" is a song written by Jimmy Webb
. Originally written as part of an intended cantata
rejected by The Association
, it was first recorded by Richard Harris
in 1968 and then covered
by many other performers. One of the best known covers of the song is Donna Summer
's 1978 disco
hit. Maynard Ferguson
, Stan Kenton
, and Woody Herman
all performed dynamic big band jazz
The song is named after MacArthur Park, a park in Los Angeles, California. Its lyrics, which include the memorable line "Someone left the cake out in the rain", are more symbolic than descriptive, beginning as a poem about love, then moving into a lover's lament. English poet W. H. Auden said, "My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain.
"MacArthur Park" is unusually complex for a pop
song. The music can be split roughly into 4 sections, or themes
. The first theme contains the verses and chorus, and the lyrics begin "Spring was never waiting for us girl." 9/8 fanfares
interrupt the 4/4 of the song by adding an additional beat to the end of each phrase. This section centers on Dm, the fanfares center on Ab, and the chorus centers on C major.
The second theme is a slow lamenting melody, and starts with "There will be another song, for me." It is in F, and contains many Maj7 and a few M7b5 chords. At the end of this it briefly goes back into the opening theme.
The 3rd theme is a fast paced instrumental, centered around G minor. It contains a lot of V/I style chords. The theme chords climb diatonically over a droning bass line. It then goes to an ascension of notes based on the chords Gb, Bb, Db, and resolves to F.
The first and fourth themes are similar, but are in fact different. The "MacArthur's park is melting." starts this time in F, not C. And instead of the lines "I don't think that I can take it. .." starting on a I/III, it starts on a VI, and descends. The finale concludes with a phrase similar to the opening theme (but in Ab instead of a Dm). The final chord is a Bb.
The song was first recorded by Richard Harris
on his album A Tramp Shining
in 1968 and was released as a single
. It was an unusual single, running for more than seven minutes, with a long, climactic orchestral break. Harris's topped the music charts in Europe and peaked at number two on the U.S. charts.
Harris sings the song's final chorus at an elevated pitch near the top of his falsetto range.
Throughout his recording, Harris can be heard using the incorrect possessive form, "MacArthur's Park". Webb has said he tried correcting Harris during re-takes, but gave up when he simply could not sing the correct words.
Donna Summer recording
A multi-million selling disco
version of the song by Donna Summer
topped the U.S. charts for three weeks in 1978. Her recording, which was included as part of the "MacArthur Park Suite" on her double album Live and More
, ran to 8:40 in its full-length version. The shorter single edit of the song was Summer's first single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100
. The 17:47 long medley
"MacArthur Park Suite", which incorporates the songs "One Of A Kind" and "Heaven Knows
", was also issued as a 12" promo
, which stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play
chart for five weeks in 1978.
Other notable cover versions
The song has been covered
more than fifty times, including versions by Sammy Davis Jr
, The Fifth Dimension
, Andy Williams
, Waylon Jennings
, The Four Tops
, Frank Sinatra
, Beggar's Opera
, Diana Ross & The Supremes
, Elaine Paige
, Hugo Montenegro
, The Queers
, The Negro Problem
, Glen Campbell
, Maynard Ferguson
, Stan Kenton
, Justin Hayward
, Vic Damone
, Michael Feinstein
, The Three Degrees
, Alien Crew and Liza Minnelli
. Sinatra, Tony Bennett
, and Ed Ames
each recorded versions utilizing only the middle section. The Four Tops recorded their version of the song, omitting the long instrumental breaks of the song, and reached #38 on the Billboard singles chart. The song was also performed by the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps
in several productions in the mid-1970s; and there is a Spanish version of this song (Palabra De Mujer) performed live by Mónica Naranjo
in the 1990s. It was also performed by Carrie Underwood
in season four of American Idol
. UK Hip Hop
artist Roots Manuva
uses the main chord structure in his 2001 single Dreamy Days
"MacArthur Park"'s odd metaphors and sentimentality have made it a frequent target of parody
and ridicule over the years. In 1992, humorist Dave Barry
conducted a poll
among his readers (as recorded in Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs
) of the worst songs ever. Barry's readers selected Harris's version of "MacArthur Park" as the worst song ever recorded
, both in terms of "Worst Lyrics" and "Worst Overall Song."
Parodies and allusions in media
- The B-52's song "Detour Thru Your Mind" from the album Bouncing off the Satellites begins with the lyrics "Your brain is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of moods and colors. We walk in the park but it's melting in the dark. All of a sudden your mood changes and your face looks like a cake left out in the rain. Is your name MacArthur Parker? Or is it Reba?"
- "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody of the song for his album Alapalooza called "Jurassic Park," with lyrics recapping the plot of the film of the same name and instrumentation identical to the Harris version of the song.
- k.d. lang sings "MacArthur Park" to a discarded yellow dress that was used in a campy performance of "Miss Chatelaine" in her 2001 concert Live by Request.
- They Might Be Giants make an oblique reference to the song's most famous verse in "It's Not My Birthday". "When this gray world crumbles like a cake/I'll be hangin' from the hope/That I'll never see that recipe again"
- It turns up in Kinky Friedman's Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned as sung by a character presenting a cake.
- The Negro Problem alluded to MacArthur Park's crime problems with their cover, which replaces the word cake with crack.
- The track "Second Coming" on the Wu-Tang Clan's album "Wu-Tang Forever" is a reworking of "MacArthur Park" with new lyrics (sung by Tekitha) describing the album's creation, including the lines "I don't think the world can take it, cause it took so long to make it, and the hip-hop game will never be the same."
- The second verse of Yes's Leave It mentions MacArthur Park by name.
- The Barron Knights recorded a parody version of the song, changing the lyrics so that they told the story of an unlucky gardener.
- The song's popularity has been revived, party due to the success of a cover version by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Television and radio
- Elvis Presley would jokingly break out into this song whenever he got nervous during his 1968 Comeback Special
- The original cast of Saturday Night Live featured a sketch in which Laraine Newman recites the lyrics of the song as dialogue.
- The comedy series Second City Television aired a sketch where on a 1970s-type music and dance program, Richard Harris (played by Dave Thomas) sings "MacArthur Park". During the orchestral break, he waits in agony to finish the song, and the show moves on to other skits in the meantime.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, "Lisa the Beauty Queen", Apu's niece Pahusacheta announces that she is going to sing the song in its entirety, while playing the tabla, and the audience laughs at her. Later, when she finishes Krusty says "ohh. ..That just kept goin' huh?"
- In another episode of The Simpsons, "Co-Dependent's Day", Homer is upset about being put on hold on the phone. He decides to get back at them by singing his own hold music. One of the songs he sings is "MacArthur Park". When Lisa comments on this, Homer breaks into "Wichita Lineman", prompting Lisa to yell "Dad, it's the same song!"
- In yet another Simpsons episode, "A Fish Called Selma," the name of Troy McClure's agent is "MacArthur Parker."
- In an episode of Living Single, Max sings a line of "MacArthur Park" at a gathering the night before Synclair and Overton's Wedding.
- In a Seinfeld episode called "The Statue", George Costanza recalls that he used a statue as a pretend microphone to sing "MacArthur Park" when he was a kid. When he got to the last line, as he admits, he accidentally threw the statue, breaking it. He compares his parents' reaction to the statue akin to breaking the Ten Commandments.
- It is referenced on the television series, Angel, as the one song Lorne, the lounge singer demon, can use as a weapon without fail ("That high note in 'MacArthur Park'" "slays 'em every time"). In Orpheus, Lorne sings the song to a comatose Faith and the scene cuts to Donna Summers' version of the song on the jukebox in Angel's '70s donut shop flashback.
- At the end of a disastrous guest stint hosting the drivetime show on BBC Southern Counties Radio, the presenters of Top Gear cued up "MacArthur Park" to facilitate an early exit from the building.
- In the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Mistaken Identity", Will and Carlton's cellmate, known as Bob, sings an excerpt from the song.
- In an episode of According to Jim, Dana says she hears Donna Summer singing MacArthur Park when Jim talks.
- In Cartoon Planet's song "I Love You, Baby", Brak sings the line "Somebody left a cake out in the rain / Oh no! / I was gonna eat that cake / But now it's all wet and I don't think I want any!"
- On "Disco Night" of Season Four of American Idol, Carrie Underwood performed her take on the Donna Summer version.
- The Neil Cicierega video "Remembering Dumbledore" uses this song.
- From 1968 through to 1982, Australian Television stations forming the 0-10 network in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide in Australia used the "MacArthur Park" theme, as covered by Hugo Montenegro, at various times as its station ID music. The theme making its debut on ATV-0 in Melbourne in 1968. TEN-10 in Sydney, ATV-0 Melbourne and TVQ-10 (TVQ-0) Brisbane used the theme from 1973-1975 during the transition from black-and-white transmission to colour. All stations adjusting the black-and-white animation used with the theme to a full colour animation from March 1, 1975, when colour broadcasting started in Australia. TEN-10 Sydney was the last to air the theme as its promo music from 1981-1982.
- Along the same lines, Cleveland television station WJW used the Montenegro version of the song to open its City Camera News and for NewsCenter 8 from 1970 until 1977.
- The Montenegro version was also used in Argentine television network Canal 13 for its main newscast, Telenoche, since 1972.
- In an episode of Designing Women, the senile Bernice Clifton shares her comments on the song. "What kind of cake was it, anyway? Who would leave a cake sitting outside?" Coincidentally, the exterior of the show's Sugarbaker & Associates Interior Design is an 1881 Victorian mansion located in the MacArthur Park Historic District of Little Rock, Arkansas.
- The Lou Gordon Program, a weekly talk show on WKBD in Detroit from the 1960s and 70s, used the 3rd instrumental section as its theme song.
- The third instrumental section was used by Televisa's 1970s and 80s news broadcasting program Hoy Mismo as its theme song.
- In the cartoon Rocket Power, when Reggie and Otto are trying to sneak out, they nearly wake their father up, but instead he simply stirs, mumbling, "You kids are great...now bring that cake in from the rain...took so long to bake it..."
- In "Drew Can't Carey a Tune", an episode from The Drew Carey Show, Drew sings part of "MacArthur Park" and plays the accordion in a talent show.
- Teenage Little Einsteins uses the Montenegro version of "MacArthur Park" as the show's official theme song.
- The bridge from the Donna Summer version was used as the theme tune to BBC Scotland's Reporting Scotland evening news show for many years.
- The line "Someone left a cake out in the rain" is mentioned in the "Manos" episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Film and musicals
- A Muzak version is briefly featured in the film Airplane II: The Sequel, blaring loudly from an airport elevator. All elevator passengers, except for two airline executives, enter or leave the elevator covering their ears.
- In the movie Vertical Limit, a climber (played by Stuart Wilson) sings this song before he falls off the mountain.
- The song was parodied in an Australian musical about the Vietnam War, Pearls Before Swine, as "Centennial Park" (a Sydney, Australia landmark), featuring lines such as, "the cake you bake is made of lies".
- A line from the song is featured in the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; upon discovering Bernice asleep outside the camper with her face on a cake, Tick says "I've waited all my life for this moment. Bernice... left her cake out... IN THE RAIN!"
- The song is also featured in the film's musical adaptation Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical in a musical number featuring dancers dressed as giant cup cakes.