Certainly one of the loopiest, most infectious, most brilliant songs (and only marginally about Los Angeles,) “MacArthur Park” is a tale of private madness born out of unrequited love, written by one of the master pop songwriters of the 20th century, Jimmy Webb. It was first recorded by Richard Harris in 1968.
Webb was born in Oklahoma, attended college in San Bernardino and moved to Los Angeles in 1965 to pursue a career as a songwriter. He connected with Glen Campbell, then a young session guitarist and singer, and wrote three of the songs that made him a star; “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Witchita Lineman” and “Galveston.”
I remember the first time a friend drove me by MacArthur Park, not long after I moved to Los Angeles. It was mythic to me for two pop culture-influenced reasons: first and foremost, the song; and second, it was a location used in a harrowing episode of Six Feet Under, the HBO series about a family that runs a Los Angeles funeral home. (In the episode, the character David gets car-jacked and forced to drive to the park to buy crack.)
Today being May Day, it bears mentioning that on May 1, 2007, MacArthur Park was the site of a large immigration rights demonstration that led to a violent confrontation between demonstrators and police that drew international attention.
And then there’s this karaoke video of disco queen Donna Summer, who had a huge hit with it in 1978, and it’s probably the best known version of the song about how “someone left the cake out in the rain.” Extra points if you can follow the choreography.