW song that I really dig is 'Montage' from an obscure movie, 'How Sweet It Is' (1968), which I never saw, but was named on the record (45 & LP) by The Love Generation, whose rendition is used in that movie. I think only JW could get away with a refrain that goes, "And I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew that I knew that you knew"! I have found that many of his songs have a delightfully silly aspect to them--viz., MacArthur Park (a cake melting in the rain???), and Montage ("...I didn't feel like Batman any more / I hit my funny elbow on the door..."). Sometimes he seems like Weird Al Yankovich delivered with a completely straight face. There was a movie, Vertical Limit (2000), that opens with a middle-aged father and his two young adult kids, rock-climbing on a vertical face (in Utah?) -- he's reciting the words to MacArthur Park, and the kids are absolutely convinced he's joshing them, going something like, 'C'mon, Dad, there was never a song with words like that! Let alone a hit song!!'
  • Walter from Antwerp, BelgiumThe original was done on Imperial LP 'Changes' very late 1966 (not 1965) by Johnny Rivers, who also produced Jimmy Webb's first hit 'Up Up And Away' by Fifth Dimension for his own label Soul City.
  • Ivan from Dallas, TxThis is absolutely my all-time favorite. I was about 10 years old and I saw the primitive MTV on Hong Kong's TVB station. The orchestral background is just amazing, esp. the very high strings. There's a Chinese saying "Flowing waters and flying clouds"- best to describe this song's strings background. I also like Galveston and Wichita Lineman.
  • Garrett from Nashville, TnJimmy Webb's first hit was "Up Up and Away" by the Fifth Dimension. It won several Grammies, including Song of the Year.

  • Amy from Smalltown, KsTo Jerry, in Brooklyn, NY
    The original was done by Jody Miller. You might GOOGLE her to get the lyrics.
  • Bobodobo from Los Angeles, CaTo Mark from Sydney: No, it's not just you. Jimmy Webb's songs have an amazing feel to them. Plus the unforgetable images - the phone ringing off the wall, the sound the lineman hears in the wires, the cake melting in the rain, the balloon floating away. But I have to disagree, MacArthur Park and Up, Up and Away are every bit as good as the Campbell hits penned by Webb. I can't figure out why someone as gifted as Webb didn't write more hits. He's every bit as talented as Burt Bacharach but didn't have the productivity. In fact, maybe Webb is more talented considering he writes the lyrics too and produced some of his hits.
  • Kerouac's Ghost from The Void, Tx"Manhatten Kansas" was not written by Jimmy Webb. It was written by Joe Allen. Campbell charted with it in 1972. Campbell's version is available on "The Glen Campbell Collection", a double CD set that is easily available.
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyThere's another, much more obscure Jimmy Webb song that Campbell once recorded called "Manhattan Kansas" I only heard it once or twice. It's about a girl in a small town who has to leave because she is unmarried and pregnant. It starts out "Manhattan Kansas ain't no place to have a baby when you've got no man to give it a last name." Anybody else remember it or have the rest of the words?
  • Mark from Sydney, AustraliaIs it just me, or does Jimmy Webb write songs that have an elusive, wistful, far-away feel that no other songs have?

    His big three imho we're all sung by Glen Campbell; By the time I get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston.
  • Maarten from Den Bosch, Netherlandsnick cave covered this on the album kicking against the pricks
  • Dierk from Hamburg, GermanyIt was also covered by The Mad Lads 1969 - likely the version Isaac Hayes got it from; they were all at Stax then.
  • Gene from Hammond, InGlen Campbell played the guitar lines on "Tequila" recorded by "The Champs". Also playing saxophone on the same song is Jimmy Seals later of "Seals & Croft".
  • Giovanni from Cremona, ItalyA 19 minutes-long cover of this song is contained in Isaac Hayes' 1969 album "Hot Buttered Soul".
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