Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I HEAR A SYMPHONY...
...a 'pocket symphony, that is...
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Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who produced all of the Classic Beach Boys' sounds, referred to his creation, "Good Vibrations" (1966) as a 'Pocket Symphony', which it was, sort-of...it was recorded over a period of time, in several different studios, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together. Of course, it was a big hit, and a fairly timeless piece of music. "Good Vibrations" clocked in at 3 and a half minutes, and it was fairly symphonic in scope, I must say...

But as far as the term "Pocket Symphony", I can think of Another Record that really fits that description. First of all, it is Seven Minutes and Twenty Seconds long. It features symphonic backing, a glorious female vocal backing, is swathed in impressionistic lyrics, and even rocks a little bit. Why I was drawn to this song as a kid, I don't know. I was into Rock and Roll, after all. So why would I be drawn to this semi-symphonic song? And the answer is, "It Grabbed Hold Of Me And Wouldn't Let Go." And it's been spinning 'round in my head since 1967. Plus, it was Really Something to have a 7-minute song on a little 45! That's virtually unheard of...and since a 45rpm record is small, the grooves are really crammed close together to squeeze in all that music...

It features the vocals of someone who wasn't even a Musician; he was an Actor, although along the way he might have sung a bit in various acting/stage performances. Richard Harris sang it, and Jim Webb wrote it, which was a big deal, 'cos at the time, Jim Webb was firing off hit after hit after hit..."Up, Up and Away" by the 5th Dimension was probably the first big song he was known for. He went on to write many more important songs until his creative muse mysteriously evaporated around the turn of the '70s. He wrote "Worst That Can Happen" (By the Brooklyn Bridge), "All I Know" (by Art Garfunkel), "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston" (Glen Campbell sang those), plus a host of others...but he really did himself proud with this tune...


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Yep, "MacArthur Park". Just a gorgeous, gorgeous tune that somehow manages to sound better and better every time I play it. And I've played it hundreds of times, if not thousands. I read somewhere that "MacArthur Park" was the ending piece of a song suite Jim Webb had written for The Association (they had hits with 'Cherish', 'Never My Love', etc.), but the group told him to Take A Hike. Rebuffed, he then got Richard Harris to sing it. Some trivia regarding this tune...all the instruments were recorded in Los Angeles, and then tape was then shipped to England, where Richard Harris sang it. Finally, the other side ("Didn't We", also written by Webb) clocked in at a more concise 2:24, and was the Original A-Side of the single, but a DJ in a big radio market played the other side, and it caught on.
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I realize this is a big world we live in, with troubled times everywhere, and oftentimes, there's no time left to do all the things you must do...but if you have a spare 8 minutes, maybe you'd like to activate the little YouTube thing I've included below..."MacArthur Park" by Richard Harris...it'll take you back to a far, far different time long ago...although it wasn't that long ago...
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This Picture of Richard Harris was the one used on the front cover of "A Tramp Shining", which is a cycle of Jim Webb songs; each one very ethereal and poetic, that make up the album. And Mr. Harris, in his breathy, dignified raspings, sings very eloquently. Finally, and this is important: "MacArthur Park" is 9 seconds longer than "Hey Jude" by the Beatles; at least, that's what the label says. Based on that fact, I believe "MacArthur Park" was the longest-ever song to make the Billboard Top 40 list. Not bad for a pocket symphony...

2 Comments:

Anonymous Songwraith said...

If there was any doubt about your taste in music (and I'm not implying...), you have redeemed yourself! Nice background info on a great piece of music! Thanks!

4:50 AM  
Blogger some guy who blogs said...

Hi, Mr. Wraith...sometimes I doubt my OWN musical taste. I can listen to Queen, then to Benny Goodman, then Miles Davis, and end up with The Carpenters. I think good music transcends all, no matter who it's by or what style of music it is. I was only 13 when I first heard "MacArthur Park"...not exactly music for know-nothing pop music fans like me (then) (and possibly now)...the song just landed in my brain, that's all I can say. Have you brought your cake in out of the rain yet?

10:01 PM  

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