World’s Worst Songs: Harry Chapin’s “Sequel”

From the cover of "Sequel," Harry Chapin's final album before his 1981 death in a traffic accident at age 39.

From the cover of “Sequel,” Harry Chapin’s final album before his 1981 death in a traffic accident.

Hell yes, I read your comments. And you asked for it: this week’s installment of World’s Worst Songs stars “Sequel” by Harry Chapin.

But first a bit of historical perspective. When “Sequel” came out at the end of 1980, it was quite a big deal. “Taxi” had captured listeners’ imaginations despite failing to become a big hit (only #24 on the Hot 100), and people were talking about “Sequel” even before they heard it.

“Sequel” begins compellingly enough, quoting the last lines of “Taxi” and then moving the scene forward 10 years in time. No-longer-stoned Harry rides in a cab to 16 Parkside Lane looking for Sue, but finds that she’s fallen on hard times. Nevertheless, she’s happy: “At last, I like myself,” she says. Conversation ensues, although it wouldn’t remind anybody of the Algonquin Round Table: “We talked of the tiny difference between ending and starting to begin.” And “We talked because talking tells you things / Like what you’re really thinking about.”

No shit—really? It was at this point, playing “Sequel” on my radio show for the first time way back then, that I began to actively hate it, but it’s an entirely different hate from the kind I feel for its predecessor. The best thing I can say for “Taxi” is that it glides gracefully along; “Sequel” is rhythmically stiff and strident. But the worst thing about it is that it makes no damn sense at all. The sex Harry and Sue may or may not have had left one or the other of them crying. Harry tries to leave money for her—which would be monumentally insulting to the now-well-adjusted Sue, and says more about Harry’s guilt over taking her money 10 years ago than it does about her situation today. And in the end, Harry says never mind what might have been; parhaps the way things turned out was just as well, but only time will tell.

That’s your big takeaway? Some people just shouldn’t give up drugs.

“Sequel” reached #23 on the Hot 100 in December 1980, and a few radio stations, mine included, created versions that spliced together both songs. Chapin performed them together, too.

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J.A. Bartlett
Writer, raconteur, radio geek, beer snob. There's more of this pondwater at http://jabartlett.wordpress.com.