Richard Harris

My Boy

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What do you do after recording your debut album and landing a hit with "MacArthur Park," one of the longest, strangest (and in some circles, most loathed) songs to hit the Top 40 charts? If you're Richard Harris, you follow it up with The Yard Went On Forever, a dense, nearly incomprehensible Jimmy Webb concept album, then you follow it up with My Boy, another difficult (and depressing) concept album. Harris himself came up with the storyline for this one. It involves a man who, in the first song, meets and falls in love with a girl, and by the end of the first side has married and impregnated her and begun marveling in the wonders of childbirth and fatherhood. However, the marriage falls apart early on in side two, leaving the protagonist to not only wonder what went wrong, but to bemoan the cruelty of divorce and offer a lament for the broken children of the world as he sinks back into a state of disillusionment and depression by the album's conclusion. Is it any wonder that this album wasn't a hit? If not, take a quick listen to side one and its complex, dramatic ballads, which Harris delivers with trademark overstatement. For an album that gets filed in the vocal pop section of most record stores, this is not easy listening, yet at the same time, it's also bound to bewilder (if not downright offend) most rock listeners. If you're curious, you're better off starting with side two, which includes a couple of strong Jimmy Webb ballads -- "Requiem" (which also shows up on the 5th Dimension's Webb-authored song cycle The Magic Garden) and "This Is Where I Came In." Side two also includes the subtly bizarre "All the Broken Children," a Harris-penned original that combines a lilting 12/8 beat, a gospel-ish organ part, and choral backing vocals with lyrics such as "Playpens in wards of court/Some kind of adult sport/Law letters used daily as toys." It all culminates with the climactic "My Boy," in which Harris declares, "If I stay, I stay for you my boy" -- as if having a depressed, sulking dad hanging around the house with his estranged wife will do the child a lot of good. Another point worth mentioning is that despite being a concept album, there are four different songwriting teams involved -- Webb working alone, Harris working alone and with a collaborator, and the duos of "J. Harris/J. Bromley" and "B. Martin/P. Coulter" -- and the songwriting credits span a period of four years (1967-1971). In any case, this is an unusual album, one that is probably best tackled by listeners who've already made it through a couple of other Harris albums, preferably A Tramp Shining or one of the greatest-hits compilations.

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