MacArthur Park (song)

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"MacArthur Park"
Single by Richard Harris
from the album A Tramp Shining
Released April 1968
Format 7"
Recorded December 21, 1967-January 6, 1968
Genre Pop rock
Length 7:21
Label Dunhill Records
Writer(s) Jimmy Webb
Producer(s) Jimmy Webb
Richard Harris singles chronology
"Here in My Heart (Theme from This Sporting Life)"
(1963)
"MacArthur Park"
(1968)
"One of the Nicer Things"
(1969)

"MacArthur Park" is a song by Jimmy Webb, originally composed as part of an intended cantata. Webb initially brought the entire cantata to The Association, but the group rejected it.[1] Richard Harris was the first to record the song, in 1968; it was subsequently covered by numerous artists. Among the best-known covers are Donna Summer's disco arrangement from 1978 and Waylon Jennings's version recorded in 1969 and his recording of the song from 1976. Maynard Ferguson,[2] Stan Kenton[3] and Woody Herman all performed big-band jazz arrangements.

While it was a commercially successful song multiple times after it was released, "MacArthur Park" used flowery lyrics and metaphors (most famously, love being likened to a cake left out in the rain) that were considered by media such as the Los Angeles Times to be "polarizing" and "loopy".[4]

Since its original release, the song became associated with the NBC, most notably with the late Johnny Carson. Harris sang the song in the final episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1992.

Original Webb composition and Harris recording[edit]

The inspiration for "MacArthur Park" was the relationship and breakup between Webb and Susan Horton (who later married David Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt). MacArthur Park (Los Angeles) was where the two occasionally met for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together.[5] At that time (mid-1965), Horton worked for a life insurance company whose offices were located just across the street from the park[citation needed]. Webb and Horton remained friends, even after her marriage to another man. The breakup was also the primary influence for "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", another Webb composition.[4] After his relationship breakup Webb stayed for a while at the residence of Buddy Greco upon whose piano the piece was composed and originally dedicated. Buddy Greco has closed every show with this number for the past forty years.

The song begins as a poem about love, then moves into a lover's lament. When asked by interviewer Terry Gross what was going through his mind when he wrote the lyric, Webb replied that the lyric was meant to be symbolic and referred to the end of a love affair.

The song was first recorded by Richard Harris, after Harris first met Webb at a fundraiser in East Los Angeles, California in late 1967. Webb had been invited to provide the musical backdrop at the piano. Out of the blue, Harris (who had just starred, and performed several musical numbers in the film Camelot) suggested to him that he wanted to release a record. It is speculated that Harris, who had played Arthur in "Camelot" saw in the lyric several metaphorical connections to the legendary Camelot ("MacArthur Park is melting," and "It took so long to make it," and "I'll never have that recipe again,") and wanted to capitalize on America's romantic notion that the "Once and future king" of Camelot had been alive again in the John F. Kennedy White House in the 60s. Webb didn't take it seriously until he later received a telegram from Harris, requesting that he come to London to begin the project. After exhaustively listening to all of Webb's compositions, Harris selected "MacArthur Park" for his pop music debut.[4]

The Harris recording of "MacArthur Park" comprises four sections or movements:

  1. A mid-tempo arrangement, called "In the Park" in the original session notes,[6] built around piano and harpsichord, with horns and orchestra coming in, accompanying the song's main verses and choruses
  2. At about two and a half minutes in, this shifts to a slow tempo and quiet arrangement paired with an alternate lyric, "After the Loves of My Life"[6]
  3. At about five minutes in, a sudden switch to an up-tempo instrumental section, "Allegro",[6] led by drums and percussion and punctuated by horn riffs, building up to an orchestral climax
  4. At about six and a half minutes in, a reprise of the first section's arrangement accompanying the final choruses and another climax.

The recording was made on December 21, 1967, at Armin Steiner's Sound Recorders in Hollywood, with further work done on December 29 and 30.[6] The musicians in the original studio recording included members of the famous "Wrecking Crew" of Los Angeles-based studio musicians who played on many of the hit records of the 1960s and 1970s. Personnel used included Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass guitar, and Mike Deasy on guitar,[6] along with Webb himself on harpsichord.

Throughout the recording, Harris can be heard using an incorrect possessive form, "MacArthur's Park". Webb has said he tried correcting Harris during retakes, but gave up when Harris simply could not (or would not) sing the correct words.[citation needed] (The version recorded by Donna Summer retains this error.)

The recording appeared on Harris's album A Tramp Shining in 1968 and was released as a single. It was an unusual choice at its more than seven minute length and multi-part structure. Harris topped the music charts in Europe and Australia. Harris's version was released in April 1968[7] (WABC first played it on Tuesday 9 April 1968[8]) and on the Hot 100 bowed at #79 on 11 May 1968 and peaked at #2 on 22 June 1968. The song peaked at No. 10 in Billboard's Easy Listening survey and was No. 8 for the year on WABC's overall 1968 chart.[9]

In 2006, a musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert debuted, including "MacArthur Park." It was performed by the character Tick and a passel of dancing cupcakes, giving a literal interpretation of the lyrics "someone left the cake out in the rain."

"MacArthur Park" received the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) in 1969.[10]

"MacArthur Park's" unusual metaphors and sentimentality have made it a frequent target of parody and ridicule over the years. Speaking about the controversy in a 2007 interview, songwriter Jimmy Webb said, "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."[4]

In 1992, humorist Dave Barry conducted a poll among his readers of the worst songs ever, as recorded in Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. Barry's readers selected Harris's version of "MacArthur Park" as the worst song ever recorded, both in terms of "Worst Lyrics" and "Worst Overall Song".[11] In the book, he acknowledges the results are biased because he had arbitrarily limited the survey to songs that were very popular and at least 10 years old, as well as excluding certain songs, including ones that were intentionally terrible. The survey also likely reflects the demographics of his readership: the large number of middle-aged readers resulted in a disproportionate number of Oldies being selected.

Chart (1968) Peak
position
UK 4
Australia 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 2

Donna Summer version[edit]

"Mac Arthur Park"
Single by Donna Summer
from the album Live and More
B-side "Once Upon a Time" (Live)
"Last Dance" (Live) (France)
"Mac Arthur Park" (Part Two) (Japan)
Released 1978
Format 7", 12"
Recorded 1978
Genre Disco
Length 3:55 (45 version)
Label Casablanca Records
Writer(s) Jimmy Webb
Producer(s) Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte
Certification Gold (United States)
Donna Summer singles chronology
"Je t'aime... moi non plus"
(1978)
"Mac Arthur Park"
(1978)
"Heaven Knows"
(1978)

A multi-million selling vinyl single disco version of "Mac Arthur Park" by Donna Summer was number one on the American pop music sales charts for three weeks during 1978, and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Summer's recording, which was included as part of the "Mac Arthur Park Suite" on her double album Live and More, was eight minutes and forty seconds long on the album. The shorter seven-inch vinyl single version of the Mac Arthur Park was Summer's first single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100; it doesn't include the balladic second movement of the song, however. Donna's recording was also composer Jimmy Webb's only number one song in the US.

The nearly 18-minute musical medley "Mac Arthur Park Suite" incorporated the songs "One of a Kind" and "Heaven Knows". This medley was also sold as a 12-inch (30 cm) vinyl recording, and it stayed at number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart for five weeks in 1978. The versions of this medley in Live and More and in the 12-inch recording are notably different in choices of the lengths of the slices of the two accompanying songs. In the 12-inch version, "Heaven Knows" was extended to incorporate the string introduction and the bridge horn solo of the single version for radio stations, and "One of a Kind" was trimmed of some percussion breaks.

"Mac Arthur Park Suite" was not included on the compact disc version of Live and More because of early CD limitations; however, the album version is available on 1987's The Dance Collection: A Compilation of Twelve Inch Singles. The 12" Special One-Sided Disco DJ Single has been digitally remastered and included on the Bad Girls digipak double CD release.

In 2013, the song was remixed by Laidback Luke for the Donna Summer remix album Love To Love You Donna (it was also remixed by Ralphi Rosario and Frank Lamboy), which was released to dance clubs all over America, having a successful peaking at #1, giving Donna her first number-one posthumously and her twentieth number-one on the chart.[12]

Chart (1978) Peak
position
Dutch GfK chart[13] 8
Dutch Top 40 9
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 1
Chart (2013) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Dance Club Songs[14] 1

Other versions[edit]

"MacArthur Park"
Single by Waylon Jennings
from the album Country-Folk (with The Kimberlys)
B-side But You Know I Love You
Released July 22, 1969
Format Country
Recorded April 8, 1969
Genre Country
Length 5:11
6:02 (extended album version)
Label RCA
Writer(s) Jimmy Webb
Producer(s) Chet Atkins and Danny Davis
Waylon Jennings singles chronology
"The Days of Sand and Shovels"
(1969)
"MacArthur Park"
(1969)
"I Ain't the One"
(with Jessi Colter)
(1969)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Bones Howe quotation; "Webb suggested the Association would be the perfect group to record the cantata". Fred Bronson, ''The Billboard Book of Number One Hits'', Billboard, 1988". Superseventies.com. 1978-09-09. Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  2. ^ "Maynard Ferguson Big Band performing MacArthur Park". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  3. ^ ""Stan Kenton and his Big Band" performing MacArthur Park". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  4. ^ a b c d Boucher, Geoff (2007-06-10). "The SoCal Songbook: 'MacArthur Park,' Jimmy Webb, 1968". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-04-15. 
  5. ^ "Muse for Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park' treasures those days". Los Angeles Times. July 20, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Harris, Richard MacArthur Park – Phonograph Recording Contract". The Wrecking Crew. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  7. ^ "MacArthur Park record details". 45cat. Retrieved 2014-06-01. 
  8. ^ "The Top 100 Hits of 1968". Musicradio77.com. Retrieved 2014-06-02. 
  9. ^ "The Musicradio WABC Top 100 of 1968". Musicradio77.com. Retrieved 2012-04-16. 
  10. ^ ASCAP Candidacy filing, page 15.
  11. ^ Barry, Dave (2000). Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-7407-0600-4. Retrieved March 29, 2011. "The worst song in modern history, at least in the opinion of the people who responded to the Bad Song Survey is ... "MacArthur Park." [i]t's hard to argue with survey respondents who chose it as the worst." 
  12. ^ http://hangout.altsounds.com/news/163401-donna-summers-macarthur-park-2013-remix-1-a.html
  13. ^ "dutchcharts.nl - Discografie Donna Summer". © 2006-2011 Hung Medien. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  14. ^ "Hot Dance Club Songs". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. December 28, 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Four Tops MacArthur Park". www.discogs.com. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"You Needed Me" by Anne Murray
Billboard Hot 100 number one single (Donna Summer version)
11 November 1978 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"You Don't Bring Me Flowers" by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond
Preceded by
Instant_Replay by Dan Hartman (all cuts)
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single
21 October 1978 - 18 November 1978
Succeeded by
"Le Freak" / "I Want Your Love" / "Chic Cheer" by Chic