By Tom Cole
It is always fun to look back in history and be able to comment about music, sports and politics but this month we are going to comment on a big mystery in music– often talked about and often criticized.
The song “MacArthur Park” has always been of great interest to me. It was so unusual, coming in at a lengthy 7 minutes and 21 seconds long, a total anomaly for top 40 music in 1968.
Additionally, there are so many mysterious elements to this musical masterpiece beginning with: Who would have ever knowingly picked Richard Harris to sing it? Next– what was songwriter Jimmy Webb thinking when he wrote the song– what is it really about? This song was popular, though, and peaked at No. 2 in 1968.
While it has been called brilliant, it is also criticized for having the horribly written lyrics. Personally, I think it is an incredibly avant-garde song, so esoteric that it stands out in the music industry. And the message is rather brilliant.
If you don’t remember the lyrics, let me refresh your memory:
MACARTHUR PARK by Jimmy Webb
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 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 After all the loves of my life I’ll be thinking of you and wondering why Oh No, Oh No, Oh No
What in the world was Jimmy Webb talking about with this song? Webb, a great American songwriter, had Richard Harris sing this song. That selection is like entering a Volkswagen Beetle in the Indy 500. However, in my mind, the choice was exceptional– Richard Harris is an actor and he partly spoke and partly acted the song; it gave the song a story. Perhaps a genius idea, although many thought not.
Everything that Webb incorporates in the song lyrics, the imagery that he puts out there, are things he really saw at a park, actually called MacArthur Park. The song is about his break-up, with his girlfriend Susie Horton. One explanation, and there are many, is that he went to that park and from a distance watched his former girlfriend marry someone else. It started to rain and the cake began to melt– from this emotional moment a classic song was born.
This song is a metaphor for losing love. He lost his love, the cake is melting in the rain much like his relationship, and while it took so long to make it, now literally and figuratively these things melt away in MacArthur Park.
So the next time you hear this tremendous song, think about a young man losing the love of his life. Love the song or hate the song, it is not a song that is forgotten easily. With real emotion tied to it, everyone who has lost at love can put themselves into the song. The next time you hear “MacArthur Park,” if it is not raining, just pretend it is.