portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Monday, April 23, 2018

I had been to see 'Camelot' the first musical I ever saw at the cinema and very affective it was too if a tad tired dated and cloying now and for a moment became inspired by Richard Harris and indeed enjoyed all his acting performances ever after from 'A Man Called Horse' up to and including his Professor Dumbledore . . . . . but there is no doubting the strangeness of this song by the legendary Jimmy Webb a fine songwriter and piano player but that this was inspired by a breakup with his then girlfriend it was also also inspired by something else surely!

On this day in music history: April 22, 1968 - “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris is released. Written and produced by Jimmy Webb, it is the debut single release and the biggest hit for the Irish born actor. Fresh off the success of writing major hits for The 5th Dimension (“Up, Up And Away”, “Carpet Man”) and Glen Campbell (“By The Time I Get To Phoenix”), songwriter Jimmy Webb sets his sights on writing something even more ambitious. Inspired by his recent break up with longtime girlfriend Susan Horton, he conceives the idea of writing a cantata, a suite of interconnected songs expressing his feelings over the loss of the relationship. Once it is complete, he offers it to The Association for their second Warner Bros album “Birthday”. When the band realizes that the cantata will take up one entire album side, they decide to pass on it. Not long afterward, Webb meets actor Richard Harris (“A Man Called Horse”, “Gladiator”), at a fundraiser in Los Angeles. Harris, having recently portrayed  King Arthur in the film adaptation of the musical “Camelot”, expresses interest in making a record. Webb plays the section of his cantata titled “MacArthur Park” for Harris, who loves it immediately and wants to record it. The basic track is recorded at Sound Recorders in Hollywood, CA with members of The Wrecking Crew on December 21, 1967, with further overdubs recorded on December 29 and 30, 1967. Webb takes the finished track to London to record Richard Harris’ vocals there. The finished song, consisting of four distinct movements clock in at seven minutes and twenty seconds, more than twice the length of the average hit single of that time. Initially, ABC/Dunhill Records is extremely hesitant to issue it as a single because of its length, but sense they have something special on their hands. One of the labels promotion men play a dub of the track for WABC Program Director Rick Sklar in April of 1968. When the staff of the station hears the song and reacts positively, Sklar agrees to put it in rotation. From its first airing, public response is overwhelmingly positive, forcing ABC/Dunhill to quickly scramble to get records pressed and into stores to meet demand. Entering the Hot 100 at #79 on May 11, 1968, it peaks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 on June 22, 1968. The accompanying album “A Tramp Shining” is also a major success, peaking at number four on the Billboard Top 200 on July 13, 1968. “MacArthur Park” becomes a pop standard, being recorded by numerous artists, including a cover version by Donna Summer that hits number one on the Hot 100 in November of 1978. “MacArthur Park” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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