5 Massive Hits You Didn’t Know Were Written by the Ultimate Troubadour, Jimmy Webb

Jimmy Webb titled a 1970 solo album of his Words and Music. It was about as apropos as you get, because that’s exactly what the man has been providing at the highest level, both for his own records and for those of countless other artists, since the ‘60s. If all you know are the names of the artists behind the hits of the classic pop/rock/soul era of the ‘60s and ‘70s, you might not recognize Webb’s name. But we guarantee you’re going to know his work, especially these five songs that were penned by Webb and taken to the highest regions of the charts by incredible artists.

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1. ”Up, Up and Away” by The 5th Dimension

The 5th Dimension were as versatile as they came in terms of hitmakers of the ‘60s and ‘70s. They could handle soulful ballads very well thanks to the stellar vocals of lead singer Marilyn McCoo (who would go on to co-host the American Bandstand of the ’80s, Solid Gold). But they also fit well in the flower-power era because of their ability to provide fascinating vocal arrangements of up-tempo material that fit the “groovy” tenor of the times.

Webb had gained some notoriety as a writer thanks to Johnny Rivers recording several of his songs. But “Up, Up and Away,” which took inspiration from a hot-air balloon that was used by a friend of Webb’s who was in radio promotion, was his breakout success as a tunesmith. The idea of a utopian dirigible that both provides a benign view of the world below and offers a respite from its problems proved just right for 1967, the year of the Summer of Love.

2. “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris

The master British thespian Harris was coming off success as an actor in the Broadway musical Camelot and decided he wanted to stretch out into the pop music world. He found just the right collaborator in Webb, who had put together a song with several themes and movements that required someone who could handle the drama of it all.

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“MacArthur Park,” sung, or should we say, emoted by Harris, is the tale of a wilted love affair. Webb based it on a heartbreak of his own, and, remembering picnics in the park with his ex, focused on the image of a forgotten piece of pastry in the rain as a metaphor for the love left behind. Harris became an unlikely pop star, and Webb became the go-to guy for ambitious pop compositions.

3. “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell

Campbell proved the perfect performer for Webb’s compositions, as he was able to place them in a kind of “countrypolitan” lane that appealed to a wide range of fans. He scored big with Webb’s “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” but “Wichita Lineman” is the masterpiece effort of this collaboration.

In the span of two verses and choruses, Webb manages to tell a stunning tale of duty set against desire, as the titular character needs to do his job even as it takes him away from his love. Campbell helps in a big way by delivering a standout performance, all world-weariness in the verses and lovestruck wonder in the choruses. For people who scoff that pop music can’t be art, play them this song and watch their jaws drop.

4. “Worst That Can Happen” by The Brooklyn Bridge

A one-time doo-wop star at the dawn of the rock era, Johnny Maestro was the lead singer for The Crests, who were famous for “Sixteen Candles.” Almost a decade after that initial success, he was back at it as the lead singer of a new vocal group called The Brooklyn Bridge, which was distinguished by a horn section. Who could possibly come up with the right material for such an odd hybrid? Why Webb, of course, albeit indirectly. The 5th Dimension had already released a version of “Worst That Can Happen,” but Maestro’s go-for-broke rendering of the song about a guy watching his ex marry someone else made it a classic.

5. “All I Know” by Art Garfunkel

Garfunkel’s split from Paul Simon meant there would be a ton of attention placed on his first solo album (Angel Clare) in 1973. To introduce himself as an artist on his own, Garfunkel wisely leaned on Webb, who had recently penned a luxuriously romantic song with all the melodic peaks that would fit the acrobatic vocalist to a tee.

“All I Know” was given a powerhouse arrangement full of strings and horns, and it would give Garfunkel a Top 10 hit to start off his solo career. What’s impressive about the track isn’t just its melodic boldness, but also the way Webb captures the desperation of a guy who loves someone so much it engulfs his entire identity. Hence, when the relationship waxes and wanes, his well-being goes right along with it.

Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum

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