Cat's in the Cradle

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For the CSI episode, see Cats in the Cradle (CSI).
Not to be confused with Cat's cradle (disambiguation).
"Cats in the Cradle"
Single by Harry Chapin
from the album Verities & Balderdash
B-side "Vacancy"
Released October 1, 1974
Recorded 1973
Genre Folk rock
Length 3:44
Label Elektra
Writer(s) Harry Chapin
Sandra Chapin
Producer(s) Paul Leka
Certification Gold

"Cat's in the Cradle" is a 1974 folk rock song by Harry Chapin from the album Verities & Balderdash. The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1974. As Chapin's only No. 1 hit song, it became the best known of his work and a staple for folk rock music.


The song's lyrics began as a poem written by Harry's wife, the former Sandra "Sandy" Gaston; the poem itself was inspired by the awkward relationship between her first husband, James Cashmore, and his father, John, a politician who served as Brooklyn Borough President. She was also inspired by a country music song she had heard on the radio.[1] Harry also said the song was about his own relationship with his son, Josh, admitting, "Frankly, this song scares me to death."[2]

Lyrical story[edit]

The song is told in the first-person by a father who is too busy with work to spend time with his son. Though the son asks him to join in childhood activities, the father always responds with little more than vague promises of spending time together in the 'future'. While wishing to spend time with his father, the son starts to model himself on his father's behavior, saying, "I'm gonna be like you, Dad". The first verse tells of the man's wife having the baby boy, but he is not present as "there were planes to catch and bills to pay". The second verse is the father buying the son a baseball as a birthday present and the son wishing to play catch with it, but the father declines and the son says "that's OK".

The final two verses reverse the roles. In the third verse, the son returns home from college and his father wants to spend some time with him. Instead, the son just wants to go out and asks the father for his car keys so he can do so. The fourth verse advances the story quite some time, as the father is long retired and his son has started his own family and no longer lives nearby. The father makes a phone call to his son and invites him for a visit, but the son has his own issues with his job and his children, who are sick with the flu. He tells his father he will visit him if he "can find the time" and says "it's been sure nice talking to you" before he says goodbye. The final two lines of the song reflect the father's observation of what has happened:

The song's chorus references several childhood things: The Cat's in the Cradle string game, silver spoons that are given to babies as christening gifts, and the nursery rhymes, Little Boy Blue, and Man in the Moon.

Popular culture[edit]

Preceded by
"Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
December 21, 1974 (one week)
Succeeded by
"Angie Baby" by Helen Reddy

Ugly Kid Joe version[edit]

"Cat's in the Cradle"
Single by Ugly Kid Joe
from the album America's Least Wanted
Released March 25, 1993
Recorded 1992
Genre Hard rock
Length 4:01
Label Mercury
Writer(s) Harry Chapin
Sandra Chapin
Producer(s) Mark Dodson
Certification Gold
Ugly Kid Joe singles chronology
"So Damn Cool"
"Cat's in the Cradle"
"Busy Bee"

In 1992, the hard rock band Ugly Kid Joe included a cover of "Cat's in the Cradle" on their debut album America's Least Wanted. The cover was issued as a single in 1993 and peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, the group's highest ever position on that chart.[5] The song also peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Chapin's and Ugly Kid Joe's singles were both certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.[6]

Track listings[edit]


  1. Cats In The Cradle 4:01
  2. Panhandlin' Prince 5:41
  3. Whiplash Liquor (Live) 3:46
  4. Neighbor (Live) 4:40


  1. Cats In The Cradle 4:01
  2. Come Tomorrow (Live) 5:00


Chart (1993) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 6
UK Singles Chart 7
German Singles Chart 10[7]
Austrian Singles Chart 7
Swiss Singles Chart 5
Dutch Top 40 Singles Chart 12
Belgian Singles Chart 20
French Singles Chart 28
Swedish Singles Chart 4
Norwegian Singles Chart 2
Australian Singles Chart 1
New Zealand Singles Chart 4
Preceded by
"You Don't Treat Me No Good" by Sonia Dada
Australia ARIA Singles Chart number-one single (Ugly Kid Joe version)
25 March 1993 – 3 April 1993
Succeeded by
"Are You Gonna Go My Way" by Lenny Kravitz

Other cover versions[edit]

  • Judy Collins incorporated the song into her repertoire during the late 1980s, and continues to frequently perform it at her concerts; she also included a recording of it on her 1989 album Sanity and Grace and performs it on the Harry Chapin Tribute concert CD.
  • In 1995, country music artist Ricky Skaggs covered the song on his album Solid Ground. The cover was released as a single in 1996 and peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.[8]
  • In 1981, country music artist Rex Allen Jr. covered the song on his album The Cat's in the Cradle.
  • The song was also covered by Johnny Cash on his 1990 album Boom Chicka Boom.
  • The song was also covered by Celtic Thunder member George Donaldson on the 2012 "Voyage" album.
  • John Levene covered this song on his 2012 album The Ballads of Sergeant Benton
  • Tori Amos covered the song during the LIzard Lounge section of her concert in Johannesburg on 27 June 2014.
  • The song was also covered by British Comedian Jim Davidson to close out one of his TV series in 1993.
  • There's also a cover version by the 1990s Los Angeles glam metal band Kik Tracee.


  1. ^ Mike Grayeb. "Behind the Song: Cats in the Cradle". Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  2. ^ "Chapin's introduction in a live performance of the song: "Cat's In The Cradle"". Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  3. ^ "British Government Public information film from 1980s". 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  4. ^ Greg Dean (2014-08-28). "Comic for Thursday, August 28, 2014". Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "RIAA - Gold & Platinum - August 21, 2010: Ugly Kid Joe certified singles". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved August 21, 2010. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8. 

External links[edit]