Friday, 14 December 2012

Albums for Life: 82: Richard Harris: The Webb Sessions 1968 - 1969

There were houses 
There were hoses 
There were sprinklers on the lawn...
There was a frying pan 
And she would cook their dreams 
While they were dreaming
And later she would send them out to play
And the yard went on forever...

Way back when, intrigued at being inexplicably moved with the bonkers/brilliant nature of the twosome's hit single 'MacArthur Park' I decided to delve deeper and found this collection that brought together the two albums, 'A Tramp Shining' and 'The Yard Went on Forever', that
songwriter Jimmy Webb and hell raising actor Richard Harris made at the end of the 60s.
Webb is a genius lyricist who can colour obtuse meaning with the most rousing melodies and arrangements to give his songs a strange resonance. Yet, when he sang his own compositions he always faltered, such were the acrobatic demands of his ambitious melodies. He used some great singers to showcase his songs (particularly Glen Campbell) but it seemed an odd choice when, in 1969 he committed to recording 'A Tramp Shining'; with Harris, a talented actor but limited singer. Harris had displayed these limitations the previous year in the film 'Camelot'. This was a risk and yet it all works stunningly well; the songs are beautifully arranged by Webb, poignant and impenetrable, over the top and then subtle in a heartbeat. The star of the show is Harris of course, who hams it up with such bravado that you can't help but fall for the intoxicating vulnerability of it all. I still find myself cheering "go on my son!" when his voice goes stratospheric at the the end of 'MacArthur Park'.

The ambition was obvious: to move people.
Bulls eye!
The life affirming mad mix of dramatic arrangement and tremulous delivery, sugar coated beguiling songs that spoke in riddles about hope and nostalgia and inspired more than just this sappy hack.
The album was nominated for a Gammy in 1969.
It was followed the next year with more of the same on the equally brilliant 'The Yard Went on 

This wouldn't have got beyond the suits from the 70s onwards. 
I miss that maverick madness of Harris; a self confessed "compulsive excessive".
If you've the time keep scrolling to the bottom to see the affection that Harris and fellow sot Peter O'Toole share for rugby, cricket, booze and... erm... life itself.


  1. I really like Jimmy Webb's own versions of these songs, especially live. His vocal limitations add a vulnerability which adds an emotional depth that gets me every time.

  2. Agreed DB; I think that X Factor illustrates perfectly that you can sing perfectly in tune and still sound shite. Oh for more imperfection (ironically 'impefection' just spelt imperfectly and corrected by dreaded spell check...)

    1. Great choice Trevor - am only familiar with McArthur Park but have always meant to listen to more. Great stuff.
      Totally with you on 'perfection'. As they say 'only Allah is perfect'. It's the flaws that get you every time, the reminders that there's a human being feeling and failing behind the work. From Hamlet to Ham.

  3. Thanks Fro these tRev - you've pointed my in this direction a coupl eof times before , but these are fantatsic .... another lot sold

  4. I thought I was the only one that had this CD!!! Brilliant stuff Trev. Baroque pop at it's very best. I have always loved Jimmy Webb's songs. Saw him about 6 years ago. He played a great show and was so welcoming & answered tons of questions later. BUt he never revealed the secret of McArthur Park. Good Man!

    Nick B

  5. Did he mention his annoyance that Harris insisted upon singing 'MacArthur'S Park'?