Tim Hardin Top Ten  

OK, so this is where I start getting really opinionated. I have given elsewhere the track listings for the various Tim Hardin compilations that were issued but, then, do real fans actually agree with much of what is on the compilation albums? Here's one that doesn't, so with that in mind, I've compiled my favourite ten tracks. They are listed below. What I now want is for other fans to e-mail me their ten favourites. I'll try to compile a complete list of the tracks people most like. Perhaps a record company will actually take notice someday. Please note that the list is not in order of preference, but simply chronological order.

Hang On to a Dream It is appropriate that the song that brought me to appreciate the music of Tim Hardin should be the first on my list. However, I have to confess that the version that captivated me is not available on any album, but was recorded for John Peel's BBC radio programme, Top Gear in 1967. When I then bought the album. I was shocked to hear the strings come in and "waste" the song. I now gather that Tim felt the same when he first heard the final studio version and he had to be told, rather condescendingly, that John Lennon liked the resulting sound. Certainly, the sparer instrumentation on the live recordings is preferable, although the studio one has a distinctly classical feel. That opening piano and the vocals that follow have a barrenness and a sensation of complete hopelessness - a sound that permeated his career. You can hear a version of the song without the string accompaniment on the Phil Freeman video. It's worth looking out for. A few years ago, a fan kindly loaned me an open reel tape of the John Peel recording and I had it transcribed to CD. Although hissy, it is still wonderful.

It'll Never Happen Again It's just the way he sings the words of the title that get me every time, mixing determination, wistfulness and regret. Again, there are minor chords on a solo piano to start, but there is also a hint of jazziness to the piano playing that takes the song into another sphere. Then there's the middle section of the song, where Tim lets his feelings reach out in a way he rarely does, giving the song an unusual power. This crescendo sees him pleading that he wants to control his lover, but it leads straight back to an acceptance of defeat. And for once, the strings dubbed on by Artie Butler are effective at the ending.

Lenny's Tune Tim actually lived in Lenny Bruce's house for some time, whereas he never encountered Hank Williams. He sang about both these people and about the circumstances of their deaths. Amazingly, both songs could have just as easily been written as epitaphs for himself, and, as such, are painfully sad and ironic pieces of music. One would have thought that by writing these songs, he was capable of analysing the situations of the subject and avoiding their problems, but it seems he was simply running into a self-fulfilling prophesy. Of the two, the one on Bruce, only available on the live album, is the better, with a sharper picture of the comedian who couldn't handle his dependency. Interestingly, the basic chord structure is very similar to that of Hang On to a Dream, while the sound has a swirling, surreal feel to it, using musicians whose own jazz influences may have brought them close to the hard drugs theme of the song.

First Love Song I know that it's going to annoy many people that I've ignored much of the Verve material in favour of the CBS tracks, but I genuinely believe that once Tim moved away from his obsession with 12-bar that dominated those earlier years, he developed into the distinctively expressive singer that deserves more recognition. It is also the case that it is difficult for me to go beyond the Susan Moore album, the most heavily played in my collection. The voice has developed into a fragile, almost fractured, carrier for the most beautiful lyrics possible. Susan was clearly an inspiration for many of his songs, but the collection on this album is outstanding. Gone, incidentally, are the excessive production styles: one electric and, at certain beautiful points, one acoustic guitar are all that are necessary to support his solo voice on this inspired track.

Once Touched By Flame "The family's got me satisfied," he sings and certainly this is a song of a man at peace with the world. Warren Bernhardt provides a gentle electric piano backing to a song that describes poetically the love of a man watching his wife and child together. Towards the end, the backing develops into a sound resembling a church organ and one feels that this poem has become a hymn to motherhood. This is one of several songs that make up a challenging, yet rewarding work. I chose three tracks from it, but could have put even more into this top ten.

Last Sweet Moment Outstandingly beautiful, tender and loving, this is Damion's song. I find myself drawn to comparisons with Tim Buckley's wonderful, rambling Love From Room 109, with the combination of inspired instrumentation and throwaway vocals. The jazz-style drums of Donald McDonald contrast superbly with the precise congas, while Warren Bernhardt trills and meanders across his piano and an uncredited harmonica player (John Sebastian, I believe) adds flourishes and tones that make this a brilliant piece of music. The CD version of Tim Hardin 3 also has a splendid version of this song, with magnificent piano and bass playing, but the quality of the recording is poorer and the vocals are less tight.

Andre Johray A most unusual and disturbing song. Who is Andre? Is it Lenny Bruce, or Hank Williams? No, it's Tim himself, giving yet another warning about his inability to handle fame and fortune, without doing massive damage to himself and to the ones he loves around him. Tim was criticised for making an album that had a mixture of songs and poems, so his response is to produce a song that combines speech and singing in one. Again, the musical arrangement (by Bill Chelf) is outstanding, with the spoken parts building up under a string background to a peak where Tim's lisping, breathless voice pleads not to make the mistakes that come with the trappings of fame.

Moonshiner I was brought up on the folk version of this song - often sung in a rowdy fashion by amateur groups in folk clubs. The closest they had ever come to the notion of being a moonshiner was having a beer too many on a Saturday night. Then along came this meandering, gentle arrangement and you knew right away that Timmy had been there, lived through it and could write the book. He could certainly sing the song. His reflective vocals are supplemented wonderfully by delicately placed keyboards and vibes. Whoever arranged the percussion was creating a work of great artistry.

Georgia On My Mind Joe Zawinul is a brilliant jazz musician, responsible for Cannoball Adderley's Mercy Mercy Mercy and for much of the work by Weather Report. He arranged this song in an almost classical style. How often does one get to hear a bass part of such delicate quality? How often does a vocalist have the opportunity to sing against such contrasting tempos and swirling rhythms? Tim proves that although he is an able composer of songs that have become standards, he can interpret standards written by others and I can think of no other version of this song that comes close to the way it is performed here.

Yankee Lady It's difficult to choose just one track from the Painted Head album, which has several lyrical and beautifully expressive numbers that could easily fit into a compilation. After the scarcity of the Susan Moore album and the jazz tinges of Bird on a Wire, this album had a lot spent on it - probably for very little return. I'll Be Home has a full choir to pitch up its gospel mood and a number of the songs have Peter Frampton (ex-Humble Pie) on lead guitar adding some delicate touches. This song is Tim's sequel, almost, to Lady Came From Baltimore. Again, it looks at life with Susan, back in the days when he was still a struggling musician and she was well-to-do. Reflective in its mood, it suggests that Susan is now just a memory, but a good one. The song was written "in character" for Tim by Jesse Winchester.

Well, there we are. Ten tracks and not a mention of Misty Roses or Reason to Believe. Others that had to be cut out were Carpenter, Baltimore, Rising Sun, Magician, Speak Like a Child, If I Knew and so many others, including the whole of Nine, which is a splendid piece of work. I've also cut out the songs from Unforgiven, which I see as a work-in-progress. That's what happens when you set a limit of ten songs from someone who wrote and performed some of the finest songs of two decades. Perhaps I should have created two Top Tens - one for the 60s and the other for the later period. Some day, I may do so. If you disagree with my selection, please don't get angry about it - I could just as easily choose a different selection on a different day, depending on my mood. Similarly, my view on which versions of songs are preferable can vary. I therefore hope that you will consider sending me your views by e-mail to Webmaster (below) in the hope that I can build up a Fans' Top Ten.

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