Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Jimmy Webb

This last weekend, Kim and I travelled to Tennessee with our kids, Adam and Mel, to celebrate two events: my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and my mother's birthday.

One of the things that I've come to love over the last few years is Sirius Radio (since merged with the other big satellite radio company, XM and now known as Sirius/XM Radio). Satellite radio is wonderful; it has just about every type of station you can think of-- different eras and genres of music, talk radio, sports, etc.

Usually, I've got "Little Steven's Underground Garage" playing (as I do now). It covers the spectrum of rock and roll music. Right now The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" is playing. In the next hour I might hear Howlin' Wolf, Joan Jett, the Ramones, the Cocktails Slippers, Alejandro Escovedo, the Hollies-- their range is remarkable.

While we were driving back from Tennessee, Kim and Adam both dozed off (we'd gotten up at 4 am Chicago time) and so it was me driving and Mel listening to her Ipod. Kim isn't as hep on the Underground Garage as I am, so I set the satellite radio to the sixties station, which I figured would please everybody in the car. At some point, Richard Harris' "Macarthur Park" came on, and I point out to Mel, who is a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and movies that the late Mr. Harris played the "Dumbledore" character in the first few Harry Potter movies. I was also reminded that I wanted to do a post on Jimmy Webb, the guy who wrote the song, when I got back from our trip.

"Macarthur Park" was a hit for Harris in 1968. Long for a hit single-- it was over seven minutes long-- it brought about a lot of discussion about the meaning of the imagery-- notably the lyric "someone's left the cake out in the rain." I've always thought it was a straightforward image about love-- that a beautiful thing, put together with a lot of work can be ruined by simply neglecting it. The songwriter, Jimmy Webb, who was born in Oklahoma in 1946, has said in interviews that he used to spend a lot of time with his girlfriend of the time in Macarthur Park, in Los Angeles.

Mr. Webb had first offered the song to The Association, who rejected it. Harris, who was better-known as an actor, had a huge hit with the song (his only hit, as it turned out). In the 1970's, the disco singer Donna Summer would have a huge hit with it. Country singer Waylon Jennings also had a hit with it in 1969.

Jimmy Webb was to write many hit songs. The Fifth Dimension had a hit with "Up, Up and Away," but it was to be Glen Campbell who benefitted the most from Webb's songwriting craft, having top ten hits with the Webb-penned songs "Witchita Lineman," "Where's the Playground Susie," "By the Time I Get To Phoenix," and one of my personal favorites, "Galveston."

Webb's string of hits ended in the seventies, but he has continued writing, and even performing his songs to this day, including music for the television show ER.


SamuraiFrog said...

Welcome back to blogging! I missed you.

Jimmy Webb is wonderful; I find I almost always love songs written by him. When I was 6, my Mom took me to see The Last Unicorn, which had songs by Jimmy Webb (performed by America). I didn't know until years later that I'd been singing his songs--not just those, but many others--since I was a little kid!

SkylersDad said...

Welcome back, and I continue to be in awe of your music knowledge.

Churlita said...

I love Wichita Lineman and Galveston. I never really liked McArthur Park. Maybe because I was a kid when that came out and seemed so hokey to me.

mags said...

Good to have you back!

dmarks said...

Most people don't know that the better Dumbledore actor was famous for singing MacArthur Park.

LegalMist said...

Welcome back. :)

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent! Interesting, indeed.

Yes, you've tapped into those memories of "What's it mean" all around -- we used to chuckle at "The Candy Man" as well. Cool beans . . .

Johnny Yen said...

Thanks! I missed writing this blog!

Hey, don't forget, I use Wikipedia for a little help!

I think I felt that way about Macarthur Park when I was younger, but like disco, I warmed up to it as I got older for its kitsch and nostalgia value.

Good to be back!

Hey, I love John Hurt as well!

Richard Harris was a wonderful racouteur; I saw him on a talk show, telling the story of a coat he was wearing. He told the tale of finally wooing an actress he'd long desired (I figured it was either Liz Taylor or Audrey Hepburn, by the timeframe and circumstances). After consumating his conquest, the woman threw him out. He took the blanket with him and had it made into a coat.

Thanks, and thanks for sticking with me!

I was watching the old version of "Willie Wonka" with my kids recently and had forgotten that "The Candy Man" was in the movie. Do you realize that it was a number one hit for Sammy Davis Jr.?

dmarks said...

Johnny: I don't think John Hurt has played Dumbledore yet. But he would probably be better than Michael Gambon.

Johnny Yen said...

You're right! Shows how much attention I've been paying when I've been watching the movies! According to IMDB, John Hurt has a recurring role as another character.

35th 'n Shields said...

Jimmy Webb also wrote "If You See Me Getting Smaller, I'm Leaving". For Chicago media trivia fans, that's Steve Dahl's traditional swan song when he leaves a radio station.