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Why is this man not more famous?
on 26 April 2006
In 1974 I was a working night-club DJ. One day I unpacked a package of new promo singles sent from WEA (Warner Elektra Atlantic) records. One of the new Elektra singles was by a guy called Harry Chapin, and the single was called "WOLD". Well, when you daily receive singles with songs called "Shake Your Booty" or "Do Your Thang" and "Take your body to the disco tonite", a title like "WOLD" just has to stand out from the crowd, right?
Intruiged, I played the record and you know what? I've been playing it pretty often ever since! If you've never heard of it, or the "Short Stories" album it came from, then listen up! You may have just made a discovery.
All the tracks on that album are exactly what the title suggests, each one tells a short story. WOLD is the tale of a man who is the morning DJ on the radio station of the title. The tale concerns how he became a FM Jock and how - we infer - he screwed up his marriage and family life in pursuit of sticking with that goal, and now regrets it. Like many Chapin songs, this track contains some great lyrics. Example: "Sometimes I get this crazy dream that I just take off in my car / But you can travel on ten thousand miles and still stay where you are".
Harry's other albums all had nuggets on them too - and whoever put this compilation together knew their way around the Chapin archive, all the very best cuts are here. Another favourite of mine is "Cat's In the Cradle" - another song that tells how life and work can rob people of their relationships, sometimes without their realising it, until it's too late.
Harry died in a car crash in 1981, he was 38 years old. It's a sadness to me that he and his work are not better known and remembered in the UK, but the two singles I have mentioned here are certainly not forgotten and still sometimes get airplay here. Wouldn't it be nice if the rest of his work were rediscovered by a younger age group? - honouring him as a predecessor to modern day singer songwriters such as James Blunt and Daniel Powter whose work - whether they know it or not - sometimes contains some pretty strong echoes of the late, great, Harry Chapin.