A Jimmy Webb Whitman’s Sampler

Whitman Sampler’s are cheap and gross, but when was a kid and would go to the K&B Drugstore on Canal Boulevard in New Orleans, I coveted the Whitman’s Sampler, which was out of my price range. It was all chocolate-covered cherries or candy hearts for me. Yes, I bought myself Valentine’s Day candy. 

K&B Drugs, short for Katz and Besthoff, was founded in 1905. They used a distinctive purple hue in all of their advertising, as well as store fixtures such as cash registers and automated entry gates. It came to be known as K&B purple, and is still referred to as such in New Orleans, despite K&B being bought out by Rite-Aid Drugstores in 1997. K&B sold their own line of ice-cream, and was well-stocked with wine, beer, and liquor (Ah, New Orleans, where one can buy drive-thru daiquiris!).  You can still find old K&B purple shopping carts in use at thrift stores around town. 

This is what K&B purple is really like, not that early advertisement. These 4 matchbooks are going for $5 on ebay right now. No bids yet, so if you’re interested, here’s the link:

K&B Matchbooks

The Whitman’s Sampler offered a variety of tastes and textures, and I was drawn to the faux-needlepoint sampler box. Very Colonial-America. 

None of this has to do with Jimmy Webb, however.

Jimmy Webb is one of my favorite songwriters. Despite trying to like his solo albums,  I’ve never been able to enjoy him singing his own compositions. This felt wrong to me for a long time, but I’ve gotten over it. Here is a Gentlebear Sampler of Jimmy Webb favorites as sung by others.

I suppose my admiration began as a young listener with Glen Campbell’s version of Wichita Lineman. There are so many other great versions of the song. Yes, his is the best, but what about O.C. Smith’s awesome version? You can feel the stuttering electric line needing repair from the lineman in the intro.

Wichita Lineman-O.C. Smith

How about The Moments, concluding a medley of “More Today Than Yesterday” and “Yesterday” with “Wichita Lineman” on their killer album Live At The New York State Women’s Prison? I just bought a clean copy of this record but still favor my scratchy rip from a few years ago. 

Medley: More Today Than Yesterday/Yesterday/Wichita Lineman

Jimmy’s “Do What You Gotta Do” is one of my favorite songs performed by Nina Simone. I always loved the line “I loved you better than your own kin did!” I’m including a live version, too. I love the open-endedness of the love-affair in the song. She’s basically giving a a greenlight to her man to go off and cat around. She’ll be around when he wants it, if he wants it. 

Do What You Gotta Do

Do What You Gotta Do-Live

Thelma Houston, who scored her biggest hit in 1977 with “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” recorded her first album with Jimmy Webb producing. Off 1969’s Sunshower, here’s “Mixed Up Girl” (actually named “Crazy Mixed Up Girl” on Sunshower). 

Mixed Up Girl

Dusty Springfield sang “Mixed Up Girl” on her 1970 album, See All Her Faces. The title track is possibly my favorite Dusty vocal. 

Mixed Up Girl

“The Velvet Fog,” Mel Torme, recorded some pop albums in the late 1960s for Capitol. Here he is singing “Requiem: 820 Latham” off Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. Some sort of sexual encounter happens when the two people in the song “mix our hot young blood with granite dust.” 

Requiem: 820 Latham

Perhaps the most bizarre installment in this posting is “Paper Cup,” as sung by The 5th Dimension. This is a song literally about living in a paper cup and/or perhaps being a paper cup, in search of a paper plate to fall in love with. Figuratively, it’s a song about dropping out of society and not getting too hung up on things, but also about not finding love when you don’t leave the house/paper cup/confines of your mind. “I’m always looking up from inside my paper cup”, which is described in the song as an awesome bachelor pad. There’s a shower, air-conditioning, a den… Like I said, a bizarre song. 

Paper Cup

Here’s a video of the 5th Dimension in a circle, singing “Paper Cup.” I suppose they’re miming a paper cup. 

Donna Summer’s version of “MacArthur Park” is a masterpiece. This lover’s lament is perhaps inspired by W.H. Auden’s response to a reporter’s cameraman: “Your cameraman might enjoy himself, because my face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain.” 

MacArthur Park

Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder made some great hits together. This hit #1 for them in November of 1978. Here’s Moroder manning his synths.

Here’s Donna Summer looking beautiful singing “MacArthur Park” in concert. I wouldn’t kick her out of bed. In fact, I would like to spoon her.

Apparently, Jimmy Webb has re-embraced his Christian upbringing. Concerning songwriting, he had this to say: “I couldn’t write a song without God. Sure, I could hack out hackneyed phrases and clichés, but to write anything meaningful I have to be in tune with God. He is the great source, my inspiration, the current that I have to connect to. Sadly I’ve not always used the gift he’s given me — the answered prayer — as best as I could or should have. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve done things I wish I hadn’t done.”

More power to him.


7 responses to “A Jimmy Webb Whitman’s Sampler

  1. Great post! I recently posted on “Wichita Lineman” and was surprised to see the amazingly diverse ways this wonderful song has been covered. I mean, Sammy Davis Jr. even took a stab at it! My personal favorite (other than the Campbell version of course) is the one by Sergio Mendes.

    Love it, love it! In fact, I’m going to listen to Donna Summer one more time before I split.

  2. Thanks, man.

    I didn’t even delve into the myriad instrumental versions I have! This was one of those posts where I had to reel it in or else it would have taken forever to write.

  3. Gilligan, what’s your blog by the way?

  4. Thanks for asking – my blog is retrospace at http://my-retrospace.blogspot.com

    Enjoyed your “There are words we both could say” post as well.

  5. Gentlebear,
    My wife Laura and I are having fun listening to your Jimmy Webb Whitman Sampler and I wanted you to know that I have seen it and I appreciate all the work that went into this.
    Wow! Donna Summer in China! I was also wondering if you would send me an electronic copy of the photo of me from Vogue (the black and white photo at the top of the blog).

    Jimmy Webb
    and my beautiful wife Laura
    (who turned me onto this piece)

  6. I’ve never understood the fuss about Jimmy Webb – what the f*** is Wichita Lineman about anyway? However, any post featuring O.C. Smith is going to have my interest. Thanks. W.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, W! But I must disagree about Wichita Lineman’s lyrics- which in my mind distill quite nicely the pain of lost love.

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