I was a late comer to Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park." I remember hearing it at points throughout my life, and even had the opportunity to see Summer live just a few years before she died, but I do not remember it standing out during her show. I have to thank Season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race with spawning my love.
In Season 3, two of my favorite queens, Manila Luzo and Delta Work were forced to Lip Sync For Their Lives to Summer's version, and though I hate how the producers cut it, I still argue that it was the best of the entire series. Thanks to Manila's performance, my partner and I went on a Donna Summer spree - lead specifically by that strange and hard to understand disco classic.
When David and I saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Broadway in 2011, this song, a cover specifically of Summer's version, became one of my favorite scenes, and lead me to explore the world of Wikipedia and the history of this song.
To my surprise, this song had made its rounds long before Donna got her hands on it. I was even more surprised to discover that it first became a hit ten years before Summer in 1968 by Dumbledore himself, actor Richard Harris. I really do not understand how his version reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts, but he needs to stick to magic because he really can't sing. Maybe that speaks more to the power of the song - no matter the voice. There are videos of him singing it live, but I included only the audio because it really improves the song to imagine the aged Harris as Dumbledore. Try it. Seriously.
The song has been covered by a huge list of greats. Waylon Jennings made it a hit in 1970, and his version is strangely raw and as far from the Summer's version as any of the others. Aretha Franklin's version gave me chills. Because of all this, it is really heard to choose a favorite - so I'll side with Donna out of respect.
I've included the Manila v. Delta and Pricilla clips more out of context than worthy competitors.
As usual, let me know who you think did it best. Did I miss someone? Post a link in the comments.