Background and writingWeiss wrote and recorded "Rhinestone Cowboy" in 1974, and it appeared on his 20th Century Records album Black and Blue Suite. It did not however, have much of a commercial impact as a single. In late 1974, Campbell heard the song on the radio and, during a tour of Australia decided to learn the song. Soon after his return to the United States, Campbell went to Al Coury's office at Capitol Records, where he was approached about "a great new song" — "Rhinestone Cowboy."
Several music writers noted that Campbell identified with the subject matter of "Rhinestone Cowboy" — survival and making it, particularly when the chips are down — very strongly. As Steven Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic put it, the song is about a veteran artist "who's aware that he's more than paid his dues during his career ... but is still surviving, and someday, he'll shine just like a rhinestone cowboy."
Chart performanceReleased in May 1975, "Rhinestone Cowboy" immediately caught on with both country and pop audiences. The song spent that summer climbing both the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts before peaking at No. 1 by season's end - three non-consecutive weeks on the country chart, two weeks on the Hot 100.
During the week of September 13 — that was the week the song returned to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, after having been nudged out for a week by "Feelins'" by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn — "Rhinestone Cowboy" topped both the country and Hot 100 charts simultaneously. This was the first time a song had accomplished the feat since November 1961, when "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean turned the trick.
"Rhinestone Cowboy" was one of six songs released in 1975 that topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Hot Country Singles charts. The other songs were "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" by Freddy Fender; "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" by B.J. Thomas, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "I'm Sorry"/"Calypso," both by John Denver; and "Convoy" by C.W. McCall.
The song was also the sole Glen Campbell track in a promotional-only compilation album issued by Capitol records entitled "The Greatest Music Ever Sold" (Capitol SPRO-8511/8512), that was distributed to record stores during the 1976 Holiday season as part of Capitol's "Greatest Music Ever Sold" campaign, which promoted 15 "Best Of" albums released by the record label.