Picking the worst records of all time requires a ground rule. It's easy to bash pathetic sludge ("Rock Me Amadeus," say, or anything by David Geddes), but it's more interesting to take on records with major critical reputations, records that were major hits, or records people like to fawn over. And I heard one of 'em when I was driving around with the radio on last Saturday.
People used to call me on my radio shows and ask for Harry Chapin's "Taxi," and some of them spoke of it with the kind of reverence usually reserved for Great Art--which "Taxi" is not. When you really listen to it, there's much less than initially meets the ear.
"It was rainin' hard in Frisco/I needed one more fare to make my night" is an arresting couplet with which to open a story. And for the first verse, you're actually interested in what's going on. Certainly it would be possible for a big-city cabbie to pick up his first love one night. It might be interesting to eavesdrop on the conversation. And you might expect a talented songwriter to find some universal truth in the experience. You feel this potential as you listen, and "Taxi"'s biggest hook is the time it takes for all of this to unfold. What you don't notice right away is that Chapin is doing nothing with the setup except stringing it out.
And then "She hand me 20 dollars for a two-fifty fare and said 'Harry, keep the change.'" This is supposed to the emotional climax of the song. It is instead the point at which I throw up my hands. Is she flinging her wealth in the face of a mere cabbie? Is she guilty over leaving him? Or was he really that good in the back seat all those years ago? We're intended to fill in the blank ourselves, but none of these alternatives, or any of the others I've been able to think of over the years, seems sufficiently interesting to merit all the buildup. And when Chapin caps the song off with a stupid early-70s drug reference about driving his cab while stoned, I'm ready to turn him in to the taxi commission.
So give me "W.O.L.D" or even "30,000 Pounds of Bananas." You can keep "Taxi."
(Elektra Records #45770, chart peak #24, June 3, 1972)