If the name Harry Chapin is familiar to you it is most likely because of Cats in the Cradle, his chart-topping hit from 1974. His first foray into the top forty was a more bittersweet entry.
Harry’s first expectation of a career was making documentary films. He directed a film about boxing in 1968 and even received an Academy Award nomination. By 1971 he had left that dream behind and started driving a taxi to make ends meet. He eventually started playing and singing in nightclubs in New York City. He was good enough that several record labels competed to sign him to a contract, and Elektra Records signed him to a multi-million dollar contract. His first album, Heads & Tales followed later that year.
The first single from the album was Taxi. The song tells the story of a taxi driver picking up a lost love. While it’s easy to think that the story in the song was based on Harry’s past, he insists it was simply his reaction to hearing about an old girlfriend who married an older man.
The record faced an uphill battle fighting for airplay: it was six minutes and forty seconds long, and the promotional copy sent around by the record company was not cut down to a shorter version. A single listen to the song will reveal the difficulty anybody would face trying to cut out any of the lyrics. Harry got some help promoting the long record from Jim Connors, a disk jockey at WMEX radio in Boston, and it eventually got up to #24 in 1972.
A few years later Harry recorded a follow-up to the song that was aptly named Sequel. He often sang Taxi and Sequel together in concert as one long story.
Harry spent a lot of time (and money) supporting non-profit organizations during his lifetime, especially those related to fighting hunger. He was tragically killed in an accident while driving to perform at a free concert in 1981 at the age of 38.