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MacArthur Park – Richard Harris

MacArthur Park album cover by Richard HarrisEDITOR’S NOTE: “Three Little Pigs” by Green Jelly was Jim Barton’s last foray into the world of heavy metal one-hit wonders. But did you think he would go gently into that good night? Sorry, no such luck.:) From time to time he will continue his contributions and adding to the wacky and wonderful world of One-Hit Wonders, starting with this famous song, “MacArthur Park,” by Richard Harris.

A most delightful little book that should be on every music fan’s shelf is Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs. In it, the humorist expands upon a 1992 column lamenting the lack of good songs on the radio. The ensuing onslaught of mail from his readers begat more columns on the subject and eventually Barry’s own “Bad Song Survey.” The response was overwhelming, and to make a long story short, “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris with its length (some seven minutes), pretentious vocals, overblown arrangement and infamously silly lyric about a storm-drenched dessert, was voted “Worst Song of All Time” by Barry’s readers, even beating out such dreck as “(You’re) Having my Baby” (Paul Anka and Odia Coates).

But even after the survey, the avalanche of mail continued, and the dust still had not settled when his Book of Bad Songs came out in 1997.

Listen to “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris

As for the song about the rain, the park and other things, namely that waterlogged cake: “MacArthur Park” was written by legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb who you may know for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Up Up and Away,” “Wichita Linesman, “Galveston” and many other songs.

“MacArthur Park” was first offered to The Association. The group was less than interested, but the late actor Richard Harris loved it dearly and recorded it. Harris was known much more for his acting than his singing. Older readers will know him for his turn as King Arthur in the 1967 film version of Camelot while younger reader know Harris as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films.

Despite its length, “MacArthur Park” was a huge hit, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Top 40 in 1968, making Richard Harris a one-hit wonder.

Although it was Richard Harris’s lone Top 40 hit, the song itself seemingly has more lives than a cat: The Four Tops reached Number 38 with it in 1971, and Donna Summer’s first number 1 hit was a “disco-fied” version in 1978, making “MacArthur Park” one of a handful of Number 2 songs that would later see remakes hit Number 1 (others were “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”).

One suspects a rap version of “MacArthur Park” is imminent.

What’s your take? Is “MacArthur Park” the worst song ever?

We’ll add it to our list of the worst one-hit wonders but the song does retain a certain goofy charm.

READ: More of the Worst One-Hit Wonders

Listen to MacArthur Park by Donna Summer

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I'm a long-time student of the history of rock music and its performers, and my favorite branch of the rock music tree is heavy metal.

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6 Responses to "MacArthur Park – Richard Harris"

  1. Jim says:

    I lived in Los Ageles during that period and heard from more than one of the disk jockeys of the period that the LOVED playing the song. Why, you may ask. Well, it was the longest 45 ever and broke the back of the 3:00 limit you might think. The REAL reason was it gave the DJ enough time to go to the bathroom, have a snack, perhaps smoke something.

    This is also the reason Starway to Heaven and Inna Da Gadda Da Vida received such heavy airplay. WIth the Iron Butterfly, even a short date was possible!!

  2. Michael Waterman says:

    Great story and likely true in every way. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Krystuffer says:

    granted, a terrible song (at least before “Weird Al” Yankovic modified it into Jurassic Park). but I personally have something else on my mind…
    seriously, that’s REALLY the Richard Harris from the Harry Potter movies? he looks an awful lot like George Carlin in that photo.

  4. Michael Waterman says:

    That’s him! Funny comment.

  5. Howard Luloff says:

    I have heard this song many times since it first came out in 1968 and it’s always been one of my favorite songs. It was a unique effort for that time when many songs were 2:30-3:00 and MacArthur Park broke ground for longer songs such as the Beatles biggest hit Hey Jude. Rick Sklar, former program director at New York’s premier Top 40 station WABC described the song in his book Rocking America as a miniature symphony and I totally agree. I should also point out that Richard Harris mistakenly throughout the song referred to the tile as “MacArthur’s Park.”

  6. jim sturgeon says:

    McArthur park like many pictorial songs relies heavily on the hearer producing a panarama from a simalar experience in life and dramatizing a movie of sorts. A person who has limited relationship qualities and given more to feeling massages certainly on this song will be left out in the rain. Thank you Jim.

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