Donna Summer – MacArthur Park

First Hit #1: November 11, 1978

MacArthur Park is bizarre song. I can appreciate that the cake of the song is not made of flour, sugar and eggs, but of metaphors. I can understand what the songwriter was going for, on a purely intellectual level. That doesn’t mean writing a song about cake in the rain isn’t completely insane, whether or not it’s a literal cake. So the fact that people are, with all serious, singing a song about cake. Metaphor cake, the most delicious kind.

Donna Summer takes it even further into the insane by including it in a 17 minute medley on her album Live and More. There are also shorter versions, one linked to below, though I think 17 minutes kind of establishes the insanity of the track. It’s even seems to turn into chase music for no real reason, other than Jimmy Webb dealing with his grief by writing the most memorably ridiculous song he could.

The funny thing is, Jimmy Webb is actually normally a great songwriter. I could, if inclined, put down a big list of all the excellent songs Webb wrote, though instead I’ll put down my favorite – Witchita Lineman – something Frank Sinatra called “the greatest torch song ever written – By the Time I Get to Phoenix – and then just say he’s written a ton of incredible music since 1966. He just happened to go completely batshit mental and also write one of the most bizarre songs ever put to paper when a relationship went bad, and it’s one of those things that’s oddly sympathetic while also being on the far end of nuts. I’ll also say that the world is a better place because MacArthur Park exists, because seriously, there is nothing like it. Then Donna Summer makes it disco and you just sit in awe at this incredibly sincere, heartfelt but also ludicrous tribute to the end of relationship becomes part of phantasmagoric disco madness.

I’ve included the shortest version I could find on Youtube that sounded studio, basically because singles tend to cut out a lot of stuff, and the number of radio stations broadcasting 17-minute disco medleys are uncommon. I believe the actual single was closer to six minutes, but even if I wasn’t there I imagine it got cut down on the radio. I actually recommend the extra-long album cut though, because I think it fully encapsulates the madness.

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2 Responses to Donna Summer – MacArthur Park

  1. Robert Berman says:

    I love the contrast between this version and the quavering one which tough-guy actor (and future Dumbledore) Richard Harris took to #2 in 1968. Summer’s arrangement treats the first verse and chorus like an appetizer, waiting for the pew-pew laser sound effects to usher in the ebullient disco backbeat. I wonder what her same vocal track would sound like with Whitney Houston-esque ballad instrumentation.

  2. Pooley says:

    I’m a huge fan of this blog. Good work, man. I just discovered MacArthur Park and I’m sad it was kept from my ears for so long.

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