MacArthur Park (song)
|Single by Richard Harris|
|from the album A Tramp Shining|
|Recorded||December 21, 1967-January 6, 1968|
|Genre||Baroque pop, orchestral pop|
|Richard Harris singles chronology|
"MacArthur Park" is a song written and composed by Jimmy Webb. Richard Harris was the first to record the song in 1968: his 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 hit version in 1969 by country music singer Waylon Jennings. Among the best-known covers is Donna Summer's disco arrangement from 1978 which topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Although it was a commercial success several times after its initial release, "MacArthur Park" has been called the worst song ever written. Its flowery lyrics and metaphors (most famously, lost love being likened to a cake left out in the rain) have been described as "polarizing" and "loopy." Webb commented: "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."
- 1 Jimmy Webb
- 2 Richard Harris version
- 3 Donna Summer version
- 4 Chart performance
- 5 Waylon Jennings version
- 6 Other versions
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
"MacArthur Park" was written and composed by Jimmy Webb in the summer and fall of 1967 as part of an intended cantata. Webb initially brought the entire cantata to The Association, but the group rejected it. The inspiration for the song was his relationship and breakup with Susie Horton, who later married Robert Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt. MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, was where the two occasionally met for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together. At that time (the middle of 1965), Horton worked for a life insurance company whose offices were located just across the street from the park. When asked by interviewer Terry Gross what was going through his mind when he wrote the lyric, Webb replied that it was meant to be symbolic and referred to the end of a love affair. 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.
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. 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. 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. The song begins as a poem about love, then moves into a lover's lament. The song consists of four sections or movements:
- A mid-tempo introduction and opening section, called "In the Park" in the original session notes, is built around piano and harpsichord, with horns and orchestra added. This arrangement accompanies the song's main verses and choruses.
- A slow tempo and quiet section follows, called "After the Loves of My Life."
- An up-tempo instrumental section, called "Allegro," is led by drums and percussion, punctuated by horn riffs, and builds to an orchestral climax.
- A mid-tempo reprise of the first section, concludes with the final choruses and climax.
Richard Harris version
Background and release
"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 Camelot, and had performed several musical numbers in the film, 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." Webb flew to London and played Harris a number of songs for the project, but none seemed to fit for Harris's pop music debut. The last song that Webb played for Harris was "MacArthur Park," originally written for The Association, whose members had promptly rejected it because of its length, complex structure, and unorthodox lyrics. Harris selected "MacArthur Park" for his pop music debut.
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. 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 Tommy Tedesco and Mike Deasy on guitars, along with Webb himself on harpsichord.
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 four-part structure. Harris topped the music charts in Europe and Australia. Harris's version was released in April 1968 (77 WABC first played it on Tuesday 9 April 1968) and on the Hot 100 bowed at number 79 on 11 May 1968 and peaked at number 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. In 1969, "MacArthur Park" received the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).
In 1992, Miami Herald journalist Dave Barry conducted a poll among his readers who selected Harris' recording as the worst song of all time, both in terms of "Worst Lyrics" and "Worst Overall Song". Barry commented: "[I]t's hard to argue with survey respondents who chose it as the worst."
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||2|
Donna Summer version
|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")
|Released||September 24, 1978|
|Length||8:27 (album version)
3:59 (single version)
|Donna Summer singles chronology|
Background and release
In September 1978, American singer Donna Summer released a multi-million selling vinyl single disco version of "MacArthur Park": number one on the American pop music sales charts for three weeks, the track 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.
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' version, which Moroder had to specially buy an 8-track player to hear.
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."
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 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.
Waylon Jennings version
|Single by Waylon Jennings|
|from the album Country-Folk (with The Kimberlys)|
|B-side||"But You Know I Love You"|
|Released||July 22, 1969|
|Recorded||April 8, 1969|
6:02 (extended album version)
|Producer(s)||Chet Atkins and Danny Davis|
|Waylon Jennings singles chronology|
Background and release
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. It also won both acts the 1969 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
- The Four Tops (1971) which reached #38 on the Billboard singles chart and #37 in Canada.
- Boucher, Geoff. "'MacArthur Park' Jimmy Webb | 1968" Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2007, accessed June 1, 2015
- Queenan, Joe (August 23, 2007). "Recipe for disaster". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
- Bronson, Fred (1988). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard.
- Fallick, Alan H. (October 8, 2014). "Jimmy Webb discusses famous lyrics in 'MacArthur Park'". Newsday. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
- "Muse for Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park' treasures those days". Los Angeles Times. July 20, 2013.
- "Harris, Richard MacArthur Park – Phonograph Recording Contract" (PDF). The Wrecking Crew. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- "MacArthur Park record details". 45cat. Retrieved 2014-06-01.
- "The Top 100 Hits of 1968". Musicradio77.com. Retrieved 2014-06-02.
- "The Musicradio WABC Top 100 of 1968". Musicradio77.com. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
- ASCAP Candidacy filing, page 15.
- Barry, Dave (2000). Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-7407-0600-4.
The worst song in modern history, at least in the opinion of the people who responded to the Bad Song Survey is ... "MacArthur Park," the 1968 hit written by Jimmy Webb and sung hyperdramatically by Richard Harris ... [I]t's hard to argue with survey respondents who chose it as the worst.
- "Top Singles - Volume 9, No. 17, June 22 1968". collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
- "Key Tracks: Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park"". RedBullMusicAcademy.com. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
- "The Irish Charts – Search Results – MacArthur Park". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
- "dutchcharts.nl - Discografie Donna Summer". © 2006-2011 Hung Medien. Retrieved 2011-03-14.
- Fernando Salaverri (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
- "Hot Dance Club Songs". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. December 28, 2013. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
- "Cashbox Top 100". Cash Box Archives. December 30, 1978. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
- Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 208. ISBN 0-89820-177-2.
- "Past Winners Search". grammy.com. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
- "Four Tops MacArthur Park". www.discogs.com. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- Cite from Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988
- Link to The Lou Gordon Home Page
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