If I Were A Carpenter

Album: Greatest Hits (1966)
Charted: 9 8
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • This was written by the folk singer Tim Hardin, who performed it at Woodstock in 1969. Hardin wrote "Reason To Believe" and some other songs that became popular for other artists. He dealt with drug problems and died in 1980 at age 39.
  • The lyrics are written from the perspective of a man asking an elegant woman if she would still love and marry him if he was just a carpenter. There may be some biblical meaning, as Jesus was a carpenter.
  • It had been three years since Bobby Darin had a hit record. The Beatles had arrived, and if it wasn't English, it didn't sell. Darin was still a very marketable talent; if he recorded a song, it was going to get a fair shot. Two music publishers, Charles Koppleman and Don Rubin, walked into his office one day and played him a song they felt was perfect for him: "Do You Believe in Magic?" After hearing it through one time Bobby was convinced it wasn't hit record material and told them so: "Very cute, but it will never be a hit." That song was eventually pitched to The Lovin' Spoonful and became a hit. Several months went by and these same guys came back by Bobby's office and played him another song they thought was perfect for him: "Summer in the City." Again, Bobby didn't like the song and turned it down. That one also went to The Lovin' Spoonful and sold over two and a half million records. More time went by and the two men called on Bobby a third time. Before they sat down he said, "I don't care what you got! I'm gonna record it," and he did. They pitched him "If I Were A Carpenter" and It became Darin's last big hit. Darin died in 1973 at age 37.
  • According to Mojo magazine February 2012, the song was partly inspired by engineer John Judnich, who built Hardin a small recording setup in fellow junkie Lenny Bruce's Sunset Plaza house.
  • Another inspiration was Hardin's love for actress Susan Morss, with whom he appeared on the cover of Tim Hardin 2. As Susan Yardley, she appeared in the Sally Field-starring TV series Gidget.
  • Hardin initially raged at the way Darin had appropriated his vocal style for the song, before later admitting to have personally coached Darin through the performance. Hardin later had his biggest hit when he recorded a song Darin wrote called "Simple Song Of Freedom," which made it to #47 in 1969.
  • According to an interview with Tim Hardin's pianist Warren Bernhard in Uncut, the reason why the singer-songwriter hated Bobby Darin's lushly orchestrated version was, "He liked the fact people were listening to his music, but he wanted them to hear him doing it."
  • Robert Plant covered the song on his 1993 album Fate of Nations; his version reached #33 in the UK. It's a fitting addition to an album in which Plant was trying to get back to the '60s music he was artistically born from.

Comments: 20

  • AnonymousYour website identifies tim Hardin as the writer of "If I were a Carpenter," but the listing on Google credits Darin with the authorship. Someone needs to change that.
  • Vicki from Cincinnati OhBob Seger did an outstanding version of this song.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyFifty years ago today on March 1st, 1970 "If I Were A Carpenter"* by Johnny Cash and June Carter peaked at #2 {for 1 week} on Billboard's Hot Country singles chart, for the week it was at #2, the #1 record for that week was "It's Just A Matter of Time" by Sonny James...
    And on March 7, 1970, "If I Were A Carpenter" reached #1 {for 1 week} on the Canadian RPM Country Singles chart...
    Between 1964 and 1976 the husband and wife duo had eight records on the Hot Country Singles chart, four made the Top 10 with their two biggest hits both peaking at #2, the above "If I Were A Carpenter" and "Jackson" for one week in April of 1967...
    Besides their two #2 records, their other two Top 10 were "It Ain't Me Babe" {#4 in 1964} and "Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man" {#6 in 1967}...
    May both Johnny Cash {1932 - 2003} and June Carter Cash {1929 - 2003} R.I.P.
    * For both their #2 records it was Sonny James who kept them out of the top spot, his "It's Just A Matter of Time" was at #1 for "If I Were A Carpenter", and for "Jackson" it was his "Need You" at #1...
    And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of the Hot Country Singles' Top 10 on March 1st, 1970:
    At #3. "Fightin' Side of Me" by Merle Haggard & the Strangers
    #4. "I'll See Him Through" by Tammy Wynette
    #5. "Honey Come Back" by Glen Campbell
    #6. "Welfare Cadillac" by Guy Drake
    #7. "Tennessee Birdwalk" by Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan
    #8. "Country Girl" by Jeannie C. Riley
    #9. "Occasional Wife" by Faron Young
    #10. "A Week In A Country Jail" by Tom T. Hall
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 27th 1969, "Simple Song of Freedom" by Tim Hardin entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #81; and on August 24th, 1969 it peaked at #50 (for 2 weeks) and spent 7 weeks on the Top 100...
    The song was composed by Bobby Darin, and Bobby made the Top 100 twice with songs composed by Tim Hardin; "If I Were A Carpenter" (peaked at #8 for 2 weeks on October 30th, 1966) and "The Lady Came From Baltimore" (reached #62 for 2 weeks on April 23rd, 1967)...
    "Simple Song of Freedom" was Tim Hardin only Top 100 record...
    R.I.P. Mr. Hardin, born James Timothy Hardin, (1941 - 1980) and Mr. Darin, born Walden Robert Cassotto, (1936 - 1973).
  • Fred from Laurel, MdAnother great Tim Hardin song of that time, that was done splendidly by Peter Paul & Mary, and later by Rod Stewart -- Reason To Believe.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdI must take issue with the contention that, "if it wasn't English, it didn't sell." Not only were the Lovin Spoonful doing fine at that time, as mentioned, but so were the Beachboys - many #1 hits, including several two-sided 45-rpm hits - and Sonny & Cher had, at one time, 5 of the top 10 singles! And there were The Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Mamas and Papas, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, ... Lots of American recording artists were quite popular during that time.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 21st 1968, "If I Were A Carpenter" by the Four Tops entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #99; and on June 2nd it peaked at #20 (for 2 weeks) and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #7 in the United Kingdom and #17 on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart...
    Sadly, three members of the original Four Tops have passed away; lead singer Levi Stubbs (1936 - 2008), Lawrence Payton (1938 - 1997), Renaldo Benson (1936 - 2005), and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir will celebrate his 79th birthday this coming December 26th...
    May Levi, Lawrence, & Renaldo R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 18th 1970, "If I Were A Carpenter" by Johnny Cash and June Carter entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on February 22nd it peaked at #36 (for 1 week) and spent 8 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #2 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart...
    The original version was track one of side one on Tim Hardin's 2nd studio album, 'Tim Harden 2'...
    Four other covered versions have charted on the Top 100; Bobby Darin (#8 in 1966), the Four Tops (#20 in 1968), Bob Seger (#76 in 1972), and Leon Russell (#73 in 1974)...
    Sadly, the song's composer, Tim Hardin, passed away on December 29th, 1980 at the young age of 39.
  • Niles from Belpre, OhRobert Plant did an incredible job too.
    I'm with you Lisa
  • Daniel from Farmingdale, NyThis song always moved me. I don't know exactly why. It's a very simple ballad of a man questioning the love he hopes a woman has for him but it has a timeless message to it that has a universal message. It's my favorite Bobby Darin song. No one could have sung it better. What a shame he died so young.
  • Bruce Muckala from Minnesota, MnThe story of the song pitching sounds like a myth as Richard in Toronto states: John Sebatian wrote the songs or co-wrote them so they couldn't be "pitched" to him.
  • Jim from Naples, FlAs it's more of a folksong, I prefer the earlier versions by Bobby and Tim.
  • Steve from Saint Louis, MoBobby Darin returned the songwriting favor and wrote "A Simple Song of Freedom" for Tim Hardin to sing. It is described in Wikipedia as one of Hardin's few commercial successes.
  • Niles from Belpre, OhThe Four Topps also recorded this song. I believe they did a fantastic job.
  • Elaine from Spokane, WaI agree with Lisa, Robert Plant's version is the best!
  • Jon from Oakridge, OrI like Johhny Cash's version of this.
  • Vince from Paliwag, KyI think the fact about the pitched songs was really just a fictional anecdote told by Darin in his last television special. It's a funny story, though.
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThe title "If I Were A Carpenter" was eventually re-used for a tribute album to (you guessed it) the Carpenters.
  • Lisa from Brampton, CanadaI like Robert Plant's version the best.
  • Richard from Toronto, CanadaIt doesn't make sense that Magic and Summer in the City were 'pitched'to the Spoonful, since both songs were composed by members of the Spoonful.

    There's something missing.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Modern A Cappella with Peder Karlsson of The Real Group

Modern A Cappella with Peder Karlsson of The Real GroupSong Writing

The leader of the Modern A Cappella movement talks about the genre.

David Bowie Lyrics Quiz

David Bowie Lyrics QuizMusic Quiz

How well do you know your David Bowie lyrics? Take this quiz to find out.

Alan Merrill of The Arrows

Alan Merrill of The ArrowsSongwriter Interviews

In her days with The Runaways, Joan Jett saw The Arrows perform "I Love Rock And Roll," which Alan Merrill co-wrote - that story and much more from this glam rock pioneer.

Spooner Oldham

Spooner OldhamSongwriter Interviews

His keyboard work helped define the Muscle Shoals sound and make him an integral part of many Neil Young recordings. Spooner is also an accomplished songwriter, whose hits include "I'm Your Puppet" and "Cry Like A Baby."

Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"

Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"They're Playing My Song

It wasn't her biggest hit as a songwriter (that would be "Bette Davis Eyes"), but "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" had a family connection for Jackie.

Part of Their World: The Stories and Songs of 13 Disney Princesses

Part of Their World: The Stories and Songs of 13 Disney PrincessesSong Writing

From "Some Day My Prince Will Come" to "Let It Go" - how Disney princess songs (and the women who sing them) have evolved.