Richard Harris – A Tramp Shining

Do I have to? Do I have to do this one?

Be assured, I own this as something of a joke. A little tongue in cheek. After Donna Summer had a huge, huge hit with her disco version of “MacArthur Park,” it became required of the cognoscenti to explain, Comic Book Guy style, “actually, that was originally sung by Richard Harris.” It had been a #2 hit in 1968, but by the time Donna Summer took it to #1 a decade later, that seemed like ancient history.

A Tramp Shining front cover
A Tramp Shining front cover – stirring shades of brown

Kids, gather ‘round the glow of the phone and try to understand that in the old days, if you wanted to hear a song at a given time, you had to own that song. On vinyl, on cassette, taped off the radio — you had to possess it. So if you wanted to blow someone’s mind with what the original “MacArthur Park” sounded like — what an incredible, over-the-top, pre-Steinman chunk of cheese it was — you had to possess a copy of it. And so at some point I picked this up, I’m sure (I hope) in the 50 cent bin at Desertshore Records, and had it for the occasional proof of concept. Somebody would say, “Hey, did you know?” and I’d say, “Know? Brother, I own that jawn…” (Inaccurate memory warning: In my imagined past, I was already hip to Philly lingo.)

So I had this for that purpose, and every now and then, I would drag it out and play it. And I know Jimmy Webb is supposed to be some kind of genius songwriter and we’re all supposed to bow down to his brilliance, but man his songs at best leave me cold and at worst irritate the hell out of me. So when I got this album, I certainly thought that while I knew what was up with the hit single, perhaps I’d discover some sort of gem, ironic or not, and I’d be able to “actually” people with my brilliant appreciation of Richard Harris.

Holy fuck can I not. If you love Jimmy Webb songs, go forth and prosper, but omigod this is just a platter full of nothing for me. Overwrought strings and overwrought vocals. This album was on the charts for a year in 1968, following the summer of love, in the year of the Beatles’ white album. This album was nominated for Grammy album of the year; his performance was nominated for the best Contemporary Pop Male Vocalist. (The Record of the Year and Song of the Year for that year was a Jimmy Webb composition: “Up, Up and Away.” We shan’t speak of this again.)

Every now and then, I’ll still drag this out, give it a spin, confirm the cheese of “MacArthur Park,” and put it back on the shelf.

A Tramp Shining back cover
A Tramp Shining back cover – more brown moodiness PLUS Bookman Swash, one of the typefaces that would go on to ruin the ’70s, putting in an early appearance here.

A Tramp Shining credits on the gatefold
A Tramp Shining credits on the gatefold – by the time this got to me 12 years later, L. Bueche had needed to apply the cellophane tape to it.
Richard Harris making a Richard Harris face
Richard Harris making a Richard Harris face
A Tramp Shining label
A Tramp Shining label – a runtime of 15 minutes that seems an eternity

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