November 14, 2014

Boomer Anthems: "MacArthur Park" Everyone Knows the Refrain. Everyone Wishes They Didn't.

In which we discover that the 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, as it turns out, was actually sitting there 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 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....

Donna Summer- McArthur Park (N. of Proms)[digital] hi*fi

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

Posted by gerardvanderleun at November 14, 2014 9:28 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

In 1980, I was in my high school's show choir, and we performed this song. When out director first brought it out, we all looked at one another like, wth??

Posted by: Leslie at November 14, 2014 9:28 AM

I saw Maynard Ferguson at the Paramount Theater in Seattle - 1977. His version of MacArthur Park brought the house down.

Posted by: Jewel at November 14, 2014 11:11 AM

I had just gotten married, and realized that the marriage was a BIG mistake. Then the song came out, and was played every 15 minutes for a year.

The song became a stimulus that even now elicits nausea and the gag reflex. I have to leave the room and take calming breaths.

I developed a severe antipathy towards Richard Harris. "The guy makes me queasy."

I can't abide soggy cake. "I'm sorry, I must go. Soggy cake."

Posted by: Lance de Boyle at November 14, 2014 11:32 AM

Waylon Jennings does a good countrified version, and the Four Tops do a fine soul version.

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at November 14, 2014 11:34 AM

I had hoped to never be reminded of that song again.

It's OK, Gerard. It's your site and I love it.

The site that is, not the stupid song.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at November 14, 2014 11:53 AM

Glen Cambell not only was a great singer, but he was also a fantastic guitar player and musician. He did a number of Jimmy Web songs. This performance is great, a lot of feeling in his voice and passion in his guitar solo.

I actually like the song, not necessarily the lyrics, but the music is outstanding. Jimmy Webb was a great American songwriter.

Posted by: Lovernios at November 14, 2014 12:47 PM

Or you can take the cake left out in the rain as a metaphor for forgetfulness or carelessness about that which we love. 'This world is all about loving --- and not loving enough.'
Maybe somewhere from Rumi, a madman poet, mystic, searcher, finder, intoxicated with love of God.

Posted by: Howard Nelson at November 14, 2014 3:58 PM

I saw Harris perform it with a dancer on the Tonight show with Carson. I wish I could find the tape of that event.

Posted by: Langley at November 14, 2014 5:48 PM

My mom and dad met while working together at the MacArthur Park boathouse snack bar.

Posted by: el baboso at November 14, 2014 6:23 PM

Hate on the song all you want, the final stanzas still bring me to tears. After all the loves of my life--after the last love of my life--there will still be that one...

Posted by: RigelDog at November 14, 2014 7:10 PM

My favorite version, hands down:

Posted by: Cameron at November 14, 2014 10:39 PM

Jimmy Webb is the best AMERICAN songwriter/ tunesmith we have. Glen Campbell is beyond words. What a voice! The two together have done some outrageously wonderful music.
My personal 2 favorites.

Posted by: JoeDaddy at November 15, 2014 4:09 AM

Suzy was hot back then and she's still got it today. Easy on the eyes for us old guys.
One of those California girls the Beach Boys were yodeling about.
I wonder if she is any relation to Suzy Creamcheese?

Posted by: chasmatic at November 15, 2014 4:52 AM

When that song came out I was 37, married 13 years with six kids, flying DC-6s in Central and South America, and had a fairly decent Merrill Lynch portfolio. Some of my kids may know of it, but I'd never heard of it or any of those groups until today. Having been raised on big band, dixieland and jazz, I doubt I've missed anything.

Posted by: BillH at November 15, 2014 7:46 AM

I too was just married when 'McArthur Park' was released. Peaked at #2S in the summer of '68. Still married to the same wonderful woman after forty plus (actually closer to fifty) years. Still love 'McArthur Park' too.

Oh... that Jim Gordon on drums on Richard Harris' version.

Posted by: Badco at November 15, 2014 8:35 AM

I always liked the Richard Harris version. I hadn't heard the Glen Campbell version till now, he's a great singer. Jimmy Webb was a fantastic song write and wrote some great music. The Donna Summer version that I like is the extended version - 17:52:

Posted by: Geo at November 15, 2014 8:37 AM