According to Paul Zollo’s interview with Jimmy Webb (in the book “Songwriters on Songwriting”), MacArthur Park was invented in Bones Howe’s head. Howe asked Webb to write something “classical” for the Association. When they passed on Mac Park, it went “into the trunk,” Webb says, until Richard Harris invited him to London to make a record. Harris basically picked MacArthur Park from a stack of songs and the rest is history. (Interestingly, my post several months ago entitled “Richard Harris Is A God To Me” generates more Viagra spam than any other post I’ve done.)
For Blaine, MacArthur Park is the perfect palette, blending the orchestral chops of his soundtrack work with the rock and roll groove of The Beach Boys.
I heard my favorite version of this song just once. I was standing backstage at Broadway Junior High School in Elmira, NY. I was probably 12 or 13, listening to the stage band from the high school play an instrumental version. I watched the drummer, Steve Nixon, playing the fast part at the end and thought: “That’s really cool”. Steve later became a good friend in high school, helped me through some hard times and then, a few years after graduation, because a true acid casualty by stepping in front of an eighty mile-per-hour train.
Like many kids growing up in the 1970′s, a good share of my indoor wintertime was spent with the neighborhood kids, playing air-guitar tennis rackets and beating the bed pillows with drumsticks. My best friend at the time, Deke Forrest, insisted on playing the tennis racket left-handed (because that the way Paul did it) and tapping his foot (because that’s the way George did it). I was disappointed he didn’t work John and Ringo in somehow.
There’s a certain understated funkiness to the rhythm track on this song. Blaine slips into the pocket, reprises his Mamas and Papas vibe and takes it home. (I saw The Association perform this at the Chemung County Fair around 1970-ish; my very first rock concert.)
Even though I was 6 years old when this came out, I understood clearly what Gary was singing about. This song (plus Lady Willpower and You’ve Made Me So Very Happy) was one of the first singles I owned. I spent hours listening to these songs, dissecting the horn, string and vocal parts. Obviously I’m regressing back to six years old. I’m wondering on how many songs Blaine straight fours on the snare drum (and somehow never sounded the same twice).
This one features more straight fours but not before he did the great opening couple of bars. Nice snare fill at the end of the first chorus, too. If you think it’s simple, just transcribe it and play it and see how close you come to the groove, eh?
So 60′s, so psychedelic! Kenny Rogers was so c-o-o-l back then with his long vest and fringed hair (or maybe it was the other way around). And he had yet to go country and make several kabillion dollars. Close your ears to the music (which is seriously flower-powered out, complete with vibraphone) and dig Blaine’s track. It’s totally funky.
In my mind, the movie and the soundtrack to The Graduate are the 1960′s. I don’t know what Blaine played on this record but it never ceases to amaze me how the song just keeps pushing forward. I think the most that came out of the drum set were hi-hats on 2 and 4 during the chorus. Seemed to be enough.
It’s going toward 5PM on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a breezy 81 degrees. The backyard is looking like an oasis after a full day of gardening. The boys are hitting whiffle balls off the back deck, my wife is napping, my daughter is playing school. It’s a stoned soul picnic. A great groove from HB!
Sometime in the late 60′s, my high school aged brother bought a jukebox. Don’t know why but I thought it was totally cool. It hadWindy by The Association, Silence Is Golden by The Tremeloes, I Love You by People (which I just recently found on a 45) and this one. It sat in our garage for a few years, I played it a lot and then Dad got sick of moving the lawn mower around it and sold it for $20. Trip-o-let, trip-o-let, bah bah bah!
While hippies were changing the world, Hal Blaine and The Wrecking Crew were helping to maintain the pop status quo – straight from the 50s songbook – but a Top 10 hit nonetheless.