Top 30 Soldier Songs: #12 – “Galveston” by Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell will go down in history as one of country music’s greatest traditionalist icons. His songs have ranged from the worst to the very best of man kind, but one song in particular that reached all the way across that spectrum was his take on Jimmy Webb’s war song “Galveston”, possibly one of the most important songs in the history of the genre.
“Galveston” was written by Jimmy with an intent on being focused around the Spanish-American War, a period where the Texas town was at its peak. However Campbell’s timing for releasing the single in 1969 caused it to be turned in all different directions as it was released during the Vietnam War. As a result listeners began to see the song from a wider view, ignoring the symbolic specifics and imagining the soldier (narrator) as a man who could have been from any town in the nation and still have the fear he expresses. In turn this tune created massive controversy by having a soldier admit his fear of death, then a very powerful statement for a soldier character due to what became America’s most controversial war. Not only did Jimmy and Glen create a huge country classic, they also created a pop/rock hit portraying the powerful narrative of a soldier missing home.
The song centers around this one figure, a soldier at war who is facing the ruthlessness and terror of being in the midst of the action. He begins to miss his hometown, characterising it as a woman showing a sense of true commitment and even a little romantic imagery to make things even stronger. The most powerful part of the song is the character’s admittance of his fear of dying at war while cleaning his gun, a fear that at the time threatened all support of the Vietnam War. As the song progresses the narrating soldier becomes more intimate and emotionally involved in everything he is admitting, as if he has held in everything he has felt to this point in order to reveal it to someone, in this case his hometown, a place of security, serves as his target.
Jimmy Webb behind the pen and Glen Campbell behind the guitar and the microphone would make for a great treasure. As controversial as it was, this song proved in time to be one of the most important songs of its time, revealing both the strength and the weakness of the American soldier. It revealed a sense of fear and personal pain that even today is quite common among American troops and sent a message that no-one really wanted to hear, that war is brutal and it is scary.