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 Harry Chapin

American/Singer-songwriter

Heads and Tails 1972

Sniper and Other Love Songs 1972

Short Stories 1973

Verities and Balderdash 1974

Portrait Gallery 1975

Greatest Stories Live 1976

On the Road to Kingdom Come 1976

Dance Band on the Titanic 1977

Living Room Suite 1978

Legends of the Lost and Found 1979

Sequel 1980

Gold Medal Collection

Last Protest Singer 1988

Live at the Bottom Line

Harry Chapin Tribute Album

 

 

 

 

Harry Chapin

There never will be another Harry Chapin - it's as simple as that. The man was a one-off. He was an inspiration through his music and humanity. Harry stood for so many of the things in life that I hold dear and if you want to read more about him and his music I have a special section of my site dedicated to his memory. This can be accessed by clicking here.

I first heard of Harry Chapin on the Noel Edmonds Sunday morning Radio One show. The track being played was WOLD and I immediately went out and bought the album from which it was taken - Short Stories. There started a love affair with the music of a man I claim could say more in one song than most people say in a lifetime. Below are my album reviews of this extraordinary singer-songwriter.

 

Heads and Tails - 8

Could You Put Your Light on Please/ Greyhound/ Everybody's Lonely/ Somewhere Sometime Wife/ Empty/ Taxi/ Any Old Kind of Day/ Dogtown/ Same Sad Songs

Harry's first real album as a singer-songwriter introduces us to his unique view of Americana - a world full of characters, lovers, Greyhound buses and much much more. It shows his beginnings as a chronicler of American life and the singing equivalent of Edward Hopper. More than anybody else Chapin told stories. His stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Many are autobiographical and ooze stories of missed opportunities and  underline the human condition better than any songwriter before or since. Heads and Tails introduces us to one of his most endearing songs and the one voted by his fans to be his best - Taxi. Taxi is a typical Chapin effort - exploring relationships through the eyes of a San Francisco cabbie who comes across an old lover in his cab. Later he wrote the next chapter in the song Sequel. His lyricism shines through from the brilliantly evocative opening lines "It was raining hard in Frisco. I needed one more fare to make my night." Elsewhere the album is full of small scale vignettes and beautifully orchestrated songs - Chapin used the cello to great effect. This album is uplifting, thought-provoking and sad in equal amounts from the beauty of Everybody's Lonely and Any Old Kind of Day to the raw energy of Dogtown.

 

Sniper and Other Love Songs - 8

Sunday Morning Sunshine/ Sniper/ And the Baby Never Cries/ Burning Herself/ Barefoot Boy/ Better Place to Be/ Circle/ Woman Child/ Winter Song

Harry's ability to mix beauty and the beast is illustrated with the opening two tracks of this album where the whimsical singalong beauty of "Sunday Morning Sunshine" gives way to the stark realism of "Sniper" which chronicles the life of a killer. overall the similarity between this album and Heads and Tails is very marked. This album introduces us to two more Chapin classics in the wonderful Better Place to Be and Circle. The former is again one of the best loved songs, a tail of loneliness and ultimate redemption with the lines. "And if you want me to come with you, then that's all right with me. 'Cause I know I'm goin' nowhere and anywhere's a better place to be." Once again the album produces starkness and beauty in equal amounts.

 

Short Stories - 8.5

Short Stories/ WOLD/ Song For Myself/ Song Man/ Changes/ They Call Her Easy/ Mr Tanner/ Mail Order Annie/ There's a Lot of Lonely People Tonight/ Old College Avenue

Short Stories arguably saw Harry at his songwriting best - with all the rough corners smoothed out. Again it was full of classic heart-wrenching Chapin songs including the brilliant WOLD - the story of an over the hill disc jockey. It's a story of lost opportunity and confusion and contains my all time favourite lyric "Sometimes I get this crazy dream that I just took off in my car, but you can travel on 10,000 miles and just stay where you are." Chapin's ability to invent characters that we love and feel sorry for in equal measure are never better underlined than in "Mail Order Annie" and "Mr Tanner."  Mail Order Annie has much in common with Better Place to Be from Sniper and Mr Tanner tells the story of a singer who is ridiculed for putting on a public concert that he is talked into doing. This song introduces us to the rich backing vocals of Big John Wallace. Song for Myself brings in elements of gospel. A beautiful album of angst and tears.

 

Verities and Balderdash - 7

Cat's in the Cradle/ I Wanna Learn a Love Song/ Shooting Star/ 30,000 Pounds of Bananas/ She Sings Songs Without Words/ What Made America Famous/ Vacancy/ Halfway to Heaven/ Six String Orchestra

Perhaps the power of Harry Chain as a storyteller and moralist is summed up on the opening track of Verities "Cats in the Cradle" - the song of a relationship between a father and a son and the lost opportunities of a parent never there for a child. It is a song of sadness, regret and lost opportunities that has been used by family specialists across America. Chapin also used this album to show his lighter side - although telling the story of a lorry driver who crashes with a truck carrying 30,000 tons of bananas might not be to everyone's cup of tea. I have to say it's one of my least favourite Chapin tracks, but one he used to good effect to involve the audience at concerts. The other fun track is Six String Orchestra which I believe turned up many years ago on the Muppet Show. I Wanna Learn a Love Song is one of the singer's most autobiographical songs - telling the story of his meeting with his future wife Sandy. There is at times more edge on some of these songs than on those of the past, but overall I find it less effective than the first three albums

 

Portrait Gallery -7.5

Dreams Go By/ Tangled up Puppet/ Star Tripper/ Babysitter/ Someone Keeps Calling My Name/ The Rock/ Sandy/ Dirt Gets Under the Fingernails/ Bummer/ Stop Singing Those Sad Songs

If Harry's songwriting took a dip with Verities, he returned to form with Portrait Gallery. From the vaudeville swing of the opening song "Dreams Go By" to the last chord of "Stop Singing Those Sad Songs" we are introduced to Harry's world yet again. It's all here from the pure beauty of his song to his wife "Sandy" to the introspective songs like "Tangled up Puppet" The lyrics are as good as ever, particularly on the wonderful Startripper. Chapin had the ability to be both introverted and outward looking in his songs - but his songs are always so full of imagery. The Rock is a kind of "boy calling wolf" song that teaches us always to listen to what is being said - it might just be the truth.. This album is about relationships, it's about life, it's about lost opportunities, it's about beauty, it's about love. It's virtually about everything.

 

Greatest Stories Live -

 

On the Road to Kingdom Come - 7

On the Road to Kingdom Come/ The Parade's Still Passing By/ The Mayor of Candor Lied/ Laugh Man/ Corey's Coming/ If My Mary Was Here/ Fall In Love With Me/ Caroline/ Roll Down the River

This album is more of a grower - again showing Chapin as a supreme songwriter, weaving intricate stories alongside love songs. None is better than the superb story song Corey's Coming which  re-visits many of Harry's omnipresent themes - loneliness, opportunity and surprise. The Parade's Still Pasing By is his homage to Phil Ochs - another of my favourite songwriters. It references many of Och's songs. Elsewhere is the staple diet of beautifully crafted songs.

 

Dance Band on the Titanic - 8

Dance Band on the Titanic/ Why Should People Stay the Same/ My Old Lady/ We Grew Up a Little Bit/ Bluesman, Country Dreams/ I Did it for You Jane/ I Wonder What Happened to Him/ Paint a Picture of Yourself (Michael)/ Mismatch/ Mercenaries/ Manhood/ One Light in a dark valley/ There Only Was One Choice

Even by Harry Chapin's exacting standards this is a superb album with so much happening and it ends with the epic There Only Was One Choice - a brilliant song that  continually changes tempo and tack and even at over 14 minutes seems to end all too soon. This is a highly evocative album.

 

Living Room Suite

Dancin' Boy/ If You Want To Feel/ Poor Damned Fool/ I Wonder What Would Happen to This World/ Jenny/ It Seems You Only Love Me When It Rains/ Why Do Little Girls?/ Flowers Are Red/ Somebody Said

Legends of the Lost and Found
Sequel
Gold Medal Collection
Last Protest Singer
Live at the Bottom Line
Harry Chapin Tribute Album