One of the best known singer-songwriter to emerge during the ‘70s, Harry Chapin was only 38 when he died in 1981, but he left behind a formidable catalog during his all-too-short career. Here's a look back at six of his best singles.
“Taxi” (Heads & Tales, 1972): Chapin really set the stage perfectly for his career as a singing storyteller with this single, which he debuted during a performance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It’s a tale of a taxi driver who, after picking up a woman in an expensive gown and driving to her home, realizes that she’s an old flame of his. As Chapin said in an interview with Bruce Pollock, “There’s no a single line that tells you how the guy or girl felt. It’s a very cinematic technique, but it’s also a very uneconomical technique. That’s why my songs are so long. I literally put you in that cab and let you experience.”
“Sunday Morning Sunshine” (Sniper and Other Love Songs, 1972): Even though it was released the same year as “Taxi,” this track actually landed on Chapin’s sophomore LP. Unfortunately, the level of success the album found was less than its predecessor, and the single didn’t do nearly as well on the Hot 100, but it did end up being a Top 30 hit on the adult contemporary chart.
“W-O-L-D” (Short Stories, 1973): One can only imagine how many disc jockeys changed progressions after having to repeatedly play this song, since the entire premise revolves around a DJ who looks for happiness through his passion for playing music, only to realize that while he’s been traveling around the country and working for various radio stations, life has passed him by. (Unsurprisingly, it’s often been said that the song served as inspiration for WKRP in Cincinnati.)
“Cat’s in the Cradle” (Verities & Balderdash, 1974): Chapin’s signature song and – not coincidentally – the most popular single of his career, this chart-topping track started out as a poem written by his wife, Sandy Gaston, and one inspired by the relationship between her first husband and his father. Giving Sandy co-writing credit, Chapin turned it into a song about the relationship between himself and his son, Josh, acknowledging during an intro of a live performance, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.” That’s fair: virtually any father with a soul generally feels the same way when they hear it.
“I Wanna Learn a Love Song” (Verities & Balderdash, 1974): This one was legitimately autobiographical, as it tells the story of how Harry and Sandy met: she wants to learn to play guitar, he tries to teach her, but she only wants to listen to him play, and then one day he comes over when her husband isn’t home and... Well, you get the picture. And if you don’t, then you should listen to the song again, because Chapin paints it pretty well in the lyrics.
“Sequel” (Sequel, 1980): After almost a decade of having fans ask him what happened to the characters in “Taxi” after the driver dropped his old flame off at her house, Chapin finally decided to answer their question. Unabashedly calling the track “Sequel,” he picked up the story 10 years later, with the characters of Harry and Sue meeting again. Although Chapin joked that any subsequent sequel would be called “Hearse,” so that he could kill off the characters, he never had the chance: he died seven months after the song’s release due to injuries sustained in a car accident.