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Genealogy, et Cetera

MacArthur Park: What's It All About, Jimmy?

Nick, my DJ, always refers to Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park as the "world's most misunderstood song." Since I certainly don't understand the lyric, I decided to see what I could find out about the song on the Web. Below are my findings. Each paragraph is a clip from a particular web site with something to say on the subject. Preceding each clip is the link to take you there. In some cases, where copyrights may be involved, I have not included a clip.

I have not attempted to correct misspellings or other errors in these clips.


[melody] [lyrics]
Jimmy Webb's home page:  World Wide Webb Songwriter Jimmy Webb composer music lyrics chat

The News-Times Music These gems escaped fans' notice, but it's not too late to mine them
Because they were burdened by syrupy orchestrations and recorded by such '70s unhipsters as Glen Campbell, Art Garfunkel and Richard Harris, the songs of Jimmy Webb are often dismissed as relics of an era that produced more cheese than craft (or Kraft, for that matter).

Of course, with such strange and controversial lyrics, one must expect a certain amount of poking in good fun. The only wonder is that it took Weird Al Yankovic 25 years to do it!. Here are Weird Al's lyrics to his parody, Jurassic Park (Alapalooza, 1993).

reverb magazine, April 1997, Terrell's Tune-Up
And then there's "MacArthur Park," made famous—or infamous—by Harris in 1968. The song has been ridiculed as classic '60s excess because of the overblown orchestra of the original version and the song's strange lyric--that troublesome metaphor of the cake in the rain, etc. Columnist Dave Barry named it the worst song in history, or something like that, a few years ago.

But Barry and other detractors are just plain wrong. This is the inner cry of a young Okie kid lost in Los Angeles with a heart full of sorrows and a head full of acid. He has been crushed by love, but he vows to rise again, though he knows his loss always will cause him pain.

Saturday, March 21, 1998: FEATURES
All very edifying, Jimmy, - but the question that really needs to be asked here is, what are the lyrics to MacArthur Park about? I mean, "Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don't think that I can make it cos' it took too long to bake it and I'll never have that recipe again" - what's going on there? "I always think that whatever is art, need not and should not be explained, as someone once said. "But I'll tell you: MacArthur Park is clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that. OK, it may be far out there, and a bit incomprehensible, but that is what I was trying to get at. I suppose the whole thing was that I wrote the song at a time in the late 1960s when surrealistic lyrics were the order of the day. It was written around about the same time as Strawberry Fields, so it probably seems a bigger deal now than it was back then. Still, the lyrics never stopped Richard Harris, Frank Sinatra, Donna Summer and any number of trash garage bands from doing it - and who else can say that about one of their songs"?

Wireless Flash News Service TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1996

Songwriter Jimmy Webb says he realizes that his song "MacArthur Park" -- which was a No 2 hit for actor Richard Harris back in 1968 -- is one of those songs that you either love or hate -- and admits that some of the lyrics even make HIM cringe. But Webb says he would jump at the chance to work with Harris on a sequel to the song if only they could get their schedules to match. Webb -- who also wrote "Up, Up And Away" and "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" -- says the reason he worked with Harris had more to do with hanging out and drinking than trying to create great art. But Webb says he loves Harris' improvisational style and would work with him again in a heartbeat. You can hear Webb's own version of "MacArthur Park" on his newest record 10 Easy Pieces.

[cartoon on Jimmy Webb's page] © 1997, Terry Sedgwick Herald Sun, Australia, Sunday, May 11, 1997

Songs That Stole Our Souls
In his recent novel, Straight Man (Random House), Richard Russo captures the sense that a song can exact a pound of flesh for the cheap, tinkling pleasure it once gave you, believing you'd never have to pay for it because, you know, it doesn't cost anything to turn on the radio. His hero has collapsed, he's in the hospital, doped up, having the most wonderful dream about the greatest basketball game of his life: The crowd is cheering, every shot is falling, and then his wife walks into the hospital room and he wakes up. He's thrilled to see her, but, "I was about to achieve glory, and now I never will. Someone left a cake out in the rain, l think, my dream sliding away on greased skids, and I'll never have that recipe again," he tells us, Richard Harris's unforgettable (no matter how hard you might try) 1968 "MacArthur Park" reaching out to grab his ankle just before his winning dunk. "I've always feared the day would come when that lyric made sense, and now that day is apparently here."

Macarthur park- webb sessions
When The Association (of Windy renown) collectively blanched at the idea of recording Jim Webb's newly penned opus MacArthur Park. the offer was taken up by Webb's Irish actor friend Richard Harris, who'd recently starred in the movie musical Camelot.

"It's a slang word," he explains for the less bilingual among us. "If somebody's toasting or raising his beer, everyone goes 'Oralé!' If you see a friend at a party, you say 'Oralé!' All my Guatemalan and Mexican friends say that. I grew up around the MacArthur Park/East L.A. area, so I knew a lot of Mexican words. That was one of the good all-purpose words I grew up with. And when I said 'Oralé,' the engineer wrote it down phonetically: 'Odelay.' We just kept it that way."

[pictures of various parts of the park]

513--The Brain That Wouldn't Die
"This man had love in his TUMMY!" - From the 1968 hit "Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love in My Tummy)," by Ohio Express. Won second place in columnist Dave Barry's 1992 "Bad Song Survey" for having some of the worst lyrics ever written. ("MacArthur Park," by Richard Harris, was first.)

Some people forget thet before Donna Summer re-wrecked McArther Park, Richard Harris had a hit with this awful song. This song was recently featured by Dave Barry as one of the most awful songs of all time in his new book.

In 1992 Dave Barry solicited reader's choices for worst song ever and received an overwhelming flood of over 10,000 responses. There was one clear "winner" — MacArthur Park, which nevertheless topped the charts twice (1968 and 1978) and has been covered on more than 50 albums! Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch
Date: 19970821
Northern Light Document ID: DG19980204040304644
Citation Information: City; Issue: PSA- 2009; WEEKENDER Section
Author(s): Daniel Neman Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
The text of the Dave Barry column.


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Roderic A. Davis, 2nd
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