Richard Harris Sings!


Richard Harris in one of his many Nehru style jackets he designed himself (1968)

Blame TCM for recently showing Lindsay Anderson’s brilliant This Sporting Life (1963), blame the wonderful Colin for sending me a copy of Richard Harris’s 1968 album A Tramp Shining as an early Christmas gift and last but not least, blame The Simpsons for parodying one of my favorite musical numbers from Camelot (1967) in a recent episode that I just watched. All these factors have somehow combined to put the incredible Richard Harris in the forefront of my thoughts lately.

I first became aware of Richard Harris when I was a very young thing. My parents had a copy of the Camelot film soundtrack and the original Broadway recording, and both of them got a lot of play in our home. I can distinctly remember my father loudly singing all of Richard Harris’ songs from the film while he was in the shower.

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.

As the years wore on I became enamored with Richard Harris, as well as that rowdy bunch of womanizing British & Irish actors who drank too much and had egos as big as their booming voices. Along with Richard Harris, I can never get enough of Richard Burton, Oliver Reed, Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole. They’re all personal favorites and I’ll watch them in anything.

With that pronouncement out of the way, you may be asking yourself, besides Richard Harris, what do This Sporting Life, A Tramp Shining and Camelot all have in common? Well, they all feature Richard Harris singing of course!

I was surprised while watching This Sporting Life recently to see Richard Harris take the stage at a pub and belt out a somewhat forgettable song called Here In My Heart. I love the film and I had first seen it many years ago, but I didn’t remember Harris singing in the movie. It’s one of his earliest and best films and his performance in it made him a star, but his singing voice seems rather underdeveloped in 1963. Even though Here In My Heart is a rather traditional tune, it was released as a single in 1963 and was the first song Richard Harris ever recorded. It had previously been a hit for Al Martino in 1952, but I haven’t been able to track down any information about how Harris’ version of Here in My Heart was received by the record buying public.

Harris was never a great singer but he was a great orator, and there is an obvious improvement in his voice when you compare his singing in This Sporting Life to his singing in Camelot four years later. Harris got the part of King Arthur in Joshua Logan’s version of Camelot after Richard Burton (who had been in the stage version) turned it down. In Camelot Harris gets to perform a few songs, including the impressive opening and ending themes. The film and the soundtrack were very popular with listeners in 1967 (including my parents!), and the film went on to win an Oscar for Best Music Score. Camelot is one of my favorite musicals and with a terrific cast that also includes fabulous sixties stars like Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings, what’s not to like?

The popularity of Camelot led Richard Harris to record the pop album A Tramp Shining in 1968, which contained the hit song MacArthur Park. The song has become the butt of a few jokes over the years and is often parodied, but I think it’s amazing for it’s length, memorable lyrics and bombastic tone. Listening to it today might make you wonder how in the world it ever became a hit, but I think it’s a really remarkable tune.

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down…
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, no!

Richard Harris’ album A Tramp Shining was written, arranged and produced by the American songwriter Jimmy Webb. Webb is best known for writing hit songs like Up, Up, and Away for The Fifth Dimension and By The Time I Get To Phoenix for Glenn Campbell, but the hit single MacArthur Park that he wrote for Richard Harris may be his most ambitious effort. MacArthur Park was #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1968 and A Tramp Shining was nominated for Album Of The Year. Richard Harris was also nominated for Contemporary Pop Male Vocalist of The Year in 1968 for MacArthur Park.

After the success of his album A Tramp Shining, Harris would go on to record 10 more records, but he never really had the same success with his musical efforts that he achieved in the sixties. Listening to the record now, it’s impossible to not be reminded of the Camelot soundtrack since they share a similar musical style at times. MacArthur Park is undoubtedly the best song on the album, but I also like the sweet and short Dancing Girl and the epic unconventional composition The Yard Went on Forever, which rivals MacArthur Park in length. I’m sure my rather sentimental opinion of Richard Harris colors my view of A Tramp Shining, but the record is just plain fun to listen to.

There’s no video on YouTube featuring Harris actually singing MacArthur Park, but I did come across this video featuring Richard Harris’ hit song:

Newly added (1/2008) – another video detailing the recording and performance of the song from a British program called the “50 Greatest One Hit Wonders.”

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17 thoughts on “Richard Harris Sings!

  1. I love Richard Harris! He has always been a favorite of mine. From This Sporting Life to Camelot to A Man Called Horse to Unforgiven to Dumbledore, I’ve never watched him and not been impressed, and that includes Orca. And The Field – wow, what a performance! And you know what else I love – Juggernaut! I’ve got to see that again soon and write it up. And MacArthur Park – I’m with you. He does a great job! (I don’t think I’ve ever used this many exclamation points in a comment – Harris will do that to you). Thanks!

  2. The Yard Went on Forever is one of my favorite albums of the sixties. I wrote about it quite a while ago at Moon In The Gutter, and I think it is one of the most startling and inventive albums of the period…
    A Tramp Shing is equally rewarding, and Macarthur Park is one of the definitive songs of the period.
    Two more Harris albums to check out that were recorded without Jimmy Webb are Slides and My Boy. Both are really intense…My Boy is a concept album about divorce and it was one of Elvis Presley’s favorites…Elvis would have a small hit with the title track in the mid seventies…

    Richard Harris is an actor I admire very much but I must admit that those Jimmy Webb albums are what I love him most for…great post Kimberly!!!

  3. What a great blog, Kimberly. I’ve always been a big fan of actors from the British Isles. I love everything from their acting to their attitude about life. Richard Harris is one of the best. He’s played such great roles from King Arthur to Dumbledore. I’ve also always enjoyed his music. He’s had some good songs. I remember hearing some of his music as a kid.

  4. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who likes Richard Harris and his music. If it already hasn’t happened yet (I’m usually clueless about trends) it seems like the records Harris recorded are due to be rediscovered. I’m sure that all the new Scott Walker fans for instance would probably enjoy Harris’ albums.

    Jonathan – I hope you do write about Juggernaut soon. That film came up in a recent discussion over at Girish’ blog about British cinema and I’d like to see it again too. I saw it amny years ago on late night TV, but I’m sure it was cut up and I’d really like to see it again.

    Jeremy – Thanks for all the info abut Jimmy Webb! I don’t know a lot about the guy myself and I’m not very familiar with his music.

    Keith – I’m sure you would enjoy A Tramp Shining if you don’t own it yet. There’s a lounge quality to some of the songs that you’d probably get a kick out of.

  5. There may not be any online video of Harris singing MacArthur Park, but how about Dave Thomas as Richard Harris during SCTV’s “Mel’s Rock Pile”?

    This skit actually made me search out the real song years ago when I first saw it on SCTV.

    He was terrific in “Juggernaut”, though I remember not liking the ‘comedy’ portions of the movie…Just didn’t fit with everything else.

  6. I always watch Richard Harris movies, along with the other pub crawling rowdies from that era, too. “The Molly Maguires” is a fave – Connery and Finlay are in it, too; how could you go wrong there? This was a neat post, as much of his singing is virtually unknown today, but if you grew up in the sixties, you’ll remember he got a fair amount of air time on the radio, and “A Tramp Shining” had a few tracks that played on pop stations that wouldn’t play Macarthur Park – it was too psychedelic for some, I guess, but they couldn’t pass that brogue of his completely.

  7. Bob – Thanks for posting that! It made me laugh. It seems that MacArthur Park has been parodied a lot.

    Vanwell – I haven’t seen The Molly Maguires in ages so many thanks for mentioning it! I’d like to see it again. I grew up in the 70s and early 80s so I missed the popularity of Richard Harris’ songs in the sixties, but it’s amazing that a 7min. long psychedelic song like MacArthur Park was such a big hit. It would never get airplay today, but I really like it!

  8. I was actually going to do a blog on Nehru jackedts but you beat me to it, Kimberly. We’re definitely on the same wavelength. I was 16 in 1968 when MacArthur Park came out and we used to play it over and over trying to figure out what the lyrics meant! Then we started a garage band where we all wore Nehru jackets, bell bottom pants and suede leather boots. We used to actually parody MacArthur Park.
    But I think I’ll still do a blog on Nehru jackets in movies. Thanks again for the memories!

  9. Robert – I hope you do blog about Nehru jackets! I would love to read anything you post about them. I think Nehru jackets are amazing looking and call me crazy, but I think Richard Harris looks incredibly sexy in his Nehru jackets. I was really surprised to recently discover he designed many of his own jackets himself. Harris was a real Renaissance man! How cool are you to have been in a Nehru jacket wearing band in the sixties? You’ve managed to impress me even more Robert!

  10. I remember watching Harris perform this on TV, I can’t remember which show. He really got into it. It had an element of camp at first, you wanted to laugh. Finally, it was just jaw dropping, the amount of serious passion he put into it. I had all his gestures down and used to imitate them. We weren’t a very good group but we had fun. I had the Nehru jacket until the 80s and a photo of our group but they’re both long gone. I wish I had saved them now.

  11. Oh Kimberly, you have chosen a topic close to my heart… I am obsessed with the music of Richard Harris and I always have been – ‘MacArthur Park’ was merely the gateway drug to the musical madness of Harris’ over-the-top concept albums (I have them all)…

    ‘A Tramp Shining’ and ‘The Yard Went on Forever’ are easy enough to find – but keep your eyes peeled for ‘My Boy’ (Presley covered the title track) and ‘Slides’ (not written by Webb, but by Tony Romeo of the Brooklyn Bridge)…

    I may have to write about this topic myself.

  12. Mike – 25 versions? That’s amazing! I’ve only heard the disco version by Donna Summer, but I like the original best.

    Jesse – Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for Harris! I hope you do write about about his albums since I would enjoy reading your thoughts on the topic.

  13. Does anybody know where the footage of Harris onstage with the accompanying orchestra for “MacArthur Park” comes from?

  14. Although Richard Harris is the singer on ‘A Tramp Shining’, the real artist is composer Jimmy Webb

  15. What a great blog this is. I am very glad I found it.

    Two responses:

    1. To Kimberly: How did you find out that “Here In My Heart” was released as a single ? I have seen a reference to this in a discography for Richard Harris but doubted if it was correct as it seems an unlikely song to have released. If it was, do we know what the B-side was ?

    2. To Patrick: Do you still want to know about the video clip of MacArthur Park ? I can give you all the info about its origins if you have not yet found them.

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