All those years spent with my novel, 'The Interpretation of Cakes', bent my mind into some strange places.  What is the psychologically of cakes in popular music?  What do cake references reveal about the band, and the listener?  I must admit that the exploration was uniquely frustrating. Rock stars are cagey when it comes to exposing their emotions.

Not surprisingly, cakes in rock and roll are usually a metaphor for women, as with the Beatles Honey Pie;

 or sex, like Warrant's 'Cherry Pie';

Warrant's effort is worth a look.  It has been voted one of the worst rock videos of all time, though it doesn't add much to psychoanalytic understandings.

The obvious banner song for cakes and popular music is MacCarthur Park, written by Jimmy Webb and originally sung by Richard Harris.

Harris was an actor, not a singer, and arguably his best work was hanging by eagles' claws hooked into his chest in the movie, 'A Man Called Horse.'

Jimmy Webb wrote hits like 'Up, Up and Away', 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix,' 'Galveston' and 'Witchita Lineman'.  His songs were performed by a range of artists including the Fifth Dimension, Glen Campbell, Donna Sommer, and, surprisingly, Joe Cocker. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986. With MacCarthur Park he broke away from three minute pop.  The song is over seven minutes long, and includes four different movements. It might have been a product of its time.  The Beatles had responded to the brilliant harmonies of the Beach Boys 'Pet Sounds' with the complex 'Seargent Peppers', the year before.

Despite Webb's genius, MacCarthur Park included arguably the worst lyrics in song-writing history.  He presented his break-up from his girlfriend, Susie Horton, with the lines:

'Someone left the cake out in the rain

I don't think that I can take it

As it too so long to bake it

And I'll never have that recipe again.' 

He was deservedly panned.

That a song writing genius could write those lyrics needs some explaining. In an interview about the song, Webb tells us he limited himself to things that actually happened.  There were actually old men playing checkers by the trees, and someone did leave the cake out in the rain.

http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/jimmy-webb-discusses-famous-lyrics-in-macarthur-park-1.9477080

I have not conducted a deep analysis of Webb's songs, but expect that that his songs are to be interpreted literally.

When he writes;

'Would you like to ride, in my beautiful balloon.'

he's not referring sex, drugs or even love - just a plain old ride in an actual balloon.

When Glen Campbell sings;

'The Witchita linesman, is still on the line.'

it actually means the Witchita lineman is, well, still on the line.

There is something very comforting about living in a world where reaching Pheonix, or Albequeque, simply means arriving in a city in Arizona or New Mexico.

Webb could be an example of how someone proficient in the literal, struggles when they reach for the symbolic.  Rooted in the concrete, he is rooted in the metaphorical.

To be fair on Webb - and the Beatles and Warrant, for that matter - didn't have the opportunity to study Isak Brodsky's explorations with Cake-analysis as reported in 'The Interpretation of Cakes'. It's possible that Brodsky's creative mind could have shown Webb the way.

Webb also doesn't have a mortgage on excruciating lyrics. The song, 'Rains Down in Africa', written by David Paich and Jeff Porlano, and sung by the band Toto, includes the verse:

'The wild dogs cry out in the night

As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company

I know that I must do what's right

Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.' 

Africa surely is the continent of tears.

Risking rock and roll excommunication, dare I point out that the classic 'Stairway to Heaven', immortalised by Led Zepplin, contains the lines:

'If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,

It's just a spring clean for the May queen.'

Standing alongside MacCarthur Park as a great rock and roll cake song, is 'Rain Dance' by the Canadian band Guess Who. 

The song is anchored by the chant; 'Don't you want to rain dance with me.'  This is obviously a symbolic reference.  The band is not actually suggesting dancing round a fire in an elaborate feather headdress, to the beat of hypnotic drums.

Having stepped successfully into the world of metaphor, the writers are free to go wherever they want.  'Rain Dance' is probably the only rock song to include a line about baking:

'Fifi said to Don the baker

Can you show me how to bake another bun, Don.'

These guys are out of control! What does it all mean? Is it a cake, or a baby? Do cakes play with people's minds?

The world has changed, and references to native American rituals could now bring charges of cultural appropriation. As Isak Brodsky might have said, 'Play with the symbolic fire and you WILL get burnt'. Guess Who was singed by the song 'American Woman'.  Jim Kale, one of the co-writers, said the title was a metaphor for the seductiveness of American capitalism. Others have claimed it to be straight out misogynist.

 

 

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