on November 25, 2003
... she was married to some guy... Dang it...
I may never have heard this album had I not had a major crush on a certain Janet W., who I met at college. She kept raving about the album, and as a means of creating more common ground I picked it up, just to be able to flash my own copy (vinyl in those days).
Surprise surprise, I was blown away. Richard had always been one of my favorite actors, but nothing could have prepared me for the intelligent way he negotiated so many stunning Jimmy Webb songs. He also went on to repeat the dose on The Yard Went On Forever.
While the epic Mac Arthur Park was the rightful mega hit, there are many wonderful songs on this truly classic album. My personal favorites include Mac Arthur Park, Paper Chase, Didn't We, Name Of My Sorrow and Lovers Such As I.
No, Richard didn't have the kind of voice that could challenge Jack Jones and Tony Bennett, but he did have a very pleasant voice and this, combined with his exceptional acting prowess, enabled him to add a magic of his own to the already intriguing Webb masterpieces.
This is one of those rare comings together of two great artists who between them created a stunning whole that was even greater than the sum of the considerable parts.
Janet? I think she became an accountant... Sigh...
on April 2, 2003
If you have a soul in your body, and if you have one shred of emotion in that soul, then MacArthur Park will move you to tears my friends. The first time I heard it was 1969. I was in a methadone clinic in Scranton Pennsylvania. Up until that point I was living off a steady diet of government cheese and whatever beer I could lick off the floor of the bar. It was the lowest point in my life people (well, '85 was worse but that's besides the point). I heard the heavenly strains of the baroque orchestra backing Dick Harris' sonorous voice through the padded walls of my own private hell, and I immeadiately yelled for my orderly to "CRANK UP THE JAM". I knew then that I had a new lease on life. The recording had so much scope, so much ambition. It filled me with a sense of purpose in this mad world and it soon became a rallying cry for my personal transformation.
When I play MacArthur Park for my stepson and his friends they laugh and tell me that it's "overproduced," has "poor arrangement," that "the chorus comes in constantly at anticlimatic times," that the the lyrics are "hilarious," the orchestra sounds "syrupy" and that it's a perfect example of "70's excess." What do I do? I tell them they're wrong, wrong, wrong!! This is the inner cry of a kid lost in a city with a heart full of sorrows and a head full of acid. Bottom line: MacArthur Park is 8.5 minutes of overblown easy maddness that will bring a tear to your eye and jump in your step!!! This is the soundtrack of YOUR LIFE.
on April 9, 2008
I am listening to one of the most despised albums in history, still, after forty years, getting as many bad reviews as it got when it first came out, "A Tramp Shining," by Richard Harris.
Written by the usually-credible Jimmy Web, who has written chart-topping songs by too many great pop vocalists to even try to mention, A Tramp Shining, oddly, his biggest hit, was hated by all the critics.
Decades later, the album is still lambasted. In spite of all this mockery, the album still sells, and is still available new.
The album, sung by the most derided vocalist in pop music history, Richard Harris, counter-intuitively, stayed near the top of the pop charts for almost an entire year. The album has several songs that still remain in the pop music lexicon and remain classics for the creepiest of lounge singers. Such "revolting" tunes as "Didn't We," "In The Final Hours," and "Lovers Such As I," can still be brought out at parties for a laugh or romantically sung by ghoulish men into the ears of women who, after that, will surely never call them again.
Interestingly, I still like those songs. (My latest favorite from this collection, which I am rediscovering is The Paper Chase, later covered by Art Garfunkel, etc.) I can picture myself as a teenager, driving along Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles in my car, feeling very emotional about some of the cuts on this album.
I would like to spend a moment recounting my two favorites. The first is "A Tramp Shining." This song still charms me because it is about a total loser who seems to be lost in every way, and who, in the end, seems to be given another chance by a woman who is totally out of his league:
She's called me again
And I've taken all my old forgotten hopes
Out of the closet
To put them on
I have found my crumbling crown
Right where I tossed it
I thought that I had lost it
But here I am
A tramp shining
(The song ends with the fabulous note: " . . . a brand new clown."
As a person of low income, I really like the idea of "A Tramp Shining." The song goes on to recount him "sitting on my threadbare throne." All of this is very unappealing to people of any credibility, so I move on.
The "crowning achievement" of the album is the monster hit that simply played every day on the radio for years and years, "Mac Arthur Park." It is stunning for its bizarre 70s orchestral arrangement style. The song was extremely experimental and fused many genres that could not really work together. However, audiences were not sophisticated enough to dislike the now completely "Vegas" style of composing that one hears on this cut, some of which reminds folks of ineptly produced porno soundtracks from the 80s.
All of the above notwithstanding, Mac Arthur Park still has great emotional appeal to souls prone to profound depression and anxiety. (Did I mention I still love this song and play it on my iTunes?) The song's most hated component is the chorus:
Mac Arthur's Park is melting
In the dark
All the sweet green icing
Someone left the cake out
In the rain
And I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe
Here, the critical mind is a loss, but only because, as is usually the case, critics miss the entire point of something while picking on petty things. The critics, like the media, will watch someone trying to save the world, and instead of noting their cause, will focus, for years on end, only on a badly-chosen pair of shoes the campaigner was wearing, etc.
The cake, is a brilliant metaphor, even though the most hated. The cake, of course, is a love affair itself. And why is a cake a great metaphor? Because it is delicate and really easy to ruin. The loss of the recipe is the loss of the complex chemistry that can never be duplicated.
And lastly, the appeal to anyone from Los Angeles of the explicit mention of Mac Arthur Park, cannot be understated. How many people made out for the first time there in high school, etc.?
And so, after four decades, we see the critics still cannot stop something of value from having a following. I consider it a tribute to humanity that Barry Manilow, just a year ago, had a number one album.
What the critcs hate is sweetness, whether it comes from Manilow or Harris. The words "mawkish," "sentimental," "syrupy," "self-indulgent," and so on, are the most prized tools of their trade. But there is one thing they cannot rationalize away, the fact that people do in fact themselves feel sentimental and self-indulgent, and so they will need music to reflect that. The critics then, are finally asking that a whole slice of the human cake be simply thrown out because their art-school education demands it.
I shall close by introducing a new phrase for the critics, who, paradoxically, have not written anything original in my entire lifetime. (They rather are doing little more than copying the snotty attitude of Dorothy Parker, which was very cute and enjoyable eighty years ago, but by now is quite shopworn.) This new phrase is "brilliantly sentimental," which I follow up with "self-indulgent genius."
Well, needless to say, Richard Harris only had one hit album, although that album has a lot of "deep" album tracks. It seems that he too lost the recipe after this album, and hence, the ironies surrounding this work will whirl forward for another decade yet.
Richard Harris, if you are looking down from the beyond, may you forever be A Tramp Shining.
Mel C. Thompson.
on April 9, 2003
I can remember 1968 like it was yesterday, or 100 years ago for that matter if you lived like I did. I was nothing but a long-haired renegade fed up with a meager janitorial position in a Northeast mill. I had an insatiable thirst for life and adventure. So one day, I packed up and said, "screw the system", quit my job and took to the open road with nothing but my beat-up old chevy, what little savings I had, and my brand new radio because music was my life. I traversed this great country with high expectations in search of my place on this earth; a life and love. But I soon found out the open road wasnt so glamorous. I became all too familiar with the "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" lifestyle. And after a few brief stints working at some dive bars out in California and North Dakota which put new meaning to the phrase, "anything goes"; and living off of "Girl Scout Cookies" and old hamburgers (using the cookie boxes as a pillow many a times in my backseat for a nights rest) I had reached my boiling point. Then it happened: I heard MacArthur Park by Richard Harris for the first time (the year it went to #2 in the billboards). This song touched this "nomad" in more ways than I can describe. It was a metaphor that fit my own life. It gave me answers I never thought I had, truly a moving moment which still impacts my life today. It was a day that got my life back in order. I instantly, with what little left I could scrounge up, bought the record. I called up an old friend, "Hawk", in the San Fran region in order that I play the record on his player. We soon found the album was the most well-blended array of notes and music we had ever heard orchestrated together. I thought, "SHEER INGENUITY and RAW talent!" Out on the road, I took MacArthur's Park (and the entire album) in context and for its deeper meaning (not literally) in dealing with the cake, recipes etc. in the lyrics. This is how I recommend listening to it. Not everyone will have a life-changing moment like I did, but everyone can simply appreciate Mr. Richard Harris in all his magnitude. In a year, when there were some questionable artists and songs like Andy Kim, Leapy Lee, and Humperdink's "Les Bicyclettes des Belsize", Richard Harris took to the roots of music and created some masterpieces. Dick Harris is a phenominal human being/artist and as "Hawk" and I once later agreed, "He's a jack of all trades.... MASTER OF ALL" ... I highly recommend this album