Glen Campbell, Session Man: Remember the Music Icon with These 10 Hits You Didn't Know He Played On
In addition to monster hits recorded under his own name, Campbell also appeared as a session man on some of the biggest smashes of the '60s
From “Wichita Lineman,” to “Rhinestone Cowboy,” Glen Campbell‘s wealth of hits too often overshadows his prolific early career as a session player in the 1960s. As member of the famed Wrecking Crew—an informal collective of highly sought-after studio musicians—he played on literally thousands of songs throughout the decade, many of them hits.
As the world mourns his death on Tuesday at age 81 after a long and brave battle with Alzheimer’s disease, PEOPLE takes a look back at 10 huge songs you might not have realized featured Campbell’s playing.
“Hello Mary Lou” by Ricky Nelson (1961)
Son of television super-parents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, young Ricky yearned to be taken more seriously than his teen idol good looks often allowed. His early country-tinged tracks featured backing vocals by the Jordanaires—favored by another devastatingly good-looking guitar-slinger, Elvis Presley—but as their schedule became more hectic, Ricky called upon Campbell to approximate their blend along with songwriter Jerry Fuller and Dave Burgess. He also took over guitar duties on later sessions.
“Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton (1963)
From country to Bavarian, Campbell can be heard on 21-year-old Newton’s cover of German bandleader Bert Kaempfert’s tune. Incidentally, Kaempfert was the first man to sign a young Beatles to a recording contract during their Hamburg residency in 1961.
“Surf City” by Jan and Dean (1963)
The early-’60s music scene was awash with Beach Boys soundalikes, and Campbell even played on several—most notably “Hey Little Cobra” by the Rip Chords—but this hit from the Hollywood vocal duo has the pedigree of being co-written by Beach Boys maestro Brian Wilson.
“What’d I Say” by Elvis Presley (1963)
Campbell is often erroneously credited for playing lead on the title track to the Viva Las Vegas (that was fellow Wrecking Crew session man Billy Strange) but he did play on the raucous cover this Ray Charles classic that was also featured in the film.
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys (1964)
Brian Wilson would lean on Campbell extensively in the mid-60’s. In addition to calling upon Campbell for his studio work (he also played on hits like “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” and the groundbreaking LP Pet Sounds), Wilson asked him to replace him on the band’s 1965 tour after a nervous breakdown forced him to retire from the road. Campbell’s tenure as a Beach Boy was short-lived, and by the end of the year Bruce Johnston—formerly of the Rip Chords—had taken a more permanent role.
“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers (1965)
Infamous producer Phil Spector sought to create the “Wall of Sound” he heard in his head by employing whole armies of musicians—three pianos, three drummers, four guitarists, two bassists and a phalanx of strings were not unusual for his bombastic sessions. The studio live room could be so crowded that sometimes it could be difficult to tell exactly played on his songs, but Campbell is in the mix if you listen closely enough.
“Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra (1966)
While recording rhythm guitar for what would be Sinatra’s signature song, Campbell was so stunned to be in the Chairman of the Board’s presence that he couldn’t help but stare. Apparently, he stared just a little too much and Ol’ Blue Eyes got mad. “Frank asked [the producer] Jimmy Bowen, ‘Who’s the f— guitarist over there?’ I told him I’d slap him if he said that again,” he recalled in a 2008 interview. Coincidentally, this tune was also written by Bert Kaempfert.
“Mary, Mary” by the Monkees (1967)
Often maligned as a “fake band,” Monkee Mike Nesmith actually wrote this track, as well as “Papa Gene’s Blues,” which also features Campbell’s guitar.
“Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard (1968)
Campbell featured on many of the Outlaw Country icon’s early albums, including Swinging Doors (1966), I’m a Lonesome Fugitive (1967), Branded Man (1967) and Sing Me Back Home (1968).
“Turn Around Look at Me” by the Vogues (1968)
Though he didn’t play on this version done by the squeaky-clean vocal group, he did write it. Campbell released a version himself, his first charting single, in 1961.