This is the best song to play when everything in your life goes splat.
I wanted to do something special this week to kick off the summer holidays and that became Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park", a sprawling, emotionally charged diva showcase that cemented her reign as the Queen Of Disco and topped the Hot100 for three weeks in the fall of 1978. She owned "MacArthur Park"".
There is a real MacArthur Park which began life as Westlake Park, in 1880's Los Angeles. It went through several other names, first Eastlake Park, and then Lincoln Park before is It was renamed to honor General Douglas MacArthur on May 7, 1942.
I was fondly remembering that time just before attending college in late summer of 1978 and how this song was suddenly everywhere, it was inescapable! It was such a powerhouse performance that it established Donna as a serious vocalist who could slay it and wail with the best of them. The MacArthur Park Suite was on side four after the first three sides of "Live And More" that were an energetic run through of Donna's greatest hits live. Encased in Franco Scavullo glamour shots, the LP cover folded out three three times, the closeups of Donna that folded away to reveal her at the microphone in full regalia and then the gatefold revealed a panoramic shot of her live show on stage.
The fact that she chose to update MacArthur Park showed tremendous confidence and she came through in spades. The original dramatic version was by Richard Harris, an self acknowledged actor who sings, who lent his dramatic talents to the lyrically cryptic MacArthur Park, with lines like "someone left the cake out in the rain". What does it mean, does it mean anything? For me it was an allegory for a relationship that had gone on the rocks like a picnic gone bad and the cake (relationship) got left out in the rain and was in serious trouble. Most listeners did not understand all the lyrics, but nevertheless did buy into the emotionally charged and catchy song about loss and loneliness.
Written by Jimmy Webb, the song was to be a seven minute coda of a three song 22 minute cantata he was writing, each part could be a single. At the time Webb was shopping the song to the Association ("Windy" and the Webb written #2 hit "Never My Love"), but the group passed on the high falutin' concept. Webb had wanted something soaring that he could come back to at the end of his mini rock cantata and MacArthur Park is what came out of it. Harris version was a ballad that built up to a to a high energy instrumental go-go bridge and then went orchestral back to finish off as a power ballad, his cries at the end were quite effective!
Taking a cue from the upbeat part of the original song, they decided to go to the disco beat after a slow, rousing intro and the hit was born. It had instant recognition going for it from listeners who knew Harris version so the song entered the chart at #85 then jumped 10 to 25 spots each week until it hit #2 on the Hot100 stopped by Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love With You".
Donna has a way of reaching inside of the lyrics and making them mean something with her emotionally charged performances. She just knew how to sing them, like she did when for "I Feel Love", her minimalist vocals added energy. In MacArthur Park she brought the song to life, convincing me in the bridge that love will come again. It has become a perennial favorite that still creates a rush to the dance floor as she takes us through the song of regret and finally hope.
"Live & More" became her first of three #1 double albums in a row, the other two were "Bad Girls" and then "On The Radio" greatest hits. Donna had become a superstar! But then you already knew that.