First, a disclaimer. This post cannot be said to be encyclopaedic, since I only have four of Webb's solo albums, all from the early part of his solo career. That said, I have heard smatterings of later albums and I am pretty confident that I own the best ones.
Jimmy Webb is primarily known as a songwriter rather than a recording artist in his own right. Everyone knows of MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Up, Up and Away. During the late 1960's I heard a lot of songs that really took my fancy, and I started to notice that many of them bore the credit "J. Webb". At one point in time he seemed to be the "go to" person if you wanted to get a song written for you to record. People like Glen Campbell, The 5th Dimension and Richard Harris knew success largely on the back of Webb compositions. The 5th Dimension moved away from that sound later on, but most of their early hits were written by Webb and in fact their first two albums were both chiefly made up entirely of Webb compositions..
And in a way, though that earned Jimmy Webb fame and fortune, it has also become a handicap. Around 1970 he decided he had things to say that were best said by singing them himself, rather than through the mouths of other people. The problem was probably one of managing people's expectations. He does not have a fabulous voice but he has an adequate voice, better than certain other singer/songwriters I could name. Nonetheless, people expecting the dulcet tones of Glen Campbell, the polished production of the 5th Dimension, or the operatic style of Richard Harris, might have been slightly shocked at how NORMAL Jimmy Webb sounded as a singer. It has to be said that he has never been wildly successful commercially as a solo artist, and even today about a dozen albums down the track, most people still know him as the guy who wrote those singles for Glen Campbell. Some of his solo songs were covered later by other artists, notably Art Garfunkel and Joe Cocker. There is also - believe it or not - an album by The Supremes consisting entirely of Webb songs.
OK... so about his solo career: these are the albums I have
Words and Music (1970)
His first "real" album. (There was a kind of bootleg album released prior to this, as an attempt to cash in on his success as a songwriter.)
The best moments on this album are absolutely sublime. There are a couple of boring songs, and the quality does seem to taper off towards the end. Worth the price for two tracks alone: "Careless Weed" and "Jerusalem". It also contains "P.F.Sloan", Jimmy's homage to the songwriter of that name, primarily known as a member of The Grass Roots.
The quality continues. Like Words and Music, there are a handful of ordinary songs, but the best are excellent. His own rendition of the song "Galveston", which opens the album, is very different from the well-known version by Glen Campbell. Track 2, "Campo de Encino" has a Latin flavour and was apparently written to counter charges by his friend Harry Nilsson that Webb did not reveal enough of a sense of humour in his music (though I don't know how anyone could accuse him of that after scrutinising the words of MacArthur Park). Another highlight is "When Can Brown Begin", a heartfelt plea for better mutual acceptance between the white and black races.
Land's End (1974)
This is in my opinion his best work. Unlike his other albums, it really has no dud tracks. The opener, "Ocean in His eyes", is quite shockingly pop; but then on subsequent listens you realise that it's outstandingly good pop. Later on there is the gospel-tinged "It's a Sin" (which was covered by Glen Campbell), the surprisingly grungy "Alyce Blue Gown" (sic), and the two-part suite "Land's End"/"Asleep On the Wind", which closes the album magnificently. Joni Mitchell is an inspired choice as a guest vocalist on this album.
El Mirage (1977)
Several albums on, Jimmy was still struggling to get much attention as a solo artist, and for this album he handed production and arrangement duties to George Martin. It's a bit less consistent than its predecessor, but it does have two truly outstanding tracks. The first is "The Highwayman", which inspired Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson to form a country supergroup called The Highwaymen and to record this song. The other is "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress", probably better known via Joe Cocker's rendition. (There is also a version in existence of the song done by Jimmy and Joe Cocker as a duet.)
The next album, Angel Heart, was very disappointing and after that I largely lost interest in his solo albums.
There is also another album sandwiched between the first two in my list, And So: On, which does not get very good reviews. Apparently it was put together in a hurry to capitalise on the critical (not commercial) success of Words and Music; containing mostly older songs, it reveals the limitations of Jimmy's voice since he was at that time writing them for other people with much better vocal ranges. If you have heard Jimmy's rendition of his own song MacArthur Park, I think you will agree that it was done much better justice by Richard Harris, and even Donna Summer.
A sample from the first album:
Last edited by bob_32_116; 10-10-2016 at 16:43.
ive never really took the time to look into Webb's career but your post has intrigued me to do so,if only for curiosity...
I had no idea he wrote McArthur Park....I actually hate that song with a passion.
Heh. That song does tend to polarise people.
Originally Posted by CRAZY-HORSE
"Ocean In His Eyes", from the album Land's End:
Last edited by bob_32_116; 11-07-2016 at 09:14.
nice track bob_32, thanks.