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).
"Cat's in the Cradle"
Side-A label of the U. S. vinyl single
Single by Harry Chapin
from the album Verities & Balderdash
B-side "Vacancy"
Released October 1, 1974
Recorded 1973
Genre Folk rock, soft rock[1]
Length 3:44
Label Elektra
Writer(s) Harry Chapin
Sandra Chapin
Producer(s) Paul Leka
Certification Gold
Harry Chapin singles chronology
"Mr. Tanner"
"Cat's in the Cradle"
"I Wanna Learn a Love Song"

"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, 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.[2] Harry also said the song was about his own relationship with his son, Josh, admitting, "Frankly, this song scares me to death."[3]

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]

  • The song appears three times in The Simpsons, in the Season 3 episode "Saturdays of Thunder", in the Season 6 episode "Bart's Girlfriend" and in the Season 25 episode, "Labor Pains".
  • The song also appears in "King of the Hill", in the Season 13 episode "What Happens at the National Propane Gas Convention in Memphis Stays at the National Propane Gas Convention in Memphis" at the end of the episode.
  • The song also appears in Shrek the Third, sung by Donkey, when Shrek learns he is going to be a father.
  • This song is also sung by Alan in the chapter of Two and a Half Men that Charlie is suspected to be the father of the son of an old ex-girlfriend.
  • In Australia, a one-minute television advertisement by the Quit campaign in the late 1980s used "Cat's in the Cradle." The song plays as a boy watches home movies of his late father, who died from smoking. Home movie footage of the father smoking is juxtaposed with images of the father clutching his chest and being hospitalized, and his funeral. At the end of the advertisement, the boy puts his hand on the screen showing his father's face, and the advertisement voice-over says, "Smoking. It's heartbreaking."
  • The song also briefly appears in an episode of the comedy TV show Scrubs entitled "My Unicorn" being performed by a man recently reunited with his adoptive son.
  • The song was featured in the "Modern Family" episode "A Slight At The Opera". During a round of golf, Jay and Mitch discuss how they have never played together; they (as well as Phil) are brought to tears when the song plays in the golf cart.
  • It was also used in the British government's public information film asking people to report suspected terrorist activity. It was only broadcast in the Ulster Television region.[4]
  • The song appears in Family Guy, in the Season 1 episode "The Son Also Draws".
  • The song also appears in The Office (U.S. TV series) in season 6 episode "St. Patrick's Day (The Office)", sung by Dwight Schrute to mock Jim Halpert for not being with his newborn.
  • In the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/PC game, Mass Effect 2, there is an unlockable trophy/achievement titled "Cat's In The Cradle", unlocked when the player earns the loyalty of Thane Krios after he/she helps him find his son on the Citadel.
  • The song was sampled in "Just Like Me," a song by Rap artist DMC featuring Sarah McLachlan. The song appeared on DMC's album Checks Thugs and Rock n Roll.
  • Despite completely opposite political views from Chapin, James Dobson frequently quoted the song's entire set of lyrics to illustrate dynamics of modern American families.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, in the episode 'Not A Father's Day', Barney Stinson (played by Neil Patrick Harris) is singing Cat's in the Cradle in the ending scene.
  • Real Life Comics references the song in the August 28, 2014 strip.[5]
  • A reference to the song appears in "Friends" in season 7 episode 22, "The One with Chandler's Dad" when Chandler admits that his father has been trying to get in contact with him. Chandler says "You know, it's all very cat's-in-the-cradle."
  • In Californication, season 2 episode "Going Down and Out in Beverly Hills", Hank curses the song and Harry Chapin, the "prophetic bastard", after trying in vain to get his daughter Becca to spend some time with him.
  • The song also appears in The Middle, in the Season 5 episode 9: "The Christmas Tree": first, in the dialogue between father and son and after between brothers.
  • The song appears in the video game Grand Theft Auto V on the in-game radio.
  • The song appears in the episode "Wake Up Time" of Cougar Town. [6]
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, post-grunge
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.[7] The song also peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The single sold 500,000 copies domestically, earning a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.[8][9]

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[10]
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.[11]
  • 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. ^ "VH1’s 40 Most Softsational Soft-Rock Songs". Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Mike Grayeb. "Behind the Song: Cats in the Cradle". Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  3. ^ "Chapin's introduction in a live performance of the song: "Cat's In The Cradle"". Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  4. ^ "British Government Public information film from 1980s". 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  5. ^ Greg Dean (2014-08-28). "Comic for Thursday, August 28, 2014". Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Best-Selling Records of 1993". Billboard (BPI Communications) 106 (3): 73. January 15, 1994. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  9. ^ "American certifications – Ugly Kid Joe – Cats in the Cradle". Recording Industry Association of America. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8. 

External links[edit]