DEAR JERRY: Thank you for your lucid explanation of Don McLean's "American Pie." Can you do the same for Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park?"
D.J. Bell, Cherry Hill, N.J.
DEAR D.J.: One thing that surprises most people is learning that everything heard in Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" is based on real-life. It is neither fiction nor an ambiguous metaphor.
That the story is of real people, places, and things in one man's life, make "MacArthur Park" easier to explain than "American Pie."
For starters, MacArthur Park, named after General Douglas MacArthur, is a real park in the Westlake district of Los Angeles, and is an officially designated Historic Cultural Monument.
Jimmy Webb and his girlfriend, Susie Horton, frequently had lunch at MacArthur Park, a convenient rendezvous point since Miss Horton worked directly across the street.
Unexpectedly, and to his dismay, Susie ended the relationship with Jimmy.
Among his many indelible memories were specific sights and scenes they saw and shared at the park during better times.
"Everything mentioned in the song was visible," explains Webb. "There's nothing in it that was fabricated! The old men playing checkers by the trees. The cake that was left out in the rain. All of the things in the song are things I actually saw. It's a musical collage of this whole love affair that kind of went down in MacArthur Park." Converting those thoughts and images into lyrics was instinctive for Jimmy, who says: "Back then, I was kind of like an emotional machine. Whatever was going on inside me would bubble out of the piano and onto paper."
Once written, "MacArthur Park" was offered to the Association, a Los Angeles band already with five Top 10 hits: "Along Comes Mary"; "Cherish"; "Windy"; "Never My Love"; and "Everything That Touches You."
They turned it down for several reasons, one of which was its running time of 7:20, roughly two or three times the length of most hit records in the 1960s.
Richard Harris, who starred and sang in the 1967 film adaptation of the Broadway show, "Camelot," was looking to record commercially, and he didn't hesitate when Webb offered him "MacArthur Park."
Was it kismet that Richard Harris went directly from King Arthur to a park named MacArthur?
"MacArthur Park" (Dunhill 4134), shown on some copies as "MAC ARTHUR PARK," peaked at No. 2 on all three national charts: Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World. He was blocked at the top by Herb Alpert's "This Guy's in Love With You."
About 10 years later, "MacArthur Park" finally claimed the No. 1 spot, also on all three charts, this time by disco queen, Donna Summer (Casablanca 939).
Other noteworthy versions include:
1969: Waylon Jennings & the Kimberlys (RCA Victor 0210)
1969: Tony Bennett (Columbia 45032)
1971: Four Tops (Motown 1189)
1972: Andy Williams (Columbia 45647)
DEAR JERRY: My question is about two great groups, whose catalogs were mostly written by one or more of their members.
Of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, which Top 40 hits were written by someone outside their group?
Jolene Longmuir, Las Cruces, N.M.
DEAR JOLENE: Your "B" groups are excellent examples of bands with no need to look beyond their members for good material. When they did, it was based on preference, but never necessity.
Songs co-written by a group member with an outsider, such as Brian Wilson and Tony Asher (e.g., "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows") are not included here.
These are the exceptions, and their writers:
"Ain't She Sweet" (Milton Ager-Jack Yellen)
"Matchbox" (Carl Perkins)
"My Bonnie" (Traditional)
"Slow Down" (Larry Williams)
"Twist and Shout" (Phil Medley-Bert Russell)
"Barbara Ann" (Fred Fassert)
"Come Go With Me" (Clarence "C.E." Quick)
"Do You Wanna Dance?" (Bobby Freeman)
"I Can Hear Music" (Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich-Phil Spector)
"Rock and Roll Music" (Chuck Berry)
"Sloop John B" (Traditional)
Perhaps you already knew that their enormous volume of work contains zero hit songs written by someone other than a Gibb.
Beginning with their first record (1967), "New York Mining Disaster 1941," to present, not just ones in the Top 40, but ALL Bee Gees' charted songs were written by Barry Gibb.
Along the way, Barry found time to write or co-write huge hits for other artists. Among those lucky recipients are: Andy Gibb, his younger brother; Frankie Valli; Samantha Sang; Yvonne Elliman; Barbra Streisand; and Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton.