Song: “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer
Reached #1: November 11, 1978 (her first, 2 weeks)
Previously: Day 196
The song that is considered one of the most insane ever to hit #1 started with a breakup.
Songwriter Jimmy Webb was dating Linda Ronstadt’s cousin, Susan. As relationships do, this one ended – but Susan Ronstadt never really left Jimmy Webb. He wrote this extended allegory about the place where they tended to hang out for lunch, Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park, as well as “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, about her. Well, Webb says the song is about love affairs, but just about everyone has done the math.
Of course, you probably first heard the bombastic/dramatic version that actor Richard Harris did in 1968. Webb was playing piano at a fundraiser involving Harris, when Harris blurted out that he wanted to record a song. Webb thought it was a joke, Harris was serious. Harris went through Webb’s catalog before choosing “MacArthur Park”. The result was… well… really, really weird.
It was Harris who introduced the mispronunciation, “MacArthur’s Park”. Webb kept reminding him there’s no possessive, and Harris kept singing it, so Webb finally gave in.
Summer’s version was part of an extended “MacArthur Park Suite” on the Live And More album – the suite ran 18 minutes, and led to 4-minute, 6-minute, and 8-minute versions of “MacArthur Park” being released over time. The 6-minute version is the one that reached #1 – one position higher than Harris took the original.
Webb has always claimed that the imagery in the song was real – including the cake left out in the rain. I suppose after all this time, what else could he say?
Tomorrow, a rare British band who never had homeland success, but hit #1 over here…
Other songs that reached #1 on November 11:
1989 – “When I See You Smile” by Bad English (their first, 2 weeks)
2000 – “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed (their first, 1 week)
2006 – “My Love” by Justin Timberlake feat. T.I. (his second, 3 weeks)