Perfect Packet of Three: The Telephone


Right folks, It’s time for another Perfect Packet of Three.

They say that good communication is the key to most things in life and, if so, that makes the telephone probably one of the most important inventions ever. All three of our songs are from the days before mobile phones, when STD meant something completely different.

Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman

Quite simply, this may just be one of the greatest songs ever written. It is certainly the greatest song written about longing and loneliness. The writer, Jimmy Webb, was driving along the vast plains of Oklahoma when he spotted a telephone company ‘lineman’ atop one of the many thousands of telegraph poles that stretched into the distance, receiver in hand, tapped into the telephone line. The starkness of the image gripped him and he put himself in the place of the lineman and tried to imagine what he had been saying into the receiver.

What transpired was a song about his first love and his yearning for her which is summed up in the astounding couplet “And I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time.”

Glen Campbell’s performance and the production of the song is nothing short of miraculous either with the orchestration mimicking morse code and the whistling of the wind through the telephone lines “I hear you singing through the wires/I can hear you through the whine/And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.”

Hanging on the Telephone – Blondie

The opening track off the classic ‘Parallel Lines’ album is actually a cover of a song by fellow US band The Nerves. The opening ring tone makes way for Debbie Harry’s staccato machine gun delivery, “I’m in the phone booth, it’s the one across the hall” with Clem Burke’s energetic drums joining in and driving the whole song from start to finish. Harry tries throughout to win over the object of her desire and by the end of the song she emplores him to “hang up and run to me”.


Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – Steely Dan

In the days before mobile phones we had to actually write down the phone numbers of people we wanted to speak to. Using actual pens and actual paper. You couldn’t just type the number into your fancy electronic telephone and have it stored there forever more. Now imagine, for example, you wrote one of these important numbers on, say, the back of a train ticket and you then lost that train ticket. Well hard luck buster, you’re never going to speak to that Venezuelan supermodel again. Damn.

Leon Wilson



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