Born: August 15, 1946
Jimmy Webb was that rarity in rock music, a professional songwriter; he was also a singer, but his performing career never eclipsed his success as a composer and producer. Indeed, Webb may well have kept the craft of the songwriter in popular music alive and kicking in a new generation, saving the profession from being ghetto-ized onto the Broadway stage and the world of the commercial jingle. In 1966, Johnny Rivers first recorded "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," which became a modest hit; Glen Campbell later cut it as well, and scored a gold record. Meanwhile, Webb was put in charge of the songs for the first album for a fledgling pop group called the Fifth Dimension; the result was a chart-topping million-selling single, "Up Up and Away." Between them, the two songs won eight Grammy Awards the following year, and turned Jimmy Webb into the most prominent songwriter of his generation. Like many of his peers, Webb had begun thinking of longer compositions and more coherent bodies of songs, and soon wrote "MacArthur Park," which fit into the new spirit of the era -- the lyrics, although not remotely "psychedelic," were as rich and ornate as anything the Beatles or the Beach Boys were experimenting with, and the arrangement was a vast sonic canvas, filled with the combined sounds of a rock combo and a full orchestra and choir. It was placed with his friend, the actor Richard Harris; after Webb recorded the orchestral part in Los Angeles, Harris' voice was added on at a studio in Dublin. Webb tried selling "MacArthur Park" to several major labels, and was rejected -- nobody felt that a seven-minute-plus single by an actor scarcely known as a singer had any chance of being played, much less becoming a hit. Instead, "MacArthur Park" climbed to Number Two on the American pop charts over a period of 13 weeks, and in the process shattered every preconception of air-time restrictions on AM radio.