Monday, August 11, 2008

A Tramp Shining - Richard Harris

Foe everyone who's given me a hard time about my lack of an album of the week, here's a cracker; some of you might disagree. For me Jimmy Webb is the greatest living American songwriter; no one comes close for my money. Just about the first thing most people in Britain knew about Jimmy was when Richard Harris delivered his opus, 'MacArthur Park', on an RCA single (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 pop singer and a single that long was in most people's minds far too long for a pop single.

It was forty years ago give or take a couple of months that I first heard it on the radio; I was amazed. The melody, the lyrics, the orchestration and the arrangment are all perfect. While some people thought Harris couldn't sing I was in totally the opposite camp. 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 I'm no clearer about what that line means and I couldn't care less; as a song it just works for me.

'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 wth some of the city's finest musicians, before headng 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'.

And now the end will find me,
not prepared and strong the way I thought I was,
but thinking from the start how very cold I was,
as though it mattered now.

Now the dying flowers,
sing an old song that haunt me,
and now nobody wants me,
all alone.

Lost between the last of summer's showers
These are the final hours.

For me there's not a weak moment on the album, but I realise that I'm both unusual in my taste and I've played this album, or at least tracks from it, every week for the last forty years. It's a part of me.

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.


Anonymous said...

MacArthur Park was melting due to an excess of lysergic acid.

Richard Havers said...

Shock horror amazement! You're not saying he took drugs are you?

r morris said...

Love this album. Have it on vinyl. Good choice. I had a discussion with my folks yesterday because they didn't know Richard Harris actually sang in Camelot--thought all the actors had been dubbed. Such cynics!

Richard Havers said...

My parents thought exactly the same!

Richard Evans said...

Richard, I give you The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain . . . enjoy!