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Jimmy & Me

Updated: Mar 13, 2019

Written By: Jon Butcher


In reflection, I've never thought it was normal for a 14 year-old boy to become so

heavily immersed in the melancholy songs of Jimmy Webb, yet that was my

experience. Growing up in the deep woods of Hillsborough, NJ, it was difficult to

interact with my peers, and by default my little grey Admiral AM radio, which I had

received when I was five, became my best friend and remained so for too many

years.


In mid-April of 1968, my friend had a surprise for me, courtesy of 77 WABC AM

radio, the "hot prospect" of the week being the unlikely add of the single

"MacArthur Park," incredibly ambitious in its composition, performance and length.

Its singer, actor Richard Harris, was melodramatic and theatrical (and perhaps a

bit off-key), nothing like the usual crooners that still managed occasional hits on

rock 'n' roll radio. In every way, "MacArthur Park" defied the conventions of radio,

but in the end would change Top 40 radio forever. It's composer, Jim Webb (as he

was known at the time), by disallowing an edit of the recording for radio airplay,

ushered in an era of unprecedented artistic freedom, largely reflected in the length

of the single releases.


Now often hailed as an early example of prog rock, the success of the lengthy

"MacArthur Park," over 7 minutes, brought a quick successioin of chart hits that

challenged our patience, ranging from over 5 minutes to nearly nine. The

perpatrators included the Beatles, Cashman & West, Elton John, the Eagles and

Don McLean. Roy Orbison in 1969 had a b-side, "Southbound Jericho Parkway,"

that ran 7 minutes, but perhaps the greatest impact the modern music listener

might understand is to say that without the success of "MacArthur Park," there

would be no "Bohemian Rhapsody," the latter hit, like the former, being essentially

a suite of songs.


All this talk of ambition and length aside, the real charm of "MacArthur Park"

comes in its expression of profound regret, culminating in the line "After all the

loves of my life, you'll still be the one." It was not an unrealistic statement of

endless love, but enduring sentiment. As a lonely boy in the deep woods of

Hillsborough, soon to be parted from the local farm girl he had his first serious

crush on, the message was hugely influential. The girl and I, rarely physically

together after that, remained friends for decades.


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