Five Things: Wednesday 13th November

A Great Picture

Birkin Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, from a new book of her brother Andrew’s photographs.

A Great Lyric
Jimmy Webb interview by Dave Simpson, The Guardian.
The lyrics to MacArthur Park infuriate some people. Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don’t think that I can take it/’Cause it took so long to bake it/And I’ll never have that recipe again. They think it’s a psychedelic trip. But everything in the song is real. There is a MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, near where my girlfriend worked selling life insurance. We’d meet there for lunch, and there would be old men playing checkers by the trees, like in the lyrics.

I’ve been asked a million times: “What is the cake left out in the rain?” It’s something I saw – we would eat cake and leave it in the rain. But as a metaphor for a losing a chapter of your life, it seemed too good to be true. When she broke up with me, I poured the hurt into the song. It was always around seven minutes long – not 22 as has been written.

Bones Howe, a fellow producer, had asked me to create a pop song with classical elements, different movements and changing time signatures. “MacArthur Park”, more of a suite than a song, was everything he wanted, but when we presented it to his new act, the Association, they refused to record it. It was the late 1960s and I was doing music for an anti-war pageant with some Hollywood stars, including Mia Farrow and Edgar G Robinson. Richard Harris and I started hanging out after rehearsals and drinking Black Velvets: 50% Guinness, 50% champagne. One night after a few, I said: “We ought to make a record”. He’d starred in the movie Camelot and sang every song in it beautifully. A few weeks later, I received a telegram: “Dear Jimmy Webb. Come to London. Make this record. Love, Richard.” He always called me Jimmy Webb.

I got a flight and stayed with Richard in Belgravia. Over the course of two days, we tore through 30 or 40 of my songs. I was playing the piano and singing. He was standing there in his kaftan, waving his arms and expressing excitement at some songs, not so crazy about others. The best went into his debut album, A Tramp Shining. MacArthur Park was at the bottom of my pile. By the time I played it, we had moved on to straight brandy, but Richard slapped the piano. “Oh Jimmy Webb. I love that! I’ll make a hit out of that, I will.”

I recorded the basic track back in Hollywood, with myself on harpsichord accompanied by session musicians the Wrecking Crew. We rehearsed it a few times, then played it right through, using the first take and adding the orchestra painstakingly later. When Richard did the vocals at a London studio, he had a pitcher of Pimm’s by the microphone. We knew the session was over when the Pimm’s was gone. I never could get him to sing the title correctly. He’d say: “Jimmy Webb, I’ve got it!” Then he’d sing: MacArthur’s Park…

A Great ebay Listing: Will Post, But Only To UK…

BeatA Fake Bob Dylan Cover
Steve tells me he had a dream where Bob Dylan was a dog walker. I made him the album cover. (Photo by Ken Regan/

BobcoverA Terrific Guitar
At a press brunch for Southern Tourism, and again at the Hatch Show Print Exhibition, [free at Chelsea Space, the gallery of Chelsea School Of Art, at Millbank, go now] we hear Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup face an intimate bunch of strangers and entwine their voices beautifully while singing smart, literate songs from the latest alt-end of Nashville. As a bonus, Trent’s got quite the nicest Gibson J-200 I’ve ever seen, tobacco-brown and sweet-toned. Late 80s model, and he had to prove he was worth it by playing a a set of songs to the guy selling it.


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