MTH-V: “MacArthur Park” Live

It’s been a while since adding to this series. To do so, here’s an epic take on an equally epic pop song. Like “Stars Fell On Alabama,” I came to know this song through a rather circuitous route.

One of my favorite albums in late elementary and early middle school was Weird Al Yankovic’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, a collection of his songs — both originals and parodies — from the early 90s. One of the songs was “Jurassic Park,” a sweeping number with pop-tinged verses and choruses and grand orchestral interludes. The lyrics are nothing short of clever and entertaining. For example, the first chorus:

“Jurassic Park is frightening in the dark,
All the dinosaurs are running wild.
Someone shut the fence off in the rain.
I admit it’s kind of eerie,
And this proves my chaos theory,
And I don’t think I’ll be coming back again.
Oh no…”

For years, little old me never heard the original on which the parody was based. So, imagine my surprise when, much later while out shopping with a friend during my college years, I heard Donna Summer’s disco cover of “MacArthur Park” playing throughout the clothing store. I could hum along with the melody to the entire song (except for instances of “park”), and for a few minutes my world had turned upside down.

The disco bit confused me, as Yankovic is quite talented at musically and stylistically convincing parodies. (For an actual song parody, one example among many is “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies.” For a stylistic parody that’s an original song, see “Germs,” in the vain of Nine Inch Nails.)  He and his band, in my view, are criminally underrated. Few pop bands can comfortably cover such stylistic breadth and depth (especially live and in the same show).

Anyway, some search engine sleuthing when I returned home that day (using the terms: disco, park, cake) eventually led me to the title, and I soon heard a recording of the original recording by Richard Harris. Yes, the lyrics are quirky, however I can’t help but still enjoy the song (though perhaps not Harris’s voice). Having grown up listening to musical theater and oldies, I’m a sucker for the pomp and circumstance involved in the arrangement and orchestration. Here’s the first chorus from the original (to compare to Yankovic’s parody):

“MacArthur 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…”

This past winter, the song got stuck in my head for days. To purge the fixation, I went looking for footage of live performances and I was delighted by what I found: a performance by Paul Shaffer & The CBS Orchestra joined by the song’s composer Jimmy Webb along with orchestral strings, winds, and percussion. Though it hadn’t been appointment viewing for me for many years, I was always a Letterman guy, and I’ve long had a soft spot for Paul Shaffer and & The CBS Orchestra (including Tom “Bones” Malone and charter member Hiram Bullock)  — see Shaffer and Malone here. Bassist Will Lee pulls double duty on bass and vocals, demonstrating his commanding range. (Lee is also know for The Fab Faux and his myriad session work. He tears it up on this Brecker album, for example.) Felicia Collins gets a chance to let it rip during the instrumental breakdown.

Beyond his style of humor, which I very much enjoy, this performance is a solid example of what I enjoy about Letterman: mounting such an involved performance ostensibly for his own pleasure, complete with a giant green cake…



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