To borrow from the early-’70s hit, “When you’re hot, you’re hot.” And as the ’60s drew to a close, Glen Campbell was hot! The blonde Arkansas guitarist was increasingly popular as a musician and on this day in 1969 he got his own TV show, the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS. That network saw the potential for photogenic musicians to crossover to TV clearly – two years later they gave Sonny and Cher a similar variety show, and before you know it every musical personality with…well, personality, it would seem had their shot at the primetime spotlight. The Captain and Tennille and Starland Vocal Band owe a big thank you to Glen, it would seem!
Campbell was an obvious candidate for the treatment. He was good-looking, “very congenial” as IMDB put it and a rising star in music with great connections. He’d been a part of the legendary “Wrecking Crew” set of session musicians in L.A., which had added the instrumentation to a variety of ’60s hit singles ranging from “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” by the Monkees to “Up, Up and Away” by the Fifth Dimension to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” by the Beach Boys. He’d also had a solo career which was really starting to not only ramp up, but cross over from country (where he first got noticed) to the mainstream pop/AM radio markets. He’d won the Grammy for Album of the Year the year before, with By the Time I Get To Phoenix, had five straight #1 albums on the country charts and had recently had his first overall top 10 single with his cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman”. Soon he’d have his first #1 hit with another Jimmy Webb tune, “Galveston.”
Campbell had been asked to sit in for the Smothers Brothers on their comedy/variety show in the summer of ’68 and did so well CBS decided to give him his own weekly hour. In the then-popular “variety” show method, the shows mixed musical pieces from guests with short comedy skits, something now largely gone from primetime but carried on to this day with Saturday Night Live.
For the first week, Campbell’s guests were appropriately enough, the Smothers’ Brothers and Bobbie Gentry. Gentry was obvious as he’d just recorded an album of duets with her which had gone gold in the U.S. and she was barely a year removed from topping the charts with “Ode to Billy Joe.” He’d famously have John Wayne on weeks later and hosted a great number of musical acts through the four-year run the show had. It was credited with starting Anne Murray’s career outside of Canada, he had Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed and Stevie Wonder among his musical guests and most ground-breaking for the time, The Beatles. Actually, the Fab Four weren’t real co-hosts, but the U.S. public did get to see videos they’d made for “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” for the very first time in April on Campbell’s show.
Of course, to go back to that Reed song, “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” one has to remember the next line… “When you’re not, you’re not.” By 1972, Glen Campbell was not. His musical career had stalled out, he’d perhaps run out of significant musical friends to have on and the public’s love of “rural TV” (as seen in shows like Hee Haw and Green acres) had diminished. The Goodtime Hour which had been the 15th most-watched show on TV in its first season had plummeted in the ratings and was canceled in June 1972.
Although Glen would never quite hit those heights again, he did have a bit of a career renaissance a few years later with another chart-topper, “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Sadly he passed away in 2017 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease