"Harry's House/Centerpiece" as written by and Mitchell....
Heatwaves on the runway
As the wheels set down
He takes his baggage off the carousel
He takes a taxi into town
Yellow schools of taxi fishes
Jonah in a ticking whale
Caught up at the light in the fishnet windows
Of Bloomingdale's
Watching those high fashion girls
Skinny black models with Raven curls
Beauty parlor blonds with credit card eyes
Looking for the chic and the fancy
To buy

He opens up his suitcase
In the continental suite
And people twenty stories down
Colored currents in the street
A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof
Like a dragonfly on a tomb
And business men in button downs
Press into conference rooms
Battalions of paper-minded males
Talking commodities and sales
While at home their paper wives
And paper kids
Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid

Yellow checkers for the kitchen
Climbing ivy for the bath
She is lost in House and Gardens
He's caught up in Chief of Staff
He drifts off into the memory
Of the way she looked in school
With her body oiled and shining
At the public swimming pool

The more I'm with you, pretty baby
The more I feel my love increase
I'm building all my dreams around you
Our happiness will never cease
Cause nothing's any good without you
Baby you're my centerpiece

We'll find a house and garden somewhere
Along a country road a piece
A little cottage on the outskirts
Where we can really find release
Cause nothing's any good without you
Baby you're my centerpiece

Shining hair and shining skin
Shining as she reeled him in
To tell him like she did today
Just what he could do with Harry's House
And Harry's take home pay


Lyrics submitted by pumkinhed

"Harry's House/Centerpiece" as written by Harry Edward Edison Harry E. "sweets" Edison

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., MUSIC & MEDIA INT'L, INC.

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Harry's House/Centerpiece song meanings
Add your thoughts

5 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +2
    General CommentQuite possibly the most effective song about marital doldrums ever written.
    threearmedmanon March 30, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is one of joni's best... I heard it once 30 years ago and fell in love with it... it will have a renaissance because herbie recorded it, but tina is just not joni...

    Marriage is not always a happy or exciting time... lots of daily boring rituals...and the more thn occasional disdain for the partner... best line

    To tell him like she did today
    Just what he could do with Harry's House
    And Harry's take home pay
    underbanyantreeson March 01, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLove the flashback segment – really shows the naiveté of the moonstruck young lovers.
    Dionysuson January 11, 2014   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationAn examination of a marriage gone sour. The song, told in such a way that it’s almost like watching a film, describes the present circumstances of a husband and wife, then looks back into their past, and ends by giving an indication of where they’re headed.
    The husband, Harry, is visiting New York City on business while his discontented wife is back at home, presumably in LA. It might even be a later stage in the lives of the couple from the album’s title track (the house is still the husband’s, not theirs together), in which they’re now raising a family.

    The song opens like a movie, with fade-up music mimicking a plane’s engines relaxing towards touchdown, and the lyrics then begin with a description of the husband’s plane landing at a New York airport. The heatwaves on the runway and the wheels setting down are something the husband can’t actually see, so we’re immediately being presented with an external point of view, though as the song continues, it will enter and exit the characters’ thoughts at will. The heatwaves convey a sense of the heat of the day, which will prompt the later swimming-pool memory.
    He collects his suitcase from the luggage carousel, so we know this is going to be more than a day trip. And since all this seems routine to him, there’s the inference that he’s often away from home, possibly one of the sources of his wife’s discontent.
    He gets a taxi into Manhattan from the airport, sitting in the back seat while the meter clicks up the cost of the fare.
    As the taxi stops for traffic lights outside Bloomingdales department store, through his window he watches attractive women shoppers, including bleached-haired blondes used to luxuries paid for by their husbands. This is perhaps how he sees his wife. And while the written lyrics state that the black models have ‘raven curls’, in the sung version it sounds more like ‘raving curls’, suggesting that they convey a Medusa-like cautionary message to the husband, that he needs to keep his mind off attractive women and the dangers they present (this possibly being another problem within the marriage).

    He’s in a luxurious hotel suite thirty floors up (increased from twenty in the demo), and this, combined with the ‘chief of staff’ reference in the following verse and the fact that he’s been flown here at all, implies that he’s in a senior position in whatever organisation he’s a part of. Looking down into the street, the crowds walking along the sidewalks seem little more than patterns of moving colour (which may relate to how his job has taught him to see the world, if it involves discerning how people behave as groups - management, product development or advertising, for example).
    The song then uses the lovely simile of a helicopter arrival on a skyscraper roof looking like a dragonfly landing on a gravestone. Being east-facing, gravestones from a north or south elevation can resemble skyscrapers, and vice versa, and a crowded graveyard can look like Manhattan. Between 1965 and 1968 (which would seem to place this song in that time), helicopters used to ferry passengers in from JFK airport to the roof of the Pan Am building (Pan American airlines, now gone) beside Grand Central Station.
    Businessmen (all men in those days) wearing shirts with collar points that button down over their ties, crowd into rooms (the plural indicates that this is not a single conference, or it’s at least a conference with separate presentations or discussions). They distribute and examine papers laying out what’s important to them, money and commodities. The paper theme then morphs to describe their wives and children back home, who seem little more than assets which could be similarly evaluated on paper. It then morphs again into the wallpapering the deserted families are doing to keep their minds off their dissatisfactions.

    We now shift to the husband’s wife back home, who is planning out, or actually putting up, yellow patterned wallpaper in the kitchen, and arranging some climbing ivy in the bathroom. She’s immersed in decorating and lifestyle magazines, planning her next project to keep herself occupied.
    Meanwhile the husband is trapped in a meeting with the head of Personnel/HR. Sitting there looking out at the hot sunny weather, his mind wanders off into the schooldays image of his now-wife lying by the side of the local swimming pool, shining and alluring. ‘Love me, love me, love me...’ she sings, using her Siren-like attraction to draw him towards her from the pool (as the original Sirens drew men from the open water with their enchanting voices).
    The photograph inside the album’s original gatefold sleeve illustrates the swimming-pool imagery here.

    The song then segues into Centrepiece, a 1958 jazz standard, which suggests they were at school at that time (incidentally about the same time as the album’s opening song, In France They Kiss On Main Street). This tallies again with the main part of the song being set in the latter 1960s, by which time they’re married and have young children. The use of Centrepiece carries the message that she’s the centre of his life, or was back then, and that they foresaw their future as an idyllic life together in an idyllic house.

    But the reality hasn’t worked out like that for her. She’s dissatisfied with both the man and (possibly by extension) the house. We pass into the main song again through a litany of her complaints, presumably over the phone while he’s at his conference : he’s never home; she doesn’t like the sofa; the kids are driving her up the wall; nothing’s any good.

    Then we’re back in the main song, still holding on the image of her gleaming beside the swimming pool, but now it’s overtly stated that she consciously used her attractiveness to hook and reel him from the water like a fish she’d caught.
    And we pivot to the present day, where she’s drawn him in to her again, shining this time with anger, to tell him bluntly that she’s had enough of him, his house, and his money, with the strong implication that this is it and she’s leaving him.
    TrueThomason February 05, 2016   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation"Battalions of paper-minded males
    Talking commodities and sales
    While at home their paper wives
    And paper kids
    Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid"

    This lyric, and the entire verse even, is just so evocative. The last line always makes me laugh out loud. I wonder whether she intended the double-entendre that is implied by the context of "gut reactions"? Knowing Joni, I doubt any potential angle went over her head!
    sonicboy10on December 22, 2016   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain