Songs About Los Angeles: “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer


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.

6 thoughts on “Songs About Los Angeles: “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer”

  1. Interesting that Donna Summer sings that first reference as “Macarthur’s” park (and the karaoke lyrics read the same. I read an interview with Webb wherein he said he wrote it as “MacArthur” but that Richard Harris flubbed it as the possessive on so many takes that it was decided just to keep it.

  2. I have never understood the meaning of this song. “someone left the cake out in the rain i dont think that i can take it cause it took so long to bake it and ill never have that recipe again” wtf!?! by the way …im having flashbacks of having to sing this in 8th grade choir. oh the humanity

  3. Like I said, lezgull, private madness. And Will, yeah, those quirky coke-fueled disco days. Btw, both the Richard Harris and Donna Summer record had a space added to the title: Mac Arthur Park.

  4. Disco was coke-fueled but Mac Arthur Park was a haven for crack smoking. What stopped people from smoking crack? They installed TV cameras and had the sub police station there and finally stopped it.

    I never have seen old men play Chinese Checkers in the park but they did play chess there at the tables. They did play for money at times too.

    No mention of the lake in the song but several people have drowned in the lake. That isn’t quite what leaving the cake out in the rain represents, but the green melting might represent what greenery is growing in the park.

  5. In the rather slim category of song lyrics about food left out in the rain, I always preferred the funny and less head-scratching line from David Byrne’s “Loco de Amor”:

    Like a pizza in the rain
    No one want to take you home

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