Harry Chapin – Verities & Balderdash (1974)

frontcover1Verities & Balderdash is the fourth studio album by the American singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, released in 1974. (see 1974 in music). “Cat’s in the Cradle” was Chapin’s highest charting single, finishing at #44 for the year on the 1974 Billboard year-end Hot 100 chart. The follow-up single, “I Wanna Learn a Love Song,” barely entered the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. A third single, “What Made America Famous?”, failed to chart. The album was certified gold on December 17, 1974.

The album was advertised with the slogan: “As only Harry can tell it.”

The album was the first and only work by Chapin to exclusively use professional studio musicians, rather than his touring band, as had been the case in previous projects. (by wikipedia)

Verities & Balderdash is a very strange and wonderful album. “Cat’s in the Cradle” was the driving force behind the album’s sales, but there’s a lot more to appeal to listeners, along with enough personal, topical material to make it seem a bit didactic at the time, but Chapin was cultivating a politically committed audience. Verities & Balderdash walked several fine lines, between topical songwriting and an almost (but not quite) pretentious sense of its own importance, humor and seriousness, and balladry and punditry, all intermingled with catchy, highly commercial ballads such as “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” (which is about as pretty a song as he ever wrote). Chapin is in good voice and thrives in the more commercial sound of this album, which includes lots of electric guitars and overdubbed orchestra and choruses. He still loves to tell stories — most are like little screenplays, with “Shooting Star” offering details and textures and a sense of drama akin to a finished film (in the manner of “Taxi”). The “haunt count” on this album is extremely high, boosted by gorgeous ballads like “She Sings Songs Without Words.” “What Made America Famous” may be the one song that comes off as dated, a parable — perhaps reflecting the near-meltdown of politics surrounding the Nixon resignation of 1974 — about long-haired teens and crew-cutted firemen who discover a mutual dependence and respect for each other and reconciliation; it seems like ancient history and probably will be incomprehensible to anyone born after 1968.

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Chapin also lapses into excessive dramatics in the finale, which shamelessly borrows a couple of lines from one song out of the musical 1776. The album also offers a pair of humorous numbers on “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” and “Six String Orchestra,” not the most significant songs in Chapin’s repertory, but both adding balance to the mood. Producer Paul Leka (the commercial genius behind Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”) retained some elements of the relatively lean sound that characterized Chapin’s debut album, embellishing it only enough to give the album some potentially wider commercial appeal. Even the cover art seems to reflect the two delightfully contradictory thrusts of this album: an image of Chapin posed like Uncle Sam on the military recruiting poster with a wry smile on his face.(by Bruce Eder)

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Personnel:
Ron Bacchiocchi (synthesizer)
Harry Chapin (guitar, vocals)
Don Grolnick (piano, harpsichord)
Don Payne (bass)
Allan Schwartzberg (drums)
John Tropea (guitar, sitar)
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Jim Chapin (drums on 04.)
Steve Chapin (piano on 04., 05. + 07.)
Tom Chapin (banjo on 04.)
Zizi Roberts (vocals)
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background vocals:
George Simms – Frank Simms – Dave Kondziela
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Tracklist:
01. Cat’s In The Cradle (S.Chapin/H.Chapin) 3.44
02. I Wanna Learn A Love Song (H.Chapin) 4.19
03. Shooting Star (H.Chapin) 4.02
04. 30,000 Pounds Of Bananas (H.Chapin) 5.45
05. She Sings Songs Without Words (H.Chapin) 3.31
06. What Made America Famous? (H.Chapin) 6.53
07. Vacancy (H.Chapin) 4.00
08. Halfway To Heaven (H.Chapin) 6.10
09. Six String Orchestra (H.Chapin) 5.25

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What a wonderful parody of rock musicians:

The very day I purchased it
I christened my guitar
As my monophonic symphony
Six string orchestra
In my room I’d practice late
They’d leave me alone
My mother said, “You’re nothing yet
To make the folks write home”

I’d play at all the talent nights
I’d finish, they’d applaud
Some called it muffled laughter
I just figured they were odd
So I went up for an encore
But they screamed they’d had enough
Or maybe I just need a group
To help me do my stuff

And so I’d dream a bass will join me
And fill the bottom in
And maybe now some lead guitar
So it would not sound so thin
I need some drums to set the beat
And help me keep in time
And way back in the distance
Some strings would sound so fine

And we would play together
Like fine musicians should
And it would sound like music
And the music would sound good
But in real life I’m stuck with
That same old formula
Me and my monophonic symphony
Six string orchestra

Oh, I write love songs for my favorite girl
And sing them soft and slow
But before I get to finish
She says she has to go
She’s nice and says “Excuse me
I’ve got to find a bar
I think I need refreshment
For I hear you play guitar”

Oh I sent a demo tape I made
To the record companies
Two came back address unknown
One came back C.O.D
Of course I got form letters
All saying pleasant things
Like suggesting I should find a trade
Where I would not have to sing

And so I’d dream a bass will join me
And fill the bottom in
And maybe now some lead guitar
So it would not sound so thin
I need some drums to set the beat
And help me keep in time
And way back in the distance
Some strings would sound so fine

And we would play together
Like fine musicians should
And it would sound like music
And the music would sound good
But in real life I’m stuck with
That same old formula
Me and my monophonic symphony
Six string orchestra

I’ve been taking guitar lessons
But my teacher just took leave
It was something about a break down
Or needing a reprieve
I know I found my future
So I will persevere
And hold onto my dream of
Making music to their ears

And so I’d dream a bass will join me
And fill the bottom in
And maybe now some lead guitar
So it would not sound so thin
I need some drums to set the beat
And help me keep in time
And way back in the distance
Some strings would sound so fine

And we would play together
Like fine musicians should
And it would sound like music
And the music would sound good
But in real life I’m stuck with
That same old formula
Me and my monophonic symphony
Six string orchestra

Oh finger tip
Oh some day, I’m gonna be a star

Harry Chapin – Short Stories (1973)

FrontCover1Short Stories is the third studio album by the American singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, released in 1973. (see 1973 in music). “W·O·L·D”, “Mr Tanner” and “Mail Order Annie” remained amongst his most popular work for the rest of his life. “W·O·L·D” went to number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The pensive tales of personal relationships on Short Stories belong to a bygone era, when the summer of love was yielding to the autumn of adulthood and the mundane realities that attended it. Like Jim Croce and James Taylor, Harry Chapin observes the melancholy side of life in self-contained character studies: the midlife assessment of a failed career and marriage on the poignant “WOLD,” a dry cleaner whose pretense to a singing career is exposed on “Mr. Tanner,” the meager dreams of a poor farmer and his mail-order bride on “Mail Order Annie.” Yet the album’s overall tone is sober rather than somber. Perhaps “Song for Myself” expresses it best when Chapin offers up the challenge: “Are we all gonna sit here with a stoned out smile and simply watch the world go ‘way?” For the songwriter, it’s a rhetorical question. If the subjects are flawed, unhappy, unable to appreciate or hold on to love, it’s the reality left in the wake of the ’60s overweening idealism. The loss of free love is lamented on “They Call Her Easy,” replaced by the cynicism of experience in “Changes.” Musically, the album has much in common with the work of Cat Stevens, leaning on Paul Leka’s orchestral arrangements to embellish otherwise dry songs. Chapin lacks Stevens’ affection for inventive melodies and off-kilter rhythms, but compared to a toned-down record like Catch Bull at Four, the two are strikingly similar. The fact remains that casual fans will be better served with a greatest-hits compilation that includes “WOLD” than wading through all of Short Stories. Those with a predilection for Chapin’s bittersweet muse will be better served by the whole album. (by Dave Connolly)

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Personnel:
Bobby Carlin (drums)
Harry Chapin (guitar, vocals)
Paul Leka (keyboards)
Michael Masters (cello)
Ronald Palmer (guitar, vocals)
Buddy Salzman (drums)
Tim Scott (cello)
John Wallace (bass, vocals)
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Dave Armstrong (harmonica on 11.)
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Background vocals:
Tomi Lee Bradley  – Jeanne French – Jeb Hart – Rob White

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Tracklist:
01, Short Stories 4.37
02. W·O·L·D 5.15
03. Song For Myself  4.30
04. Song Man 3.15
05. Changes 4.32
10. They Call Her Easy 4.05
11. Mr. Tanner 5.12
12. Mail Order Annie 4.56
13. There’s A Lot Of Lonely People Tonight 3.45
14. Old College Avenue 4.19

All songs written by Harry Chapin

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Harry Chapin – Sniper & Other Love Songs (1972)

FrontCover1Sniper and Other Love Songs is the second studio album by the American singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, released in 1972. The album’s title song is a vaguely fictionalised account of Charles Whitman’s shootings from the clocktower of the Main Building of the University of Texas at Austin in August 1966. In 2004 it was released as a double CD package with “Heads and Tales” featuring several previously unreleased out-takes.

The song “Circle” was a major hit for The New Seekers (released as “Circles”) and became known as the Chapin Anthem. “Sunday Morning Sunshine” cracked the Billboard Hot 100. A live version of “Better Place To Be” charted in 1976. (by wikipedia)

Sniper & Other Love Songs never sold remotely as well as its predecessor, Heads & Tales, mostly because it never had a hit single like “Taxi” to help lift it high on the charts, but it is actually a bolder and better album and a much more balanced record; the lack of an elaborately produced number like “Taxi” may have hurt sales, but it meant that no one song dominated the proceedings. Chapin sings better here than on his first album, with improved range and a lot more confidence, which extends to his songwriting as well — “Sunday Morning Sunshine” is a fine folk-based number that opens the album in achingly beautiful, genial fashion, but it’s on the second song, “Sniper,” that Chapin shows his real range.

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A ten-minute conceptual work, the latter has all the complexity and drama of a screenplay and a movie soundtrack woven into one, and is brilliantly performed/acted by Chapin; listening to it, one gets the impression of a real-life, soft rock version of Noel Airman, the composer character from the novel Marjorie Morningstar, who was forever trying out and reworking material from the Broadway show that he was planning for years; even overlooking the fact that Chapin did, of course, get to Broadway, there’s a sense of someone looking for a bigger canvas that records or singing songs on a concert stage can provide. The rest ranges from low-key, elegantly played, but unpretentious singer/songwriter material, built on beautiful melodies (“And the Baby Never Cries”) to fairly hard-rocking electric numbers (“Burning Herself”). Some of it, like “Barefoot Lady,” sounds a decade out of place in the 1970s, while other numbers, such as “Better Place to Be,” are the kind of extended soft-rocking, poetic numbers that collegiate audiences (at least, humanities majors) used to devour in the early ’70s. “Circle” is probably the most popular number ever to come off of the album, but it’s merely the most obvious personal statement here, rather than representative of this engaging and still very rewarding album, which finally showed up on CD in 2002, in time for its 30th anniversary, from the Wounded Bird label. (by Bruce Eder)

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Personnel:
Harry Chapin (guitar, vocals)
Steve Chapin (keyboards)
Russ Kunkel (drums, percussion)
Ron Palmer (guitar, vocals)
Tim Scott (cello)
John Wallace (bass, vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Sunday Morning Sunshine 3.51
02. Sniper 9.58
03. And The Baby Never Cries 5.09
04. Burning Herself 3.30
05. Barefoot Boy 3.29
06. Better Place To Be 8.36
07. Circle 3.24
08. Woman Child 5.24
09. Winter Song 2.31

All songs written by Harry Chapin

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