On this day in 1978, Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park” reaches the top of the Billboard Hot 100, giving the Queen of Disco her first #1 pop hit.
“MacArthur Park” was written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb, the hugely successful songwriter behind such familiar songs as “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “Up, Up and Away.” While working on material for the popular 1960s group The Association, Webb formed the idea to write a “cantata”—a complex, 22-minute-long piece with orchestral backing that would fill one entire side of the Association’s upcoming album. When the group rejected Webb’s cantata, he took its final movement, a seven-minute-long coda with utterly perplexing lyrics about lost recipes and cakes left in the rain in a downtown Los Angeles park, to Richard Harris, the British actor then dabbling in popular music. While readers of newspaper humorist Dave Barry would later vote Richard Harris’ version of “MacArthur Park” the “Worst Song Ever,” it was a #2 pop hit for Harris in 1967
Fast-forward 10 years, and Donna Summer found herself looking for new material to fill out the fourth side of her 1978 double-album Live and More. Having first made her name in American dance clubs with “Love To Love You, Baby”—17 minutes of oohs, ahs and mmms set to a hypnotic Giorgio Moroder instrumental track—Summer was more than open to recording Webb’s strange cantata. Edited down to three minutes and 45 seconds from an album version that stretched out toward nine minutes, the 45-rpm single of “Macarthur Park” was released in the early fall of 1978 and reached the #1 spot on the Billboard pop chart on November 11. For Summer, it was the biggest hit of her career to date and the first of her four total #1 pop hits