Friday, 21 March 2014

All You Need is Love

Released in 1972, the Richard Harris Love Album is a ridiculous time-capsule of grandiose schlock, and a thoroughly justifiable exhibit in our museum of oddities. Some people love this kind of thing: the same people who like early Al Stewart and drink Mateus Rose no doubt.

Consisting primarily of tracks from his first three (yes, I know, there were Richard Harris albums before, and after, this horror) plus both sides of his latest single – taken from the recent musical remake of Goodbye Mr Chips – The Richard Harris Love Album is basically a ‘best of’ the Irish-born actor’s early recordings although, confusingly, one or two tracks have been renamed and could easily confuse the casual buyer into thinking he or she were getting new product for their pounds.

At the tail end of the 60s Harris’s recorded work garnered much praise although in all fairness most of that praise was aimed at the song writing and arrangement prowess of his co-conspiritor Jimmy Webb rather than Harris’s own vocal dexterity: “I admire Jimmy,” says the great Burt Bacharach in Bill DeMain’s book In Their Own Words. “I thought the album he did with Richard Harris was one of the great, great albums. I think the songs are just unbelievable on it”. Yet to me he fails miserably to reach the heights of the only truly great singing actor, Peter Wyngarde. Webb, who also wrote Glen Campbell's smash hits By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Galveston, had met Harris at an anti-war rally in Los Angeles and to this day won’t hear a word against his friend. “If he missed a note or he didn't carry it off particularly well as a singer, he had the actor's ability to step his way through the lyric and to speak some of the lines and basically to carry it off…it's a little insulting to say that he couldn't perform, or that he couldn't sing,” he told

Listen to One of the Nicer Things, and make up your own mind. It’s understandable that Webb would want to support his mate’s performance, especially as Harris is no longer here to answer for himself: the Oscar- and Golden Raspberry-nominated actor passed away in 2002. He’s probably best remembered these days for having played Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies but his filmmaking career spanned more than 40 years. Still, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that his voice is awful: a thin, reedy wail that often misses its mark. Webb and Harris, of course, collaborated on the overblown horror that is MacArthur Park – and Webb’s own story of how that particular track was recorded makes for enlightening and entertaining reading.

“Richard and I started hanging out after rehearsals and drinking Black Velvets: 50% Guinness, 50% champagne,” he told The Guardian in 2013. “One night after a few, I said: ‘We ought to make a record.’ He'd starred in the movie Camelot and sang every song in it beautifully. A few weeks later, I received a telegram: ‘Dear Jimmy Webb. Come to London. Make this record. Love, Richard.’

“Over the course of two days we tore through 30 or 40 of my songs. I was playing the piano and singing. He was standing there in his kaftan, waving his arms and expressing excitement at some songs, not so crazy about others. The best went into his debut album, A Tramp Shining. MacArthur Park was at the bottom of my pile. By the time I played it, we had moved on to straight brandy, but Richard slapped the piano. ‘Oh Jimmy Webb. I love that! I'll make a hit out of that, I will.’

“I recorded the basic track back in Hollywood, with myself on harpsichord accompanied by session musicians the Wrecking Crew. When Richard did the vocals at a London studio, he had a pitcher of Pimm's by the microphone. We knew the session was over when the Pimm's was gone.

“We had doubts about releasing it as a single, but when radio stations began playing it I was asked to do a shorter version as a single. I refused, so eventually they put out the full seven minutes 20 seconds. George Martin once told me the Beatles let Hey Jude run to over seven minutes because of MacArthur Park.” Incidentally, Harris was not the first choice to record MacArthur Park: the song had originally been offered to The Association, who turned it down.

I’ve also included First Hymn From Grand Terrace which, on the disc’s label is listed as The First Hymn From Grand Terrace (Part 2), but was originally part of a suite of songs that appeared on the second Webb/Harris album The Yard Went on Forever entitled The Hymns From The Grand Terrace) If the arseing around with the title doesn’t annoy you, the performance will. Harris’s forced vibrato is uncomfortable to listen to, and the strain in his voice when he hits the key change hurts my ears. Coming out of a Dansette, in a bedsit full of scatter cushions and thick with marijuana smoke this probably sounded brilliant...I can see how a young lady would be wooed by Jimmy's seductive lyrics and lush arrangements, but today it’s a kitsch reminder that, back in the 60s, people would buy anything. Although Harris would release several albums of new material after he and Webb parted company, he would never again reach the heights he once did.


1 comment:

  1. 3/22/14 Wrote:
    I hated "MacArthur Park" as a child, but over the last (40) years it has grown on me, so now it's one of my favorite bombastic pop songs. Like "Honey" & "Little Green Apples", a lot of pop artists from Andy Williams to Jerry Vale have attempted to cover this song. Sammy Davis Jr's version from 1972 is to me the most bombastic, but he probably thought it was okay for a black artist to record it after hearing The Four Tops version from 1971, and taking it into the Top 40 with it. Even jazz artists like Stan Kenton & Maynard Ferguson did covers of this song, and their versions were interesting, improvised versions. Waylon Jennings tried it as a country-pop cover (with Nashville hack arranger Danny Davis arranging it),and won a Grammy(!) for best Country-pop crossover award for 1960-70. Donna Summer reached the top of the charts with her Disco version (over 9 minutes of it!),and finally, weird Al Yankovic recorded his jokey version of it 1993, jabbing at both Jim Webb and Steven Spielberg by re-titling it as "Jurrasic Park". Another comedy parody was done at Motown Records in 1969 by the late Soupy Sales as "Muck-Arty Park"(it's actually funny).All in all, "MacArthur Park" remains one of the pop songs of the 1960's that refuses to go away. The only Jazz-Pop singer who really hated doing the song was Tony Bennett, who covered an uninterested version of it in 1970 for his infamous "Sings The Great Hits Of Today" album, a ploy set up by then Columbia label boss Clive Davis to get Bennett to try out more contemporary songs (Bennett regretted it, he would soon leave Columbia Records in 1971 for MGM/Verve Records.) If you want my opinion of the worst of Richard Harris, try the dreadful 6-minute cum-Pop song/Biblical reading of "There's Too Many Saviors On My Cross" from the 1972 "Slides" album, and a Dunhill single issued with it (where it didn't chart in the U.S.) Harris' mock-poetry/acting really is dreadful on this one as the so called "voice" of Jesus to blasphemers & false prophets who claim to be as holy as the Almighty, which is struck down as nothing more than Jesus mockers. It's really dreadful stuff.


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