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|Single by Harry Chapin|
|from the album Heads and Tales|
"Taxi" is a song written and performed by Harry Chapin from his 1972 album Heads and Tales. Chapin debuted the song on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1972, which was followed by many calls and telegrams sent from viewers to NBC demanding that Chapin return to the show. It was the first time in the show's history that host Johnny Carson brought a performer back the very next night for an encore performance. "Taxi" thus front-lined his defining work. The single helped establish Chapin's musical style and fame, and as a result, many Chapin items featured taxi-related imagery. Legendary WMEX-Boston Radio Personality Jim Connors is credited with a Gold record for discovering Chapin and pushing his single "Taxi" to #24 on the Billboard charts, where it would last 16 weeks on the Hot 100, in the United States. Billboard ranked it as the No. 85 song for 1972. In Canada, the song reached number five, and is ranked as the No. 37 song for 1972.
The song tells the story of Harry, a cab driver, on a rainy night in San Francisco. He picks up a woman, his last fare for the night, and she asks to be taken to her home at 16 Parkside Lane. Harry finds the woman familiar at first, but she doesn't seem to recognize him until after she looks at him in the rear-view mirror and at his license. It is then revealed that she is Sue, Harry's old lover.
In flashback, Harry remembers how he "used to take her home in [his] car" and also how they "learned about love in the back of a Dodge". Sue had wanted to be an actress, while Harry was going to learn to fly (hinting at Chapin's earlier real-life experience at the United States Air Force Academy). Their relationship ended when Sue "took off to find the footlights" and Harry "took off to find the sky".
- Baby's so high, that she's skying
- Yes she's flying, afraid to fall
- I'll tell you why baby's crying
- Cause she's dying, aren't we all...
Harry arrives at Sue's home where she offers to get together with him sometime, with Harry knowing "it'd never be arranged". Sue pays him a $20 bill for "a $2.50 fare" and says, "Harry, keep the change" to which he "stashed the bill in [his] shirt". As Sue walks into her "handsome home", Harry finally realizes that "[they'd] both gotten what [they'd] asked for such a long, long time ago": Sue is now "acting happy" in a loveless marriage, while he is "flying" by driving a taxi and 'getting stoned.'
In 1980, Chapin wrote and composed a follow-up to the song, titled "Sequel," which he released on the album of the same name. Written in the same style as "Taxi," it continues the story of Harry and Sue with them meeting again ten years later. Released as a single, "Sequel" peaked one position higher, but lasted two weeks less, on the Hot 100 than "Taxi".
In the song, Harry, who has now become a successful musician, has returned to San Francisco for a concert there, and has "eight hours to kill before the show." He decides to take a taxi (after rejecting options of "taking a limousine / Or at least a fancy car") to Sue's 16 Parkside Lane address only to discover, from the butler who answers the door, that she no longer lives there. The butler gives Harry the address to which Sue's letters are being forwarded, which Harry gives to the cab driver along with money for another fare. The address proves to be that of a rundown brownstone apartment, where Sue once again recognizes Harry:
- And she said, “How are you, Harry?
- “Haven't we played this scene before?”
- I said, “It's so good to see you, Sue
- “Had to play it out just once more...
- “Play it out just once more.”
Sue proves to have nothing, but she is now happy with herself. Harry is cryptic about their reunion, urging listeners not to ask for details by saying, "If I answered at all I'd lie." The song ends with:
- I guess it's a sequel to our story
- From the journey 'tween heaven and hell
- With half the time thinking of what might have been
- And half thinkin' just as well.
- I guess only time will tell.
According to the liner notes in The Essentials: Harry Chapin, Chapin was inspired to write the song when he happened upon an old lover, as the cabbie in the song does. Chapin was merely on his way to a taxi license examination in New York City, not San Francisco. Chapin also stated that "Taxi" is only "about sixty-percent true".
However, according to Chapin's biography Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story, by Peter M. Coan, this song was based on a relationship that Chapin had with a Bennett Junior College student named Clare MacIntyre, the inspiration for Sue. They met when they were both camp counselors at neighboring summer camps during their college years.
- The song was covered by William Shatner in a performance on Dinah!.
- During Chapin's later concerts, Big John would sing the song's first verse in the form of a disco-style as the third alternate ending to "30,000 Pounds of Bananas."
- The song was covered by Mandy Patinkin on his Experiment album.
- After "Sequel", Chapin once joked that if he wrote a third act to the song, that it would be called "Hearse" so he could just kill off the characters. Chapin died some seven months after "Sequel" peaked.
- The song was covered by Lee Hazlewood on his I'll be Your Baby Tonight album.