MacArthur Park (song)

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"MacArthur Park"
MacAruthurParkSingle.jpg
Artwork for US single release, also used for German release
Single by Richard Harris
from the album A Tramp Shining
B-side"Didn't We?"
ReleasedApril 1968
RecordedDecember 21, 1967 – January 6, 1968
StudioSound Recorders, Hollywood
GenreOrchestral pop
Length7:21
LabelDunhill
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Webb
Producer(s)Jimmy Webb
Richard Harris singles chronology
"Here in My Heart (Theme from This Sporting Life)"
(1963)
"MacArthur Park"
(1968)
"The Yard Went on Forever"
(1968)

"MacArthur Park" is a song written by American singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb that was recorded first by Irish actor and singer Richard Harris in 1968. Harris's version peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number four on the UK Singles Chart. "MacArthur Park" was subsequently covered by numerous artists, including a 1969 Grammy-winning version by country music singer Waylon Jennings and a number one Billboard Hot 100 disco arrangement by Donna Summer in 1978.[1]

In 1967, producer Bones Howe had asked Webb to create a pop song with different movements and changing time signatures. Webb delivered "MacArthur Park" to Howe with "everything he wanted", but Howe did not care for the ambitious arrangement and unorthodox lyrics and the song was rejected by the group the Association, for whom it had been intended.[2]

Jimmy Webb songwriting[edit]

Composition[edit]

"MacArthur Park" was written and composed by Jimmy Webb in the summer and fall of 1967 as part of an intended cantata. Webb brought the entire cantata to the Association, but the group rejected it.[3] The inspiration for the song was his relationship and breakup with Susie Horton.[4] MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, was where the couple would occasionally meet for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together.[5] At that time (the middle of 1965), Horton worked for Aetna insurance, whose offices were across the street from the park.[1] When asked by interviewer Terry Gross what was going through his mind when he wrote the song's lyrics, Webb replied that it was meant to be symbolic and referred to the end of a love affair.[6] In an interview with Newsday in October 2014, Webb explained:

Everything in the song was visible. There's nothing in it that's fabricated. The old men playing checkers by the trees, the cake that was left out in the rain, all of the things that are talked about in the song are things I actually saw. And so it's a kind of musical collage of this whole love affair that kind of went down in MacArthur Park. ... Back then, I was kind of like an emotional machine, like whatever was going on inside me would bubble out of the piano and onto paper.[4]

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 song written and composed by Webb.[1] After his relationship breakup, Webb stayed for a while at the residence of Buddy Greco, upon whose piano the piece was composed and to whom it was dedicated. Greco closed all his shows with this number for forty years.

The idea to write and compose a classically structured song with several movements that could be played on the radio came from a challenge by music producer Bones Howe, who produced recordings for the Association.[4] The song begins as a poem about love, then moves into a lover's lament. The song consists of four sections or movements:

  1. A mid-tempo introduction and opening section, called "In the Park" in the original session notes,[7] is built around piano and harpsichord, with horns and orchestra added. This arrangement accompanies the song's main verses and choruses.
  2. A slow tempo and quiet section follows, called "After the Loves of My Life",[7] also recorded by Ed Ames on his 1968 LP, Apologize.
  3. An up-tempo instrumental section, called "Allegro",[7] is led by drums and percussion, punctuated by horn riffs, and builds to an orchestral climax.
  4. A mid-tempo reprise of the first section, concludes with the final choruses and climax.

Richard Harris original version[edit]

Background and release[edit]

"MacArthur Park" was first recorded by Richard Harris, after he met the composer 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 in the film Camelot and had performed several musical numbers in it, suggested to Webb that he wanted to release a record. At first, Webb did not take Harris seriously, but later he received a telegram from Harris requesting that Webb "come to London and make a record".[1] Webb flew to London and played Harris a number of songs for the project, but none seemed to fit Harris for his pop music debut. The last song that Webb played for Harris was "MacArthur Park".[1]

The track was recorded on December 21, 1967, at Armin Steiner's Sound Recorders in Hollywood. String, woodwind, and brass overdubs were recorded over two sessions on December 29 and 30.[7] The musicians in the original studio recording included members of the 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 Tommy Tedesco and Mike Deasy on guitars,[7] along with Webb himself on harpsichord.

The song was included on Harris's album A Tramp Shining in 1968 and selected for release as a single, an unusual choice, given the song's length and complex structure. It was released in April 1968[8] and was played by 77 WABC on Tuesday April 9, 1968.[9] It made its way onto the Hot 100 at number 79 on May 11, 1968, peaking at number 2 on June 22, 1968 behind Herb Alpert's "This Guy's in Love with You". It peaked at number 10 on Billboard's Easy Listening survey and was number 8 on WABC's overall 1968 chart.[10] It topped the music charts in Europe and Australia and also won the 1969 Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).[11]

Chart history[edit]

Donna Summer version[edit]

"MacArthur Park"
Donnamacarthur.jpg
Artwork for the Spain single release, also used for the German release under different printing
Single by Donna Summer
from the album Live and More
B-side
  • "Once Upon a Time" (Live) (U.S.)
  • "Last Dance" (Live) (France)
  • "MacArthur Park" (Part 2) (Japan)
  • "One of a Kind" (12")
  • "Heaven Knows (12")
  • "MacArthur Park Suite" (12")
ReleasedSeptember 24, 1978
Recorded1978
GenreDisco
Length8:27 (album version)
3:59 (single version)
10:47 (with reprise)
LabelCasablanca
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Webb
Producer(s)
Donna Summer singles chronology
"Je t'aime... moi non plus"
(1978)
"MacArthur Park"
(1978)
"Heaven Knows"
(1978)

Background and release[edit]

In September 1978, American singer Donna Summer released a multi-million selling vinyl single disco version of "MacArthur Park". The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of November 11, 1978, for 3 weeks, and earned Summer her first nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Summer was also nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Female at the American Music Awards where her album Live and More took the award for Favorite Disco Album. She became the first female artist of the modern era to have the number one single and album simultaneously on the Billboard pop charts (the week of November 11, 1978).

Italian producer Giorgio Moroder would recall that he and his collaborator Pete Bellotte had been interested in the concept of either remixing a track – as yet undecided on – which had been a hit in the 1960s or else remaking a 1960s hit as a dance track: Moroder – "I remember that I was driving in ... on the Hollywood Freeway, and I heard the original song [i.e. "MacArthur Park" by Richard Harris] on the radio. I thought: 'That's it – that's the song we've been looking for almost a year.'" Moroder asked Neil Bogart, president of Casablanca Records, to provide him with a copy of the Richard Harris version of "MacArthur Park" to serve as basis for Moroder's envisioned discofied reinvention: Bogart obliged with an 8-track tape containing Harris's version, prompting Moroder to buy an 8-track player in order to hear it.[20]

Moroder readily identified "MacArthur Park" as (quote) "a great song for Donna – with all those high notes, it was perfect [for her] ... First, I [located] a key that she could sing really high, but still with a big voice – that took an hour or two. I played a little piano and she sang it with my accompaniment. We found a key and we had Greg Mathieson do the arrangement – and then I did something very special" – that "something very special" being Moroder's recording of his own voice to form a choir heard behind Summer on the song's chorus: "I recorded about 20 seconds of all the notes, which I was able to sing on a 24-track. I made a loop of those notes, and put that loop in the [Solid State Logic] desk. I could form eight chords by having C-E-G right on the group. I played the chords by moving the track according to the chord that I needed." Of basing a discofied arrangement on the template for Webb's arrangement on the Harris version Moroder would recall: "To be honest, it was a very difficult song to [arrange], especially the brass, but we had the best musicians in town."[20]

Summer's recording of "MacArthur Park", included as part of the "MacArthur Park Suite" on her double album Live and More, was eight minutes and forty seconds long. The shorter seven-inch vinyl single version – which omits the song's balladic second movement – afforded Summer her first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, also becoming the last of seven hit versions of compositions by Jimmy Webb to reach the Top Ten on the Hot 100, with "MacArthur Park" by Donna Summer being the only recording of a Webb composition to top the Hot 100.

The nearly 18-minute musical medley "MacArthur Park Suite" incorporated the original songs "One of a Kind" and "Heaven Knows", the latter being issued as the second single off Live and More. 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 the presentation of the two original songs. In the 12-inch version, "Heaven Knows" was extended to incorporate the instrumental string introduction and the bridge horn solo of the single version for radio stations, but left out the second verse and "One of a Kind" was trimmed of a large part of the instrumental break but included the second verse. Lyrically, Summer's rendition is also curious, in that it adds the word "Chinese" to clarify what type of checkers were being played.

"MacArthur 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 2012, "Live and More" was remastered in Japan and included the original LP version of the "MacArthur Park Suite".

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 No. 1, giving Summer her first posthumous No. 1 and her twentieth No. 1 overall.[21]

British electronic duo Pet Shop Boys used a sample of Donna's version in their 1999 song New York City Boy.

Chart performance[edit]

Other versions[edit]

A cover version of "MacArthur Park" was recorded by country music singer Waylon Jennings on his 1969 album Country-Folk, which included the family group The Kimberlys. This version charted at number 23 on Hot Country Songs and number 93 on the Billboard Hot 100, making its chart debut on August 23, 1969.[38] It also won both acts the 1969 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.[38][39] It was revisited in 1976 by Jennings, on his album Are You Ready for the Country.

In late 1969, Tony Bennett's cover reached #39 on the US Easy Listening chart and #40 Canadian Adult Contemporary.[40]

The Four Tops version (1971) reached number 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart[41] and number 37 in Canada.[42] The Andy Williams version (1972) debuted on the Easy Listening chart in early August and rose to number 26 over the course of five weeks.[43]

A cover version of "MacArthur Park" was recorded by Scottish progressive rock band Beggars Opera on their 1972 album Pathfinder. Their eight-minute version was panned by music critic Paul Stump who said that the band "over-eggs the already indigestible pudding" of the song.[44]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Simpson, Dave (2013-11-11). "How we made MacArthur Park". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2014-12-17. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  3. ^ Bronson, Fred (1988). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard. Archived from the original on 2007-06-24. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  4. ^ a b c Fallick, Alan H. (October 8, 2014). "Jimmy Webb discusses famous lyrics in 'MacArthur Park'". Newsday. Archived from the original on October 12, 2014. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  5. ^ "Muse for Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park' treasures those days". Los Angeles Times. July 20, 2013. Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  6. ^ "Jimmy Webb: From 'Phoenix' To 'Just Across The River'". NPR. Archived from the original on 2021-02-25. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Harris, Richard MacArthur Park – Phonograph Recording Contract" (PDF). The Wrecking Crew. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  8. ^ "MacArthur Park record details". 45cat.com. Archived from the original on January 11, 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2014.
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  10. ^ "The Musicradio WABC Top 100 of 1968". Musicradio77.com. Archived from the original on May 12, 2012. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  11. ^ "ASCAP Candidacy filing, page 15" (PDF). Ascap.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2009-12-22. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  12. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 5741." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  13. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – MacArthur Park". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  14. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Archived from the original on 18 September 2018. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
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  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 106.
  17. ^ "Go-Set Magazine Charts". Poparchives.com.au. Barry McKay. January 2007. Archived from the original on 27 March 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
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  19. ^ "Musicoutfitters.com". Musicoutfitters.com. Archived from the original on 2016-10-11. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
  20. ^ a b "Key Tracks: Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park"". RedBullMusicAcademy.com. Archived from the original on July 6, 2016. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  21. ^ "Donna Summer's 'Macarthur Park 2013' Remix #1 on Billboard's Dance Club Songs Chart". AltSounds. December 17, 2013. Archived from the original on July 20, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
  22. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0039a." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  23. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 0032." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  24. ^ "Top RPM Dance/Urban: Issue 4638." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  25. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – MacArthur Park". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  26. ^ "Donna Summer – MacArthur Park" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  27. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 47, 1978" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  28. ^ a b Fernando Salaverri (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  29. ^ "Donna Summer Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  30. ^ "Donna Summer Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  31. ^ "Hot Dance Club Songs". Billboard. December 28, 2013. Archived from the original on July 8, 2014. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  32. ^ "Donna Summer Chart History (Hot Dance/Electronic Songs)". Billboard.
  33. ^ Steffen Hung. "Forum – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s (ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts)". Australian-charts.com. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  34. ^ "Top 200 Singles of '78". RPM Weekly. December 30, 1978. Archived from the original on 2016-10-09. Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  35. ^ "Cashbox Top 100". Cash Box Archives. December 30, 1978. Archived from the original on September 29, 2018. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
  36. ^ "1979 Talent in Action – Year End Charts : Pop Singles". Billboard. Vol. 91 no. 51. December 22, 1979. p. TIA-10.
  37. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary Interactive Chart". Billboard. Archived from the original on 3 August 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  38. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-89820-177-2.
  39. ^ "Grammy Awards Past Winners: 1969". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on December 3, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  40. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Archived from the original on 2021-08-11. Retrieved 2021-08-12.
  41. ^ "The Four Tops - Chart History". Billboard. Archived from the original on May 4, 2018. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  42. ^ "Item: 4240". RPM. Vol. 16 no. 9. October 16, 1971. Archived from the original on March 22, 2018. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  43. ^ Whitburn 2008, p. 296
  44. ^ Stump, Paul (1997). The Music's All that Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. Quartet Books. p. 81. ISBN 9780704380363.

External links[edit]