Song of the Day, March 13: MacArthur Park by Richard Harris

rharrismacarthurToday’s song was a surprise chart smash — twice. The first version of MacArthur Park came about through a serious of interactions. Producer Bones Howe challenged Jimmy Webb to write a radio-friendly song with a classical structure in multiple movements. Webb rose to the challenge, crafting a four-part suite about the end of a romantic relationship. Howe offered it to the Association, but they passed. Not long after that, Webb was playing piano at a fundraiser and was approached by Richard Harris. The actor had just finished a successful run in Camelot and enjoyed singing, so he wanted to put together an album. Webb was skeptical, but the pair hit it off, and he wound up composing and producing A Tramp Shining for Harris. The centerpiece was MacArthur Park.

Famously complicated and filled with rich imagery, the song has been the object of admiration and scorn for nearly five decades. Webb was inspired to write it after breaking up with a long-time girlfriend whom he often met in the titular park. Although the song was released in 1968, he maintains that there were no psychedelic influences. The musical structure was a response to Howe’s challenge, and the images were adapted but literal.

Everything in the song was visible. There’s nothing in it that’s fabricated. The old men playing checkers by the trees, the cake that was left out in the rain, all of the things that are talked about in the song are things I actually saw. And so it’s a kind of musical collage of this whole love affair that kind of went down in MacArthur Park.

Despite its multiple movements and seven-and-a-half minute running time, the song was a smash, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #10 on the Easy Listening chart.

Even more surprising was its next incarnation. Producer Giorgio Moroder was looking for a classic 60s song to adapt to disco for Donna Summer. He ran across the Harris recording of MacArthur Park and knew he had the right one. He thought the range and dynamics of the song were a good fit for her powerful voice. The song was included in an 18-minute suite on her double live album. A radio edit became an even bigger hit than the Harris version, spending three weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 while the full suite topped the Dance chart for five weeks.

Enjoy the amazing original recording of this song and its fun disco successor today.

Song of the Day, August 12: Love Is In Control (Finger On the Trigger) by Donna Summer

SummerLoveIsInToday’s song is a turning point hit for Donna Summer. As disco faded, the superstar singer signed with Geffen records and continued her hit making with a slightly slicker pop sound, still working with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. For her second Geffen album, Summer crafted the double-disc I’m A Rainbow with her longtime musical partners. David Geffen, notorious in the early 80s for pressuring his artists to follow his vision, shelved the project and set up new sessions with legendary producer Quincy Jones.

Summer has noted that the recording of Donna Summer was difficult; she was frustrated with Geffen and pregnant. Jones worked his magic however, helping her move into a more updated urban dance sound. The lead single was Love Is In Control, co-written by Jones, Merria Ross, and Rod Temperton, the secret weapon who wrote hits for Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. A smart, energetic song, it’s a perfect vehicle for Summer’s talent. She turns in a great vocal, and the crack band Jones assembled move things along without overwhelming her distinctive charm.

The result was a crossover smash in the summer of 1982: #10 pop, #4 R&B, #3 Dance. It also set the stage for the next phase of Summer’s career. For the next decade she worked with hot producers, merging her vocal power with their hitmaking styles, continuing a career that could have died with disco.

Enjoy this fun 80s hit today.

Song of the Day, May 5: Heaven Knows by Donna Summer and Brooklyn Dreams

SummerHeavenToday’s song is Heaven Knows. When Donna Summer decided to release a live album, she and producer Giorgio Moroder agreed to devote one of the four sides to new studio material. In addition to her famous cover of Macarthur Park, she included this song, written with Moroder and Pete Bellotte.

Heaven Knows was also recorded by Casablanca label-mates Brooklyn Dreams, the pop-disco trio that included Joe “Bean” Esposito, Bruce Sudano, and Eddie Hokenson. Esposito sang lead on the version from their album Sleepless Nights. Summer used the instrumental tracks from that song, recording her own lead vocals and adding new backing duet vocals from Esposito.

Heaven Knows is a wonderful pop-dance hybrid, with an infectious beat and a joyous lyric celebrating love. The single was a big success, Brooklyn Dreams’ only Top 40 hit and one of Summer’s biggest, peaking at #4 in 1979. A little over a year later, Summer and Sudano were married.

Enjoy this late 70s classic today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending August 6, 1983

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Every Breath You Take The Police 5
R & B She Works Hard For the Money Donna Summer

2

Country Your Love’s On the Line Earl Thomas Conley

1

Adult Contemporary All Time High Rita Coolidge

1

Rock Every Breath You Take The Police 9
Album Synchronicity The Police

3

SummerWorksThis week sees a chart champion rack up her last #1. Donna Summer had her first major hit in 1975 with Love to Love You Baby. Over the course of the next decade she was crowned the Queen of Disco and had enormous success on the Hot 100, Dance, and R&B charts. She amassed 34 pop hits including four chart-toppers and ten other Top 10s. Her biggest success was on the Dance chart, where she had 27 hits, all but three of which were Top 10. She ranks third on that chart (behind Madonna and Janet Jackson) for most Top 10s and most #1s — 12 for an impressive 48 weeks. On the R&B charts she had 29 Top 40 hits with two chart-toppers.

She Works Hard For the Money spends its second of three weeks as the R&B #1 this week. It also moves into its Hot 100 peak, spending its first of three weeks at #3; it also made it to #3 on the Dance chart. It would be her last pop top 5. She racked up a few more hits, including the #7 This Time I Know It’s For Real before fading from the charts in the 90s. She continued to have Dance success and a loyal live following until her death in 2012.

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