Glen Campbell – Galveston – A Protest Song?

I spend hours digging through stacks of polka albums in my local thrift stores and sometimes I get lucky and find a memory.  Not necessarily a musically great album, but one that rekindles something from my youth.  That’s a wonderful part about this obsession.  A hundred people before me flip right past Moe Kauffman’s “Museum Pieces” before I grabbed it and was flooded with memories of the museum pieces at the Royal Ontario Museum on Toronto’s Bloor Street.

But this blog post is about finding an album in pretty good condition – playable at least after a good cleaning – that pushed me to dig for the reasons why I was drawn to it.  I was never a huge Glen Campbell fan, but I appreciate his place in American music.  That’s why I grabbed Galveston when it flipped by. Recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood California and released in March of 1969 it hit #1 on the Billboard Country chart and #2 on the Billboard Top 200.  The single Galveston it #1 on the Hot Country chart, #3 on Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening  chart.  Based on this very broad appeal, it is no wonder the song is indelibly etched in my musical memory.  I imagine it would have been difficult to listen to any station in mid 1969 and not hear Galveston.  The song was originally performed by Don Ho on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

Galveston was one of 60 studio albums released by Glen Campbell over his decade’s long career that ended with his final studio album in Adios in 2017.  The title track was written by Jimmy Webb and according to Webb was intended as an anti-Vietnam protest song “about a guy who’s caught up in something he doesn’t understand and would rather be somewhere else”.  When Campbell recorded the song, he massaged the lyrics to present it as more of a patriotic anthem.  One could argue that he knew which side of his bread the butter was on and he wasn’t going to go so far as to alienate his pro-war country music base.

The second verse of Galveston was originally transcribed:

“Wonder if she could forget me
“I’d go home if they would let me
“Put down this gun
“And go to Galveston.”[7]

In Campbell’s version, this was changed to read:

“I still hear your sea waves crashing
“While I watch the cannons flashing
“I clean my gun
“And dream of Galveston.”

I love a catchy tune with a sorted history.