Greatest Stories Live – Harry Chapin

The MARK’S VINTAGE VINYL page features something from Mark’s collection of recordings from over the years. Most of it is on vinyl – hence the name – though there will be a few entries from his CDs (remember those?).

Greatest Stories Live, by Harry Chapin

  • First live album released by Harry Chapin in 1976.
  • As most kids in the 70s, I first heard of Chapin when he released his “story-song” Taxi from his debut album in 1972. It’s classic Chapin – kinda folksie, heartwarming but sad, a little too long for radio (almost 7 minutes) – but it still managed to chart at #24 on the Hot 100. He followed with several other hits – most notably, WOLD and Cats In The Cradle – and I was hooked.
  • When he released his live album, I bought it, and immediately learned that his real genius was in concert. He had a wonderful skill of connecting with his audience – it was like Harry telling stories via songs at the campfire with 10,000 people singing along. I was fortunate enough to see him perform 3 times in the late 70s and early 80s, before his untimely accidental death in 1981. For more on Chapin, see my post from June 4, 2017.
  • The Greatest Stories Live album covers his most popular songs, plus 3 new studio tracks (one of which is the most depressing song I’ve ever heard – called The Shortest Story, it’s about an abused baby who dies at 20 days old). A couple of the live songs are worth noting. The eleven plus minute live version of his novelty song 30,000 Pounds of Bananas fictionalizes the true story of a truck driver who lost control of his truck while delivering bananas to a warehouse in Scranton PA. Chapin’s live version includes 2 alternate endings that Chapin claimed that he considered – when he plays them for the audience, both of his brothers (who performed in the band) famously say “Harry…it sucks.” The live version of his song A Better Place To Be, about a midnight watchman who confides to a waitress about a one night stand that he had the night before and ultimately does the same with the waitress, was released as a single. It managed to break into the Hot 100 chart, peaking at #86, despite its 9:30 length – it was the longest song ever to chart until David Bowie’s Blackstar charted in 2015, at 9:57 (see my post on Long Songs from March 8, 2020).
  • I’ve always felt that Chapin was underappreciated (the critics hated him, especially Rolling Stone). He received 2 awards for his humanitarian work after his death – the President’s Certificate of Merit Award in 1986 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1987. He also was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2011. Here is Chapin performing one of my all time favorite songs, Mr. Tanner, a fictionalized true story about a man in Ohio who has a gift for singing and rents a concert hall in New York City to perform, only to be panned by the critics. Enjoy!


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