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Jimmy Webb

 

On Sunday 15th March, 1998, I enjoyed one of my defining musical moments when I attended an Evening with Jimmy Webb at Cambridge Corn Exchange.

The evening had a kind of surreal feeling thanks to the fact that only about 150 turned up. I found this difficult to come to terms with. Here was arguably the greatest living songwriter, playing in the heart of England and just 150 people there to listen to the genius of his music.

Through the evening, however, I gathered the distinct impression that the artist himself is happy playing small, more intimate venues and this certainly came over in the wonderful rapport he had with what was a small but very knowledgeable audience.

I have never looked upon Jimmy as a performing artist - believing his voice to be two tremulous and too thin to carry off his songs. How wrong I was. His interpretations of his own songs was masterful and his piano playing stunning.

It is rarely that I focus 100 per cent on an artist, all too often there are distractions. Not with this concert. During the songs you could hear a pin drop - such was the spell that this man wove. And at the end I was left with the feeling that we had only heard such a minimal part of this great man's output. So many great songs were left out, that it was all too easy to want so much more. Above all it made me realise the stunning output of songs from this man's pen over so many years.

Above all I will remember the concert for his own versions of MacArthur Park and The Moon's A Harsh Mistress - both were better than any version I have ever heard even eclipsing Richard Harris' "Park" and Judy Collins' "Mistress."

It was a wonderful night - far exceeding my expectations.

At the risk of being pretentious I have elected Jimmy Webb into my own Music Hall Of Fame which is designed to give my reflections on those artists who, over the years have musically meant the most to me and had the biggest effect on my life. Jimmy Webb will join the following initial list of inductees: Harry Chapin, Barclay James Harvest, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Phil Ochs and Pink Floyd.

For each inductee I hope to build up my particular memories of their music and what is has meant to me. I will also include links to what I think are worthwhile sites on the artists.

Jimmy Webb is one of the few artists who has his own web site which can be contacted at Jimmy Webb

You will find plenty of news and views on this site and I have actually e-mailed him personally on a couple of occasions and received replies which suggests that he really cares about his fans.

On my own site I am attempting to log Jimmy's songs - a vast job as there have been so many versions of some of his classics. I would like to hear from anyone who can add to my list. Have a look at it at Jimmy Discography

My memories of Jimmy Webb's music go back to my teenage years, although it must be said that I'm only six years younger than the man.

I have to take you back to a bungalow where I lived with my parents just outside Norwich. I remember taping MacArthur Park on a reel to reel machine and listening to it virtually every day, particularly when helping with the washing up!

For some reason that song still embodies the sunshine of springtime for me particularly with those opening words: "Spring was never waiting for us girl, it ran one step ahead as we followed in the dance." That apart much of the lyrics were incomprehensible - much like some of my earlier poetry.

That, however, added to the power of MacArthur Park. So many people have tried to define it over the years. I prefer to just enjoy its mystic feeling. Here was a song that destroyed the three minute single mould. The fact that it got played on national Radio One spoke volumes for its originality.

I simply loved it to bits and, as you will see if you look at my all time top 100 tracks on this site you will see that the Richard Harris version has only been eclipsed by one other song.

There are a number of songs which helped develop my love of music and MacArthur Park is right up there at the top.

I can't remember at the time whether I was aware of Jimmy having written the song, possibly that came later. At that time I was probably more interested in the voice of Richard Harris. There is more about Richard Harris as a singer at the following link Richard Harris

This was shortly before I left home to attend journalism college at Harlow in Essex. I well remember buying a number of Richard Harris albums around that time including "Love Songs", "A Tramp Shining", "The Yard Went On Forever" and "My Boy." I loved each and everyone of them and suddenly became aware that most of the tracks were written by Jimmy Webb. So I transferred my allegiance to the songwriter as the instrument of providing Harris with such wonderful songs.

"A Tramp Shining" and "The Yard Went on Forever" have now been released on CD as the Jimmy Webb Sessions. The songs are still wonderfully poignant and just as important to me.

Jimmy writes difficult songs with many key changes and this is so evident on "A Tramp Shining". The quirky side of his writing is evident again on the title track of "The Yard Went on Forever." But by this time Jimmy was showing that he could write simple songs that stayed in the mind. One of these from "The Yard" album was the wistful "That's the Way It Was."

At college most people laughed at my love of Richard Harris apart from one soulmate who enjoyed his music. Gradually as we talked our emphasis moved away from the Irish singer to the "guy who had written the songs."

I think it was this point that fostered my love of finding out about the writers of songs as well as the artists. Suddenly I realised that here was a man who could provide heart-rending melodies. What came out on disc by various artists was the sum of his many parts.

That's what slightly annoyed me at the Cambridge concert. If Glenn Campbell or Art Garfunkel or any of the other artists who have recorded Webb classics appeared they would have sold the venue out almost immediately. Here we were in the presence of the genius who provided their material and the place was barely one-quarter full.

The guy I sat next to looked around him: "Some people have no taste" he said. My reply was simple: "The ones in here have very good taste, the ones outside don't." He simply smiled and nodded.

Anyway I digress. The college experience of the Webb works spilled over into my working life where music came a vital part of my relaxation process. I automatically bought albums with Jimmy songs on them - even without hearing them. His name on the credits was good enough for me and if he produced them so much the better. The only other producer I would buy without hearing the product is Van Dyke Parks.

It was in this way that I bought an album by The Supremes, produced by Jimmy and featuring his material. Now I have never really liked the Supremes, but this album was excellent particularly for the song "Where Does Brown Begin."

My love of Jimmy's music has continued over the years although I must admit that some of his solo albums have left me a little cold although "Lands End" is very enjoyable.

On that March night in Cambridge many of those memories came flooding back. I was left to reflect on the past but also to look forward to many more golden Jimmy Webb moments.

Today, thanks to articles in the likes of Q magazine and the New Musical Express, Jimmy is becoming something of a cult artist and his ability as a songwriter is perfectly highlighted by the diverse collection of songs written by him on a new Compilation "And Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain." The title is a reference to one of the many obscure lines from "MacArthur Park."