I Wanna Learn a Love Song

Album: Verities & Balderdash (1974)
Charted: 44
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Songfacts®:

  • In this song, Chapin describes how he met his wife, Sandy, when he gave her guitar lessons at her home. Sandy told us the story: "I had three little kids, and I wanted to do old folk songs with them. I thought it was fun to do 'Little Old Wagon Painted Blue,' and 'The Bucks Go Down In The Town-o.' I was a teacher, and when I was studying, they told us that American folk songs were the only true American music, not derived from other places. So I had an interest in that. And I can't ever say I played very well, but I had taken piano lessons. That doesn't really work, because I wanted to sit on the floor, and do games and stuff. And I used to do that with little kids, like, we used to march to bed to 'Marching To Pretoria.' So I thought I'd like to learn to play guitar, and I tried a couple of avenues. There was one person I found who would give guitar lessons, but he was in the Upper West Side, and I was in Brooklyn Heights. And it would mean getting a babysitter and doing all that traveling for a one hour guitar lesson. I kind of dropped the idea, and then I got a call out of the blue because I think one of the people I had talked to had left a note with Harry's mom. Harry was out working in California after doing some work shooting commercials. He was out there for a year or more, and then he came back, was between jobs, and I guess his mother handed him the note. So by the time he called I had kind of forgotten, and didn't quite know what to make of the call. But I started the lessons, which were intermittent, because Harry was doing other things. We had some guitar lessons, and I wasn't very good, so I tried to be very diligent. And then after the guitar lesson, Harry would play some of the songs that he already had written, some of which were back when he was at Cornell. Some of the early ones like 'Run Red River Run,' and 'Let Me Down Easy' - kind of folk songs.

    The house is a brownstone, the first story is the kitchen, the second story is the so-called parlor, and then the top two floors are bedrooms. Downstairs there was a den, and my husband at the time always had poker night, and that was why I was doing those guitar lessons at the same time. Harry takes the song a little further… 'So one night when the lights were dim,' a little poetic license."
  • Harry Chapin took a lot of liberties with his lyrics in order to make them sound better. Sandy clears up some of the details: "Well, it's sort of metaphorical, because he says, 'Concrete castle king.' My first husband was a lawyer, so I think the concrete castle king was more related to the fact that when I met Harry and I was taking guitar lessons, I lived in a 4-story brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. So I think the concrete castle was the brownstone rather than that I was married to a contractor - it's kind of like whatever fit the poetry. And early on when we were dating, I took him to my parents' summer home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and I took him to a place there that everybody goes to visit, a historic site called Dogtown. It was where the original town stood on the top of the highest hill, and eventually everybody in the town moved down to the waterfront where the merchants related to the fishing industry lived. Well, Harry talks about a whaling town. And there was never any whaling in Gloucester. There was whaling in New Bedford, Massachusetts, there was whaling in Cold Spring Harbor and Long Island. I mean, there were definitely old whaling towns, but that happened not to be a whaling town. But it still today is a fishing town. So there would be those variations, because after all it was a song." (Read more about Harry in our interview with Sandy Chapin)

Comments: 1

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 26th 1975, Harry Chapin's Broadway revue 'The Night That Made America Famous' opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City...
    The revue ran for forty-seven performances and was nominated for two Tony Awards...
    At the time Harry's "I Wanna Learn A Love Song" was at #77 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; a little under four weeks later on March 23rd it would peak at #44 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 9 weeks...
    It reached #36 on the Canadian RPM Singles chart...
    Between 1972 and 1980 he had seven Top 100 records; one made the Top 10, but that was a big one, "Cat's In the Cradle" peaked at #1 {for 1 week} on December 15th, 1974...
    Sadly, Harry Chapin passed away on July 16th, 1981 at the young age of 38...
    May he R.I.P.
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