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oldbillclarkeOffline
Post subject: MacArthur Park by Richard Harris  PostPosted: Oct 12, 2011 - 08:51 PM
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The story begins in 1965 at MacArthur Park, formerly Westlake Park. It is actually a real place in the Westlake area of Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard and was renamed for General Douglas MacArthur sometime after World War II or possibly after the Korean War. It was there that an aspiring 19 year old songwriter would meet his girlfriend Susan Ronstadt, a cousin of the then unknown Linda Ronstadt. Susan worked in an insurance office just across the street from the park and she would meet her boyfriend there for lunch. The song "MacArthur Park" was inspired by their breakup.

"MacArthur Park" was written by Jim Webb who by 1968 was no stranger to writing hit songs. He had already written "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and "Up, Up And Away", both sizeable hits for Glen Campbell and the Fifth Dimension respectively. And shortly after "MacArthur Park" he would have two more Glen Campbell monsters, "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston", and "The Worst That Could Happen" for The Brooklyn Bridge featuring former Crests' lead singer Johnny Maestro. All of this and he was only 22 years old!

(The next three paragraphs are lifted from the Internet. The rest is mine.)

With the famous "cake out in the rain," this is one of the more lyrically intriguing songs ever recorded. Jimmy Webb, who wrote the song, explained in Q magazine: "It's clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that. OK, it may be far out there, and a bit incomprehensible, but I wrote the song at a time in the late 1960s when surrealistic lyrics were the order of the day."

Said Webb (in the Los Angeles Times), "MacArthur Park was where we met for lunch and paddleboat rides and feeding the ducks. She worked across the street at a life insurance company. Those lyrics were all very real to me; there was nothing psychedelic about it to me. The cake, it was an available object. It was what I saw in the park at the birthday parties. But people have very strong reactions to the song. There's been a lot of intellectual venom."

Are you convinced there's more to this song than Jimmy Webb is letting on? You might be right. The staff music composer Colin McCourt used to work for the publisher of this song, Edwin. H. Morris. The head of the company was a friend of Jimmy Webb, who once explained to him the song's meaning - cake in the rain and all. McCourt told The Daily Mail April 2, 2011: "Jim was in love with a girl who left him. Months later, he heard she was getting married - in the park. Broken-hearted, he went to the wedding and, not wanting to be seen, hid in a gardener's shed. As the open-air ceremony was taking place it started to pour with rain and the rain running down the shed window made the cake look as if it was melting.

Originally Webb had written "MacArthur Park" as a 22 minute "cantata" to be one entire side of an LP and the song we know is merely the finale but somehow that didn't pan out. I'd love to hear that full version but I guess that won't be happening anytime soon.

"MacArthur Park" was first offered to the Association but they turned it down. Eventually several singers recorded this song including Waylon Jennings in 1969, Donna Summer in 1978 and even Weird Al Yankovic parodied it as "Jurassic Park" in 1993. But Irish actor Richard Harris, who was not known as a vocalist, was the first to record it beginning in December 1967 and finishing in early January 1968. It was released in May 1968 on the Dunhill label. Produced and arranged by Jimmy Webb, it was an oddity from the start. First of all it clocked in at seven minutes and twenty seconds, far longer than any hit record in history. Secondly, Richard Harris had never done any singing in his life and wasn't particularly good at it. But his reading of "MacArthur Park" is not less than sensational. It's a song about lost love and desolation like no other. I just love the way he sings the line, "...After all the loves in my life I'll be thinking of you, and wondering why!".

Harris, accidently or purposely, flubs the lyrics by singing "...MacArthur's Park..." throughout the song . Despite the protests of Jim Webb, the singer chose to ignore the writer and kept repeating it wrongly. And yet despite Harris' superb performance, had he performed it with just a guitar it likely wouldn't be anything special. It's Webb's orchestral arrangement that really stands out.

I've heard it said by some that the recording of "MacArthur Park" is one of the worst and most pretentious hit records of the 1960's. I don't want to step on anyone's toes but it's certainly no more pretentious than "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" which are totally over the top but they seldom, if ever, get called on it. And I can name hundreds of 1960's hit songs that were truly bad but "MacArthur Park" certainly isn't among them in my view. (Try "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James & The Shondells or "Judy's Turn To Cry" by Lesley Gore for instance. Those are bad!)

Richard Harris died of Hodgkin's Lymphoma on October 25, 2002, just nine years ago. Jim Webb is 65 years old and is still amongst the living.
 
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DollarsternoOffline
Post subject: RE: MacArthur Park by Richard Harris  PostPosted: Oct 12, 2011 - 09:04 PM
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Love stuff like this...well done and thanks!
 
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StephenMacLeodOffline
Post subject: RE: MacArthur Park by Richard Harris  PostPosted: Oct 13, 2011 - 06:39 AM
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Ian I always enjoy reading your stuff,lots of info I didn`t know before,thanks for sharing.
 
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