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Boomer Anthems: “MacArthur Park” Everyone Knows the Refrain. Everyone Wishes They Didn’t.

In which we discover that THE FAMOUS CAKE is left, by some highly irresponsible person, outside in extreme precipitation with the predictable result that all the sweet, green icing ends up flowing down much to the distress of the singer who laments that he or she will be unable to repossess the evidently highly secret recipe to said baked good.

Which FAMOUS CAKE, as it turns out, was actually sitting there; sitting out in the rain in the Los Angeles park dedicated to the famous American general.

Despite the rather poetic homage paid to it in the 1968 song, MacArthur Park became known for violence after 1985 when prostitution, drug dealing, shoot-outs, and the occasional rumored drowning became commonplace, with as many as 30 murders in 1990.

Jimmy Webb discusses famous lyrics in ‘MacArthur Park’:

“I’ve also tried to tell the truth, which is that it’s just a song about a girlfriend of mine, Susie Horton, and this place on Wilshire Boulevard where we used to have lunch, which is called MacArthur Park. And the truth is that 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.”

Muse Then

Muse for Jimmy Webb’s ‘MacArthur Park’ treasures those days: Suzy Ronstadt — then Suzy Horton — was the flesh-and-blood muse Webb immortalized for “the yellow cotton dress foaming like a wave on the ground around your knees” that she wore one afternoon while the couple ate lunch in L.A.’s MacArthur Park… But Webb was more smitten with her at the time than she with him. “It was unrequited love,” said the woman who once held the title of Miss Colton — and who today sings in a pop-folk vocal quartet I Hear Voices!

Muse Now

The song of THE FAMOUS CAKE 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, builds to an orchestral climax. A mid-tempo reprise of the first section, concludes with the final choruses and climax.

Harris’s version

was released in April 1968 (WABC first played it on Tuesday 9 April 1968) and on the Hot 100 bowed at #79 on 11 May 1968 and peaked at #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).

First, a version by a man who can actually sing, Glenn Campbell:

Second, the backstory and snippets of the original version by Richard Harris, a man who couldn’t sing but whose version put it on the charts.

Third, the definitive Donna Summer Version…

Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance

Between the parted pages
And were pressed in love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants

MacArthur’s 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, oh no

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees
The birds like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers, by the trees

MacArthur’s 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, oh no

There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it

I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me looking at the sun
And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life, you’ll still be the one

I will take my life into my hands and I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
And my passion flow like rivers through the sky

And after all the loves of my life
Oh, after all the loves of my life
I’ll be thinking of you and wondering why

MacArthur’s 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
Oh no, oh no, no, no, oh no

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Monty James August 2, 2018, 9:07 AM

    Well, when you put it like that, it makes a lot more sense. Been waiting half a century to get a clue.

  • Gordon Scott August 2, 2018, 10:30 AM

    Jimmy Webb tells, in the book “The Wrecking Crew” about playing piano at a party in Los Angeles, and meeting Richard Harris. They talked for some time, and Harris said he wanted to record a song, and would be in touch. Webb thought, “Yeah, right,” and mostly forgot about it. One day he gets a call, and it’s Harris telling him he has to come to London and bring his music. Webb, who was working eight days a week then, didn’t want to, but Harris made the terms irresistible, so it was off to London.

    Apparently it took quite some time, over days, for Webb to play all the songs in his satchel. Webb realized later it was Harris’ way of forcing Webb to take a vacation. But at the last meeting, Webb pulled out the last piece he hadn’t played for Harris. Webb figured Harris, like everyone else, would reject it, if for no other reason than it was nearly 8 minutes long–this in the era when radio wouldn’t play anything over 3:10.

    Webb played it. Harris smiled and said, “I’ll have that one, Jimmy Webb.”

  • Anonymous August 2, 2018, 11:25 AM

    In dreams I drift and glide and soar and dive, not like a bee seeking home and honey of the hive.
    Away out here in danger and in freedom do I thrive,
    and then I wake and land in life too bland.
    And MacArthur Park, and love, though unrequited, fit my heart like a supple glove.

  • Tim Roberts August 2, 2018, 12:49 PM

    My brother was undergoing a hard breakup from the girl he loved all through high school when this song charted. She broke up with him after their prom. I remember how heartbroken he was. I just recently found out from him that she had been shtupping one of the younger teachers on staff, who then dumped her a few years later.

  • RigelDog August 2, 2018, 2:58 PM

    I guess I ain’t got no good taste or sumpin’ because I think this song is lovely, and I can’t sing the final verses without crying. Yes, I have had the things that I desired, and let my passion flow like rivers to the sun….and yet, there is that love who will always be, in some ways, the one. I miss you, Ricke.

  • LS August 2, 2018, 6:19 PM

    Once in a while one finds lyrics (and any artistic subject matter) so absurd it has to be true.

  • JoeDaddy August 2, 2018, 7:03 PM

    Have met Jimmy. Got pix. My favorite American songwriter and tunesmith.

  • rabbit tobacco August 2, 2018, 8:09 PM

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFkcAH-m9W0
    another jimmy webb song that’s special

  • ap August 2, 2018, 10:25 PM

    Who wants soggy cake? There’s a pretty good deli on the corner.

  • Snakepit Kansas August 3, 2018, 4:31 AM

    I thought Jimmy Webb wrote Fields of Fire….