Harry Chapin

TrackAlbum
Better Place To BeSniper And Other Love Songs
Cat’'s In The CradleVerities & Balderdash
Could You Put Your Light On, PleaseHeads & Tales
GreyhoundHeads & Tales
Short StoriesShort Stories
SniperSniper And Other Love Songs
TaxiHeads & Tales
They Call Her EasyShort Stories
W.O.L.D.Short Stories
What Made America FamousVerities & Balderdash

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Contributor: Robert Bacon

One of the finest American singer/songwriter troubadours of his generation, Harry Chapin was born in New York City in 1942. His father was the popular big band drummer, James Forbes Chapin, who performed with the Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman orchestras. Chapin displayed a love for films, music and songwriting at an early age, and with his brothers Tom and Steve formed The Chapin Brothers. The group’s first gig was in 1959 at The Bitter End club in Greenwich Village. Their popularity was enhanced during the summer of ’66 when they appeared on The Merv Griffin Show and on Canada’s Let’s Sing Out, where they shared airtime with Joni Mitchell. Although they were to make an album together, Chapin Music, Harry amicably split with his brothers and went solo in 1971 supported by a backing group which included a cellist – unique for the time.

From folk influences, Harry Chapin had developed his own style of songwriting with a huge emphasis on ‘storytelling’. His themes could be personal observations and experiences or cinematic epics; from songs about the Austin, Texas crazed gunman (Sniper) or the dance band on the Titanic (title of the 7th album) to the heartbreaking Could You Put Your Light On, Please and They Call Her Easy.

My favourite Chapin albums are Heads & Tales, Sniper And Other Love Songs and Short Stories, all three recorded 1972-73, and my Top 10 is mainly selected from them; they represent his brilliance, diversity, warmth and humanity, and encompass some of the best songs written.

Tragically, he was to die in a bizarre road accident in 1981; a memorial fund was established in his name (see links below) and has raised an estimated $5 million over the years which has gone to a variety of social causes that were close to Chapin’s heart.

In 1987, Harry Chapin’s music and humanitarian achievements were recognised when he was awarded posthumously with a Congressional Gold Medal.

Recommended listening: Story Of A Life 3CD Box Set (Rhino UK 1999)

The Official Harry Chapin site

The Harry Chapin Foundation

The Harry Chapin Food Bank

Harry Chapin biography (iTunes)

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2 Comments

  1. Kasper Nijsen
    Nov 11, 2013

    Excellent list, and thanks for filling in some of his back story (which I didn’t know). I’d also focus on his first albums, though perhaps I’d also include the heart-breakingly nostalgic Old College Avenue from Short Stories, and Shooting Star from Verities. Great songwriter.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    Nov 11, 2013

    Harry Chapin has written some sublime songs and I don’t think he bettered those early albums. The two best tracks from Sniper are already there, I could make arguments for either ‘Barefoot Boy’ or ‘Sunday Morning Sunshine’. It is said that he trained as a documentary film maker which may have informed the way he constructed his songs. I would have to make room for ‘I Wanna Learn A Love Song’ which would get into my all time top 20 and ‘Halfway to Heaven’. I know, these are both on “Verities and Balderdash”. There is somewhere a live version of ‘Taxi/Sequel’ as one track but I cannot find it on record so maybe it only exists on YouTube. Having listened to ‘Dance Band on the Titanic’ again, ‘We Grew Up a Little Bit’ sits well but what do you leave out?

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