They did things differently back in the 60’s, things no sane person would even attempt these days. A six-minute four-section orchestral song sung by a man who can’t sing, with a central metaphor comparing a lost love to a cake? Yeah, why not.
Dad would have been about 20 when this came out, and it’s hard to imagine a 20-year-old buying something like this today. I’ve no idea what today’s equivalent would even sound like.
The song was written by Jimmy Webb, probably better known for ‘Wichita Lineman’, another song with an unlikely metaphor at the centre. Although the cake references seem a bit odd, he claims it all represents actual things – “Those lyrics were all very real to me: there was nothing psychedelic about it.” he told the Los Angeles Times.
I’ll be honest with you, Richard Harris wouldn’t have been my first choice of singer. He sings like the worst kind of hammy singing actor* You could argue that at least you can understand everything he sings, he carefully enunciates every syllable, although the notes waver as if sung by a timid lamb perched on a tumble drier. But he gives it his all, even if he can’t quite get the high notes.
It was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and was a big hit when Donna summer covered it a decade later, with a disco version that was even longer.
Yet, it’s frequently cited as one of the worst songs ever written. I think that’s a bit harsh. It’s a bit overblown, and to my jaded cynical 21st century ears, a bit silly. But it is all tackled sincerely by all involved, and it beautifully arranged (although the ‘groovy’ uptempo section I could live without) and the melody is great. You just can’t help but be impressed.
* Although not nearly as bonkers as some of the performances William Shatner has given us.