Friday, September 7, 2007

All the Sweet Green Icing

One song that didn't quite make the cut on that last entry was "MacArthur Park," which went to Number Two for Richard Harris in 1968, then to Number One in Donna Summer's disco version in 1978. "MacArthur Park" is, of course, great.

Harris hadn't even cut a record before "Mac Park," but he met Jimmy Webb in L.A. at a fundraiser for something or other one night and ended up singing tunes with him late into the drunken evening. (I guess with Harris, the "drunken" is redundant.) Once Harris had decamped to England, he sent Webb, still just 21 at the time, a telegram reading "Jimmy Webb, come to London and make a record. Love, Richard." So off he went, with a bag of songs, all of which he played for Harris, who rejected them all, until Webb was left with only one more: "MacArthur Park," which he had originally written for the Association. He was sure Harris would hate it, but he played it for him anyway, and the rest is history.

A lot of people think this song is hilariously bad, because they don't think a song can be both hilarious and good. Jimmy, however, took it pretty seriously: "In mid-1965, I was absolutely besotted with my girlfriend at the time. 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."

Maybe the best version of "MacArthur Park" was done by Dave Thomas, imitating Richard Harris on an episode of "Mel's Rock Pile" on SCTV. Thomas danced very demonstratively throughout the long instrumental passages, sweating through his tie-dye T-shirt before screaming, "Someone get me a bloody towel!" Sadly, it's not on YouTube.

The ex-girlfriend who inspired the song, by the way, was Linda Ronstadt's cousin. I wouldn't make this stuff up.

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