Rhinestone Cowboy

Album: Rhinestone Cowboy (1975)
Charted: 4 1
Play Video


  • This was written and originally recorded by Larry Weiss, a Brooklyn songwriter whose credits include "Bend Me, Shape Me" by The American Breed, "Help Me Girl" by The Animals and The Outsiders (both with Scott English). Campbell was on tour in Australia when he first heard the song. He bought a cassette copy and listened to it over an over. When he returned to America, he told Al Khoury, an A&R man, at his record label, that he found a perfect song to record. Khoury replied that he also had a great song for Campbell - it was "Rhinestone Cowboy." Campbell took this bit of serendipity as a sign that he was destined to record it. The tune ended up becoming Campbell's signature song and a centerpiece of his live shows.

    Campbell could relate to the lyric about a country singer who has seen it all. In the '50s, he spent several years playing honkey tonks in Albuquerque, and after moving to Los Angeles in 1960, he worked as a demo singer, a staff writer and a session musician before hitting it big in the late '60s after he turned 30.
  • Rhinestones are fake jewels that are popular on country-style clothing. They show up nicely on stage, so they are a popular fashion choice for some flamboyant country singers. One such singer was David Allan Coe, who called himself the "Rhinestone Cowboy" and released an album in 1974 called The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy. As Coe tells it, Mel Tillis gave him some Rhinestone suits, which he would wear backstage at the Grand Ol' Opry. When he went into the audience, the glistening suits made people think he was a star, even though he was a nobody at the time. Asked for autographs, he signed them, "The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy."

    Coe says that Larry Weiss offered him this song, but he didn't feel comfortable singing about himself so he turned it down.
  • Campbell wanted to accentuate the vocals on his version, since he loved the lyric. To do so, he overdubbed a harmony vocal that plays throughout the song.
  • This song originated when Weiss overheard the phrase, "Rhinestone Cowboy" in a conversation. He told American Songwriter magazine September/October 1984: "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."

    The song is about a Country singer struggling to make it big, and it reflected Weiss striving to make it in his songwriting career. He revealed in the same interview: "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."

    A note on Neil Diamond and his famous shiny suits: he is more comfortable in Blue Jeans, but goes with the gaudy stagewear so the audience can see him more clearly.
  • For Campbell, this was a very important song, and one he would call "maybe the best song I've ever sung." It came at a time when his career had gone flat: His popular TV show had been canceled, acting gigs dried up, and he hadn't had a hit since 1971. The story of the faded star who perseveres in the song held a lot of meaning for Campbell.
  • This sold over 4 million units and hit #1 on the Hot 100, Country, and Adult Contemporary charts in the summer of 1975, becoming the first song since "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean to reach the apex of all three charts. "Rhinestone Cowboy" gained three Grammy nominations and was the Country Music Association's Song of the Year for 1976. In 1977, the song earned Weiss the Nashville Songwriters' Association International's Songwriter of the Year award.
  • Although it wasn't used in the film, this was the inspiration for the 1984 movie Rhinestone, starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone.
  • Campbell performed the song on a telethon, which kick-started interest to the point of the RKO radio chain playing Campbell's version on the air before the single was pressed.
  • In later years, Campbell sang the line, "I've been walkin' these streets so long, singin' the same old song" to "I've been walkin' these streets so long, singin' those good old songs," since he wanted to show appreciation for the songs that served him so well.
  • This was in the running for Most-Performed Song of 1975 in America, but was beat out by "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tennille.
  • Campbell performed this song on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he was a regular guest and occasional guest host. Carson would later poke fun at the song's ubiquitous popularity, threatening to sing it on the air. He eventually did... while wearing an outlandish cowboy outfit.
  • Campbell performed this song at the Grammy Awards in 2012, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Campbell had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease, but with the help of his wife, Kim, he decided to keep performing, which doctors said helped slow the progress of the disease. The Beach Boys, who Campbell performed with in the '60s, also played that night.
  • Bruce Springsteen sings "Rhinestone Cowboy" at the end of Western Stars, a 2019 concert film accompaniment to the Jimmy Webb-inspired album of the same name. Springsteen said to The Sun regarding Glen Campbell:

    "When he first came out, I thought, 'He's a little mainstream,' but then I realized he made well-crafted records. He can really sing and he was a great guitarist so, as I got older, I got into that music and thought, 'Ah, I want to make a record with those influences.'"

Comments: 21

  • John from City Of IndustryI think the song applies to almost anyone. It could be a drug addict or a sex worker, but indeed it could be anyone.
  • Rbb from UkLarry sure wrote a banger.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 15, 1975, Glen Campbell performed "Rhinestone Cowboy" on the NBC-TV musical variety late-night program 'The Midnight Special"...
    At the time the song was at #6 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, three weeks later it would peak at #1 {for 2 weeks} and it spent close to a half-year on the Top 100 {23 weeks}...
    And it also reached #1 on two other Billboard charts, Hot Country Singles and Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, while in Canada it would reach #1 on the RPM Singles & the RPM Country charts...
    During the calendar year of 1975 two other 'Cowboy' songs made the Top 100 chart, "Ride 'Em Cowboy" by Paul Davis {at #23} and "Christmas for Cowboys" by John Denver {at #58}...
    Sadly, Glen Travis Campbell passed away at the age of 81 earlier this month on August 8th {2017}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 31st, 2017 the National Guitar Museum in New York announced that its Lifetime Achievement Award has been awarded to Glen Campbell...
    Between 1961 and 2014 he had thirty-eight records on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; five made the Top 10* with two reaching #1; "Rhinestone Cowboy" for two weeks in 1975 and "Southern Nights" for one week in 1977...
    May God bless and watch over Mr. Campbell...
    * He just missed having a sixth Top 10 record when "Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)" peaked at #11 for two weeks in 1976.
  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaI just always thought "star-spangled rodeo" was another way of saying an all-American cowboy.
  • Kelli from Mayberry, OhDavid Allan Coe was the front singer for Americana/Outlaw country radicals The Eli Radish Band around the time of this hit. Ironic that Coe didn't wish to release this song and told writer Larry Weiss that it was because "he didn't feel comfortable singing about himself". MANY of Coe's later solo hits prominently included his own name. It was Coe that brought the rhinestone suit tradition to Radish, although they juxtaposed the country glam with long hair, ripped blue jeans and a decidedly outlaw biker fashion sense. See: http://www.EliRadishBand.com and http://www.Facebook.com/EliRadishBand for more information.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhGlen Campbell had a string of hits and is a super talented and very accomplished singer/songwriter/guitarist. I was also young and carefree when his music was popular and hearing his music reminds me of those innocent days when he and a few other country stars were bridging the gap between country and mainstream music.
  • Budoshi from Sandnessjøen, NorwayThe Star Spangled rodeo is what you see when you're on the rodeos.. Just a comment on the circus and the public who loves it..
  • Kristin from Bessemer, AlThis song was featured in the 1996 Comedy "High School High", at a dance when the record got damaged from being "scratched"-
  • Andrew from Birmingham, United StatesThis is a masterpiece. I wonder, however, what the part "star-spangled rodeo" is all about. What is Glen Campbell talking about? I only listen and enjoy. I haven't really figured out what this song is about.
  • Mark from Lancaster, Oh"...they're wrong, I know they are, 'cause I can play this here guitar, and I won't quit 'til I'm a star..."

    Well, it's almost the same as "On Broadway," but we can forgive Glen Campbell for almost anything: his popular TV show bridged the gap between country and mainstream music, infuriating Nashville purists but forever enriching American music.

    I don't believe that he recorded anything much after this song, and it's not his best, but I'm glad it did so well.
  • Tony from Grayslake, IlEither Glen Campbell has a time machine or he ripped this beeotch from DAC. Don't get me wrong, I love the Glenster, but I do believe that "In 1973 he (David Allen Coe) joined Danny Sheridan's notorious Eli Radish Band. His concerts were wild and unpredictable, as Coe began calling himself the Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy and he wore a rhinestone costume and Lone Ranger mask, riding into concerts on a motorcycle."

    Now, who believes that Glen Cambell created the RHC BEFORE DAC? NOT!
  • Jon from Oakridge, OrDavid Alan Coe is awesome, and this song is laim yet great.
  • Kevin from San Jose, CaGlen almost got his a$$ kicked by David Allan Coe, the original rhinestone cowboy, for singing this one. He answers with the song "Ride 'Em Cowboy."
  • Savannah from North Van, Bc, CanadaI LOVE RHINESTONES!!!!! AND COUNTRY MUSIC
  • Paula from Lexington, KyDon't be an idiot. Rhinestone Cowboy is about a country singer who wants to be famous. Not a wannabe cowboy.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InI was only six when this was a hit, but I loved it and still do. It takes me back to a time when I had no responsibilties and looked forward to the future. It's a simple song with a simple message. I enjoy that from time to time. AM radio is not what it was back in the 70's. Timeless classic for sure and I'll never tire of it.
  • M Paul from Green Bay, Wii guess there is a live version recorded last year in a phoenix drunk tank. check it out
  • Ken from Louisville, KyJohnny Carson was so taken with this song he actually - on a dare - a solo version of this song on The Tonight Show" - in a rhinestone outfit while riding a donkey! Johnny had done impromptu duets before, with Pearl Bailey and others, but this was his first - and only - solo singing performance on the show.
  • Jude from Thomasville, GaLord, the little AM station in my hometown wore this record out! It was a long time ago, but I think I know the lyrics by heart. It's still a good song, though.
  • Clarence from Brunswick, Gathere is a part in the movie Rhinestone where you can here cambell singing this song in the background
see more comments

Editor's Picks

In The Cards

In The CardsSong Writing

Songwriters have used cards and card games to make sense of heartache, togetherness, and even Gonorrhea.

90s Music Quiz 1

90s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

First question: Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson appeared in videos for what artist?

Charlie Benante of Anthrax

Charlie Benante of AnthraxSongwriter Interviews

The drummer for Anthrax is also a key songwriter. He explains how the group puts their songs together and tells the stories behind some of their classics.

Steely Dan

Steely DanFact or Fiction

Did they really trade their guitarist to The Doobie Brothers? Are they named after something naughty? And what's up with the band name?

David Paich of Toto

David Paich of TotoSongwriter Interviews

Toto's keyboard player explains the true meaning of "Africa" and talks about working on the Thriller album.

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner of Soul AsylumSongwriter Interviews

Dave explains how the video appropriated the meaning of "Runaway Train," and what he thought of getting parodied by Weird Al.