Worst Song. Ever.

I never know what will set off my dark side, but at least I usually know when it’s been triggered.  Recently, for example, a hapless dinner guest sang the first line of the chorus from MacArthur Park: “Someone left the cake out in the rain.”  Why would anyone do that?  Sing it, I mean.

They didn’t do it for long.  Or again, for that matter.

How do I hate that song?  Let me count the ways.  

It babbles.

Between the parted pages
We were pressed
In love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a stripe-ed pair of pants.

It commits simile abuse.

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground beneath your knees
Birds like tender babies in your hands

It fakes its finish.

There’ll be another song for me
And I will sing it

Good Lord, we can only hope.  Oh, sorry (I mean, really sorry): There’s more.

There’ll be another dream for me
Someone will bring it
I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me
Looking at the sun, oh yeah

No, don’t think for a minute that I’ll let you catch me looking at the sun.  Oh yeah.

But the truth is that I might forgive even the overwrought and overextended figures of speech  . . .

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, nooooo!

. . . if the arrangement didn’t whine, fingernails down the blackboard of my mind.  Oh, noooo, I don’t think that I can take it either.

Alternatively, I might forgive the arrangement if the song had some jump to it . . .

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly. – The Scottish Play, Act 1, Scene 7

But Oh, nooooo: Where songs on the radio average about 3 minutes, the original recording of MacArthur Park by Richard Harris is 7½ minutes.

Original recording?  Someone covered this song?

Yes.  Yes, they did.

Donna Summer did a disco version, Glen Campbell did an orchestral pop-country version, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody.  They’re all lousy.

Despite this, according to Wiki the song has enjoyed commercial success:

  • The Richard Harris version peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #4 on the UK Singles Chart.
  • Donna Summer’s arrangement topped the Billboard Hot 100.
  • The Four Tops reached #38 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Andy Williams reached #102 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Don’t ask. It’s not my list.).

Wonders never cease.

Notwithstanding its success, I’m not the only one who hates this song.

In 1992, Miami Herald journalist Dave Barry conducted a poll among his readers who selected the Harris original as the worst track ever recorded, both in terms of “Worst Lyrics” and “Worst Overall Song”. Barry commented: “[I]t’s hard to argue with survey respondents who chose it as the worst.” – Wikipedia

Yes, it is hard to argue.  Because consider this: Waylon Jennings also covered MacArthur Park. Yes, that Waylon Jennings:

And even Waylon’s cover is awful. Oh, nooooo!

Folks, that’s how bad MacArthur Park is: It makes Waylon Jennings sound bad.


Do you disagree? Come on back.
Nominate your own candidate for “Worst Song (Ever)” by sending me a comment.

 

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14 Comments

  1. Tom Watson

    Isabel
    Yep, ’tis pretty bad alright.

    Another candidate might well be “I’m not as good as I once was but I’m as good once as I ever was” by Toby Keith.

    I don’t suggest you read all the lyrics but if you want to risk one eye here’s the first verse:
    She said I’ve seen you in here before,
    I said I’ve been here a time or two,
    She said hello my name is Bobbi Jo
    Meet my twin sister Betty Lou
    And we’re both feeling kinda wild tonight,
    You’re the only cowboy in this place,
    If your up for a rodeo,
    I’ll put a big Texas smile on your face.

    (now, ain’t that a real hurter?)
    Tom

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Tom – I know this Toby Keith song and if I’m in a certain sort of mood it strikes me as funny. But I can see why it might be considered for a worst-ever list, especially if country music in general grates on the listener.

  2. Ian Hepher

    I enjoyed this post, Isabel.

    The Eve of Destruction gets my vote:
    “Think of all the hate there is in Red China.
    Then take a look around at Selma, Alabama.”

    But MacArthur Park – this huge orchestral sledgehammer musical production accompanied by infantile lyrics – unique in the pop music realm. Odd that it was written by Jimmy Webb, who also write “Highwayman”, and a whole raft of songs for Glen Campbell (“Wichita Lineman” etc.)

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Ian – I read that Jimmy Webb said (in response to attacks, I presume) that everything in the song was true and real. There really were old men playing checkers (or whatever) and so on. I think he missed the point.

  3. I’ve only heard the chorus of this stupid song and it was bad enough: cake? in the rain? somebody left it outside? I tuned the rest of it out. Selective hearing worked for me, for once.

    I was in the second row, middle seat, of the National Arts Centre when Richard Harris appeared in Camelot. He was wearing tights and every time he hit a high note, his kneecaps rose.
    Afterwards, the company got a standing ovation. I didn’t stand quite quick enough and he laser-eyed me until I did.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Yes, the chorus defines most popular songs for me and is often the only lyrics I know well enough to sing, as opposed to sing-along. Great story about Richard Harris. You’ve lived some, you.

      1. Oh, I suspect everybody’s got their “Brush with Greatness” stories — I just remember them (in far too much detail) and bore everybody with them for years.

        Last month, a friend asked me, “Would you mind if I told you an anecdote?” WOULD I? She’s known me for 40 years and she doesn’t know by now I’m a story hoarder?

        Rich, disabled Denton Welch, the famous journalist of the 1930s — http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1906245.Welch
        would pay strangers a lot of money to sit next to his bed and tell him their life stories. He said of his own memories that he’d worn them down to a nub end, until they have no juice left in them.

  4. Laurna Tallman

    I vote with the readers of the Miami Herald and somewhat regret having been allowed to pay attention to the lyrics of something I have studiously avoided every time it began to take up space on the airwaves. The song disappoints on every level and the longer it lasts and the more impassioned the rendition, the more infuriating its fraudulent claim on the listener’s ear. It sounds as though Jimmy Webb, who has written so many good songs, decided to break every rule in his book. Or, perhaps when a songwriter’s heart is broken his head takes a hit, too. Thanks for explaining just how thoroughly odious it is.

  5. John Whitman

    Isabel – Thanks for this. Now I know why I NEVER pay attention to the lyrics of any song, regardless of the artist. The melody and maybe the refrain is all that registers on my unmusically talented brain and now that I know what some of the lyrics are like I don’t feel as short changed in the musical talent department. Thanks for making me feel better.
    John W

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