Tuesday, May 09, 2017


    “Muck-Arty Park” is a very atypical song from Soupy Sales. He released it, very atypically, on Motown. Huh? Wha? The album was called “A Bag of Soup.” His bag was to present himself as something more than a kiddie show icon, or the singer of a semi-hit novelty dance tune called “The Mouse.”

       Written by Ronald Miller and Tom Baird, the chosen single from the album takes aim more at Richard Harris than at Jimmy Webb. Unfortunately, the swipes at Harris and at hippies were not likely to appeal to many peope, and Soupy’s impersonation of Richard Harris sounds like any generic Englishman. His voice pitched low, unless you were told, you wouldn’t even know it was Soupy Sales. Not if you remember his comical straining to reach the high notes on his lone hit: “Heyyyyyy….do the MOUSE….”

    While this artless (Mucky-Arty??) ditty does tweak at the original’s time changes (here a a ragtime bit of “Hold That Tiger” collides with grandiose chords) it’s really a mess: “San Francico’s gone to pot. The kids forgot their Camelot. The flower children traded in their beads and poppy seeds for English tweeds. (Oh no!) Oh yes. (Oh well). Muck-Arty Park will never be the same, all the sweet young hippies blew their thing. Someone through the cook out in the rain. it was just eleven-thirty when they learned his pot was dirty, and he’ll never have that recipe again. (Oh no) Oh yes. Oh shucks!” Oh, fuck and off.  
    So why is it even here on the blog? Oh, just as part of the celebration of Webb’s memoir, and maybe a defense of this much-despised song. It’s almost self-parody and certainly didn’t need Soupy’s version. All anyone has to do for a rueful laugh is play the original, with Richard Harris singing in a fey, almost faggy way, and requiring endless studio splices and tricks to stay on key and hit the high notes. He basically was doing karaoke to a track already produced, and still needed hours and hours of re-takes.
    “MacArthur Park,” on length alone, broke barriers. AM radio, which broke almost every song, favored two or three minute ditties. While “extended play” 45’s were somewhat known, they were mostly used as hybrids: four songs from an artist that couldn’t produce a whole album, or six cover versions from a budget label trying to give poor kids a break. Nobody thought of putting ONE song on an extended-play 45 rpm. And how many radio stations, knowing the attention span of teens, would dare play such a long song??

    After this blockbuster, there was “Hey Jude.” In his book, Webb insists that McCartney deliberately extended the fade to reach the magic seven minute mark. Macca was competing with “Mac Park” (a Jimmy calls it) the same way he competed with Simon & Garfunkel, writing “Let it Be” as a spiritual answer song to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” PS, in his book Webb indicates that Paul was a bit of a prick. After Webb took too much time to reply to a request to write something for Mary Hopkin’s debut album, Paul refused to recognize Jimmy by name. He’d pointedly call him by some other name, even after repeated “I’m JIMMY” reminders from Webb.

    Have I digressed enough yet?

    Let’s add that arguably, “MacArthur Park,” from a trained classical pianist, helped spawn the “classical rock” genre, which would include Boko Haram’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” and Mason Williams’ smash “Classical Gas.” Even Roy Orbison gave grandiose rock a shot when he recorded, “Southbound Jericho Parkway” which clocked in at 6:59. That’s quite a jump from “Claudette” which was exactly two minutes.

    Some people absolutely HATE long rock songs, and back in the day Chapin’s “Taxi” and certainly “American Pie” took a lot of abuse. What set people off about Webb’s song was more the singing and the lyric than the music itself. For better or worse, Richard Harris made for a compelling hero, and the uneven-voiced “Camelot” star made the most of his over-baked rendition, which included a lot of quivering, quavering, and of course the almost effeminate high-pitched “Oh noooooooooo.” Only Harris could get away with Webb’s attempts at connecting to medieval balladry, with such awkward phrases as “stripe-ed pair of pants.”

    While falsetto goes back to Lou Christie and Frankie Valli, and somehow people gave a pass to guys getting emotional in a high-pitched voice, and even operatic (Mr. Orbison again), it was a bit uncomfortable, if not ridiculous, to hear a grown man getting hysterical over a cake recipe. It’s possible Webb could’ve re-written his lines to make it seem like his doomed lover had baked the fucking thing: “Someone left the cake out in the rain. I don’t think that I can take it, ‘cause SHE took so long to bake it. And SHE’ll never have that recipe again….”

    Oh well. Last point on the lyrics, is that, like Boko Haram’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” there really isn’t much cause for concern. This is just abstract words, like an abstract painting. Do we get bent because Seurat used little dabs of paint for his pointeliist effect? Are we upset because Picasso stuck two eyes on one side of a model’s head? We get it. Boko’s song about a girl having an overdose at a party, was rendered with spacey symbolism. So here, (and confirmed in Webb’s book), the sad drama of a break-up during the psychedelic 60’s is rendered with LSD smears. The park’s lawn becomes “sweet green icing.” There’s symbolism of a rainy day in a park. There are the glimpses of park scenes, including old men playing checkers. It’s not THAT obscure.

    “MacArthur Park is melting in the dark” isn’t that far removed from the era’s “Raindrops keep falling on my head.” For Webb, the main irritation was that Richard Harris kept singing MacArthur’s Park.” There wasn’t a way of slicing off the “s” every time the amiably drunk and/or histrionic actor repeated that line.

    Webb has a good sense of humor and a self-deprecating way about him. A few weeks ago he did a podcast with little Gilbert Gottfried, and was a good sport in playing keyboard while Gilbert rasped and strained over the famous high notes and “Oh no’s.”  Webb, Gilbert and the crew were breaking up with laughter, which is more than you’ll do listening to this historic but hardly hysteric curiosity by the former Milton Supman.


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