January 5, 2011 2 Comments
One of the strangest songs that ever came out of the 1960s — and perhaps of all time — is MacArthur Park, a song about lost love, a park in L.A., and a melted cake left out in the rain. [Listen to MacArthur Park]
The lyrics are truly over the top. To wit:
Between the parted pages and were pressed,
In love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants
MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down…
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Lyrics like this made it one of the most lampooned songs of its time. Some people have speculated the song is a metaphor for drugs and that writer Jimmy Webb’s original lyrics specified that the cake was laced with hashish. Another explanation is that the cake image is from a Disney movie.
To make things worse, Webb initially couldn’t find anyone to sing it, finally settleing on Richard Harris, the film actor who is most recently well-known for playing Professor Dumbledore in some of the Harry Potter movies. Harris proves in his performances not to have great pitch, and when he recorded the song, he incorrectly used the possessive — singing it as MacArthur’s Park. Webb first tried to correct him but then gave up, so Wikipedia says.
Eventually, other musicians came around. The song has now been covered by over 30 artists, including Frank Sinatra, the Four Tops (my favorite version), Donna Summer, Sammy Davis Jr., and Glenn Campbell. Maybe they, like me, appreciated the song for the way it builds into full absurd melodrama, with laments about melting icing and rain sodden recipes, while managing to still be emotionally moving.
In 1992, MacArthur Park was voted worst song by readers of the Dave Barry column, after he posed the question to them. (This of course was before Nickelback came onto the music scene.) And the song has been the source of some hilarious parodies, like this one in 1981 on Second City Television
And it has been profiled on this show about one hit wonders.
Richard Harris’s wife is featured commenting on the connection her husband and Webb supposedly felt over the song, explaining why Harris wanted to sing it after it had been rejected by The Association. As she puts it:
I think they understood each other very well. Wanting to do something that it is not necessarily what the establishment recognized.
It should be said that the song was recognized by the masses. In spite of the ridicule, “MacArthur Park” went to number two on the American charts in 1968.