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MacArthur Park

Written by Jimmy WebbUnreleased song

Related session

This song was recorded during the following studio sessions:

From Wikipedia:

“MacArthur Park” is a song written by American singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb that was recorded first by Irish actor and singer Richard Harris in 1968. Harris’s version peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number four on the UK Singles Chart. “MacArthur Park” was subsequently covered by numerous artists, including a 1969 Grammy-winning version by country music singer Waylon Jennings and a number one Billboard Hot 100 disco arrangement by Donna Summer in 1978.

In 1967, producer Bones Howe had asked Webb to create a pop song with different movements and changing time signatures. Webb delivered “MacArthur Park” to Howe with “everything he wanted”, but Howe did not care for the ambitious arrangement and unorthodox lyrics and the song was rejected by the group the Association, for whom it had been intended.

Jimmy Webb songwriting

“MacArthur Park” was written and composed by Jimmy Webb in the summer and fall of 1967 as part of an intended cantata. Webb brought the entire cantata to the Association, but the group rejected it. The inspiration for the song was his relationship and breakup with Susie Horton. MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, was where the couple would occasionally meet for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together. At that time (the middle of 1965), Horton worked for Aetna insurance, whose offices were across the street from the park. When asked by interviewer Terry Gross what was going through his mind when he wrote the song’s lyrics, Webb replied that it was meant to be symbolic and referred to the end of a love affair. In an interview with Newsday in October 2014, Webb explained:

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. … Back then, I was kind of like an emotional machine, like whatever was going on inside me would bubble out of the piano and onto paper.

Webb and Horton remained friends, even after her marriage to another man. The breakup was also the primary influence for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, another song written and composed by Webb. After his relationship breakup, Webb stayed for a while at the residence of Buddy Greco, upon whose piano the piece was composed and to whom it was dedicated. Greco closed all his shows with this number for forty years.

The idea to write and compose a classically structured song with several movements that could be played on the radio came from a challenge by music producer Bones Howe, who produced recordings for the Association. The song begins as a poem about love, then moves into a lover’s lament. The song consists of four sections or movements:

Richard Harris original version

“MacArthur Park” was first recorded by Richard Harris, after he met the composer at a fundraiser in East Los Angeles, California in late 1967. Webb had been invited to provide the musical backdrop at the piano. Out of the blue, Harris, who had just starred in the film Camelot and had performed several musical numbers in it, suggested to Webb that he wanted to release a record. At first, Webb did not take Harris seriously, but later he received a telegram from Harris requesting that Webb “come to London and make a record”. Webb flew to London and played Harris a number of songs for the project, but none seemed to fit Harris for his pop music debut. The last song that Webb played for Harris was “MacArthur Park”.

The track was recorded on December 21, 1967, at Armin Steiner’s Sound Recorders in Hollywood. String, woodwind, and brass overdubs were recorded over two sessions on December 29 and 30.
The musicians in the original studio recording included members of the Wrecking Crew of Los Angeles-based studio musicians who played on many of the hit records of the 1960s and 1970s. Personnel used included Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass guitar, and Tommy Tedesco and Mike Deasy on guitars, along with Webb himself on harpsichord.

The song was included on Harris’s album A Tramp Shining in 1968 and selected for release as a single, an unusual choice, given the song’s length and complex structure. It was released in April 1968 and was played by 77 WABC on Tuesday April 9, 1968. It made its way onto the Hot 100 at number 79 on May 11, 1968, peaking at number 2 on June 22, 1968 behind Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love with You”. It peaked at number 10 on Billboard’s Easy Listening survey and was number 8 on WABC’s overall 1968 chart. It topped the music charts in Europe and Australia and also won the 1969 Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).


Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.

Paul McCartney writing

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