Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Harry Chapin - Verities & Balderdash (1974)

From first glance this album has a forceful message.  With Harry sporting an Uncle Sam "I Want You!" pose he singles out the listener before the album is even purchased. 

Largely due to the oft-covered Cats in the Cradle, Verities and Balderdash is Harry Chapin’s best known album. Harry was busy in 1974 as this was the 2nd album he released that year (although Short Stories was recorded in 1973 it wasn’t released until 1974). Short Stories and Verities and Balderdash bookend each other nicely. Harry and his band built on the strengths of Short Stories and recorded what some would argue was his best album to that point.

The album opens with Cats in the Cradle which may actually have done the album a disservice in the era of LPs as there are a lot of other excellent songs on the album and any listener who might hear Cats in the Cradle may or may not have continued on to the rest of the album. Anyone skipping the rest of the album is doing him or herself a tremendous disservice.

After Cats in the Cradle is the autobiographical, I Wanna Learn a Love Song which tells the tale of how Harry met his wife, Sandy, several years before. The song later became a staple of Harry’s live set.

Shooting Star is another of Harry’s story-telling gems about a woman married to a man who is mentally ill. At its core it’s a beautiful love song—a woman standing by her man through all of his mental difficulties even as the rest of the world would either laugh at or ignore him.

One of Harry’s most popular live staples, 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, made its first appearance on Verities and Balderdash. As enjoyable as the song is, the live version took on a life of its own and easily eclipses the original studio version that appears on this album. Both musically and lyrically this is a purely fun and enjoyable album. The live version is sped up at points to great effect as it fits the lyrics as Harry tells the story of the out of control truck of bananas. Incidentally, the song is based on an actual truck crash in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Other notable tracks include Vacancy and What Made America Famous, an ode of sorts to our nation's then upcoming bicentennial.  Today it sounds somewhat dated but it's still an enjoyable song when enjoyed within the context of when it was recorded.

While not quite as strong as Short Stories, Verities & Balderdash is consistently enjoyable and shows Harry's further growth as a songwriter with the albums stronger tracks including his trademark, Cats in the Cradle.  Give it a listen, you won't be disappointed.

Related Links & Media
Cats In the Cradle (Live on PBS Soundstage)
30,000 lbs. of Bananas (Live @ Rockaplast 1977)

What Made America Famous (live on PBS Soundstage)

Harry Chapin (official site)
Harry Chapin (wikipedia)


Charlie said...

This was the album that made Harry a star (almost). Ranking his albums is hard because during this most of the 70s he made no weak ones.

Perplexio said...

Charlie: I agree, from Short Stories on his albums are consistently good. And even the first two which were only weaker by comparison had their moments and can be excused/explained by Harry still finding his voice and getting more comfortable as a performer.