Some songs stay in your head and you recognize the tune no matter what artist sings them. Whether sung in country, rock, blues, folk, jazz, pop or even soul style, the lyrics and message stay timeless. These musical masterpieces are instantly recognizable and know few boundaries. And one stays with you through the back roads of your memories and will forever remain Gentle On My Mind.
As a writer, I constantly strive to improve my craft. Part of the wordsmithing path is exploring different storytelling forms like songwriting. I have tremendous respect for those who string short and broken sentences into a complex lyrical tale that trigger emotions and leave the listener with lasting impressions. To me, Gentle On My Mind does that—no matter who performs it.
Most people immediately associate Gentle on My Mind with Glen Campbell. While Glen Campbell always played a perfect performance of his most famous hit, he didn’t write it. That credit goes to a little known but immensely talented songwriter, singer and musician by the name of John Hartford.
John Cowan Hartford was an American composer, vocalist and string-picker who crossed the lines between country, folk and blues. He died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 63 after recording more than 30 albums. Hartford had an innovative voice and style that Johnny Cash described as, “Having music and lyrics unlike anything I’ve ever heard. He is himself and will not be told how to write or sing because he has only his own world.”
John Hartford wrote Gentle On My Mind in 15 minutes—saying it came to him, “from experience and real fast, in a blaze, a blur.” It was perfect in its first draft and never revised. This was in 1967 when Glen Campbell began his career. Campbell heard Hartford perform it live and took the song to Capital Records. Gentle On My Mind was Glen Campbell’s break-out piece, and it was his signature opening during The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour TV show.
According to the rating authority, Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), Gentle On My Mind is the 16th most popular song of the 20th Century. It’s been covered by over 300 other artists including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Dean Martin, Tammy Wynette and Roger Miller. Alison Krauss, The Mavericks and even Glen Campbell’s daughter, Ashley Campbell, covered the hit. Recently, The Band Perry released a killer version of Gentle On My Mind along with a captivating video.
By now, you’ve probably got the tune to Gentle On My Mind running through your head. If you do, that’s fine. You’re not alone. And if you don’t, well, here are the lyrics to Gentle On My Mind along with performances by some of the finest musical talent the world has even known.
It’s knowing that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up
And stashed behind your couch
And it’s knowing I’m not shackled by forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that’d dried upon some line
That keeps you in the back roads by the rivers of my memory
And keeps you ever gentle on my mind
It’s not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns
Now that bind me
Or something that somebody said
Because they thought we fit together walking
It’s just knowing that the world will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along some railroad tracks and find
That you’re waving from the back roads by the rivers of my memory
And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind
Though the wheat fields, and the clotheslines
And the junkyards, and the highways come between us
And some other woman crying to her mother
‘Cause she turned and I was gone
I still might run in silence, tears of joy might stain my face
And a summer sun might burn me til I’m blind
But not to where I cannot see you walking on the back roads
By the rivers flowing gentle on my mind
I dip my cup of soup back from a gurgling crackling cauldron in some train yard
My beard a-rough’n, a cold towel
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands, ’round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you’re wavin’ from the back roads by the rivers of my memories
Ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind
Here are links to excellent, yet very different, covers of Gentle On My Mind:
John Hartford (Original artist performing on Glen Campbell’s show)
John Hartford (With Other Artists)