Jimmy Webb is the greatest living American songwriter; no one else even comes close. Just about the first thing many people knew about Jimmy was when Richard Harris delivered his opus, 'MacArthur Park' (It made No.4 in the UK and No.2 in the USA). It wasn’t just the fact that it was seven and a half minutes long that got everybody talking. Richard Harris was far from most people’s idea of a singer and a single that long was in most people’s minds far too long for a pop single.
It is an amazing record. The melody, the lyrics, the orchestration and the arrangement are all perfect. While some people thought Harris couldn’t sing others thought his delivery made the record what it was. A song is as much about the words as it’s about the music and Richard Harris being an actor makes the words mean so much more. Of course ‘MacArthur Park’ baffled everyone with it’s line about the cakes left out in the rain. Forty years later we’re no clearer about what that line means and we couldn’t care less; as a song it just works.
'MacArthur Park' was also the focal point, if not the high point, of the album that Harris made with Webb. What a brilliant title - A Tramp Shining. Harris who had met Jimmy in Los Angeles had returned to live in London in 1967 and one day he cabled Webb: “Come to London stop Let’s make a record stop Love Richard”.
When Jimmy arrived in London he sat at the piano and played Richard about thirty or forty songs including Mac Park; Harris was certain when he heard it the first time that it was a hit. Webb went back to LA and set about recording the tacks with some of the city’s finest musicians, before heading back across the Atlantic to Ireland where Richard had decided he wanted to record the vocals at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road Studios.
'Didn't We' which Richard related to instantly because of the break up of his marriage is beautiful and though it’s been covered many times (including Sinatra) it never sounds better than as the opening track on ‘A Tramp Shining’. ‘If You Must Leave My Life’ is another stand out, so is ‘In the Final Hours’.
There’s not a weak moment on the album. If you like over the top romantic music - classical or pop - then this is an album for you. If you don’t, avoid it like the plague.