Driving to Charleston yesterday afternoon we had the radio tuned to Sirius 60’s on Six. Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells was counting down the top 40 one hit wonders of the sixties. We were grooving to songs like “Telstar” by the The Tornados, “Wipe Out” by the The Surfaris, “Green Tambourine” by the The Lemon Pipers, even “They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha - Haaa!” by Napolean the 14th. When all of a sudden Tommy played Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” MacArthur Park is one of those songs that folks either hate or love. Personally I am on the “love” side of that ledger.
I remember playing this song on WUSC - FM a few years ago when a millennial student walked in and professed that MacArthur Park was a pretty cool song and asked who that was singing it. The name Richard Harris didn’t ring a bell so I decided to relate Richard to his world. I said, “You know, Professor Albus Dumbledore, the first one.” He said, “No way that old man could sing this!” I reminded him that Richard was not always an old man and that he starred in many other films such as Camelot (1967), A Man Called Horse (1970), Unforgiven (1992), I got a glimmer with Richard’s portrayal of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000).
I continued with more information about MacArthur Park and the imagery of Jimmy Webb’s words. I explained that song was about Jimmy’s breakup with his long time girlfriend, Susie Horton who later married Robert Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt. MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, was where the two occasionally met for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together back in 1965. Interestingly Susie later married Robert Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt. Other Jimmy Webb songs about breakups include Glen Campbell’s "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and “The Worst That Could Happen" by Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge. All of these songs appeared to be inspired by that sad time in Jimmy’s life.
Another thing that ties most of these songs together is that the session musicians for all of these songs but The Brooklyn Bridge’s “The Worst That Could Happen". However “The Worst That Could Happen” is a cover first done by The Fifth Dimension. You guessed it; the Wrecking Crew was the backing instrumentalists for their recording.
Then there is Dionne Warwick and the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Bacharach - David appears on all but one of Dionne’s hits recorded in the “The Scepter Era” (1962–1971). That one lone song was “Theme from the Valley of the Dolls” which was written by André and Dory Previn but, guess what, that song was produced by Bacharach and David. Not only that but it was a “B” side to “I say a Little Prayer” and that was written by, you guessed it; Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Remember all these great tunes; "Don't Make Me Over", "Anyone Who Had a Heart", "Walk On By", "You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)", "A House Is Not a Home" , "Are You There (With Another Girl)", "Message to Michael", "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose". All came from that incredible musical collaboration.
When people think of songwriters most think about The Beatles’ Lennon/McCartney and Motown’s Holland/Dozier/Holland but these are other great examples are just samples of the songwriters who created the songs that made their way on to the 45 RPM records inserted into those green record sleeves that are stacked in the bins that line the walls of the libraries of our memories. Oh MY!