Thursday, September 5, 2013

Richard Harris--MacArthur Park (1968)

     Richard Harris was a true artistic renaissance man. In the 1960's, Harris became one of the leading actors from the UK due to roles like, "The Guns of Navarone", "Mutiny on the Bounty", and "A Sporting Life" which netted him a nomination for a Golden Globe in 1963. In the 70's he was not only known for his hard partying ways, but for his role in the movie, "A Man Called Horse" and it's sequels. After spending much of the 80's cleaning his life up after too much alcohol and cocaine, he returned with several memorable role including, "The Field", "Unforgiven" and one of his last roles, playing the headmaster Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. It was one movie in particular that would lead us to our feature song today.
     In 1967, Harris played the role of King Arthur in the movie adaptation of the Lerner and Lowe play, "Camelot". Despite winning five Academy Awards, was quite dull (at least to these eyes) except when the King was on the screen. His stage presence wasn't a surprise, but what came as a shock to many was how well he sang. Harris didn't actually "sing", but he had a way of talking through songs which came across as singing (much like another UK actor of the time, Rex Harrison), which was quite effective.
      Harris had met Jimmy Webb late in 1967 at a event in California. Out of the blue, the actor mentioned that he was interested in doing a musical project. Jimmy of course was aware of the movie "Camelot", but didn't take him seriously until receiving a telegram from London wanting to secure a time for him to come and begin recording. Harris had listened to Webb's material and had chosen "MacArthur Park", a song written about the songwriter's relationship with an old girlfriend (that relationship was also the impetus for, "By the time I get to Phoenix" as well) as the first song to record. It became a sprawling, four movement single clocking in over seven minutes. If you notice, the actor actually sings, "MacArthur's Park", this was despite Webb's attempts to get him to sing it correctly. After a few missed takes, he just allows him to sing it the way that we hear it today.
     It was one of the songs which made up the album, "A Tramp Shining", which is arguably the best album of Webb's material ever recorded. The single itself reached number 2 in the states during the summer of 1968, and was covered by Donna Summer in a disco version ten years later which reached the top of the charts.   



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