Tag Archives: paul shaffer

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…



MTH-V: Blues Bros. Live: “Almost”

While not nearly as “historic” (for me) as last week’s video, here’s another hidden gem from years back. Believe me, I’m sure many of you are probably thinking Blues Brothers? It was a good movie, but really?! Yes, indeed! Not only was Blues Brothers a comedy classic, but it’s a popular pick among musicians (especially of the jazz, blues, and rock ilk). However, moving beyond the movie and SNL skits, the Blues Brothers Band was (and in some capacity continues to be) a killer rhythm and blues band. (Yes, the real R&B…) A great mix of a Memphis rhythm section and New York horns.

Luckily for Belushi and Aykroyd, they had the Saturday Night Live Band at their disposal when originally wanting to do their blues bees skits. Deciding to transform their skit into an actual band, they recruited a dream-team of studio and touring musicians, including (most of the names should be familiar):

Steve “The Colonel” Cropper – Guitar
Donald “Duck” Dunn – Bass
Steve “Getdwa” Jordan – Drums
Tom “Bones” Malone – Trombone & Saxophones
“Blue” Lou Marini – Saxophones
Matt “Guitar” Murphy – Guitar
Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin – Trumpet
Tom “Triple Scale” Scott – Saxophones
Paul “The Shiv” Shaffer – Keyboards

Anyone familiar with the backing musicians of popular music from the 1960s to present should see MANY familiar names. Cropper and Dunn were part of the house band for Stax Records (!!!), Marini has been with James Taylor for decades, Scott did some work with Joni Mitchell (he’s all over her historic Court and Spark), Steve Jordan is a top studio and touring drummer (recently collaborating with John Mayer), you see Malone every night with Letterman, and Paul Shaffer has played everywhere with everyone. Behind Jake and Elwood on the stage and in the recording booth is a Who’s Who of American popular music.

Aside from the movie soundtracks, there aren’t many recordings of the Blues Brothers Band. I picked up The Definitive Collection in probably 1997 and still listen to it quite a bit. (It’s great for late night driving.) Sure, John and Dan aren’t the world’s greatest singers, but the band more than makes up for it. The below video is of one of my favorite songs of theirs (a performance of which is included on The Definitive Collection). Assuming the poster included the correct date, this performance comes from New Year’s Eve 1978, meaning this gig was an opening set for the Grateful Dead at Winterland. “(I’ve Got Everything I Need) Almost” was originally written and performed by Canada’s Downchild Blues Band.