"There Only Was One Choice" as written by and Harry F. Chapin....
There's a kid out on my corner, hear him strumming like a fool
Shivering in his dungerees, but still he's going to school
His cheeks are made of peach fuzz -- his hopes may be the same
But he's signed up as a soldier out to play the music game

There are fake patches on his jacket -- he's used bleach to fade his jeans
With a brand new stay pressed shirt -- and some creased and wrinkled dreams
His face a blemish garden -- but his eyes are virgin clear
His voice is Chicken Little's -- But he's hearing Paul Revere

When he catches himself giggling -- he forces up a sneer
Though he'd rather have a milk shake -- he keeps forcing down the beer
Just another folkie -- late in coming down the pike
Riding his guitar -- he left Kid brother with his bike

And he's got Guthrie running in his bones
He's the hobo kid who's left his home
And his Beatles records and the Rolling Stones
This boy is staying acoustic

There's Seeger singing in his heart
He hopes his songs will somehow start
To heal the cracks that split apart
America gone plastic

And now there's Dylan dripping from his mouth
He's hitching himself way down south
To learn a little black and blues
From old street men who paid their dues

'Cause they knew they had nothing to lose
They knew it
So they just got to it
With cracked old Gibsons and red clay shoes

Playing 1-4-5 chords like good news
And cursed with skin that calls for blood
They put their face and feet in mud
But oh they learned the music from way down there

The real ones learn it somewhere
Strum your guitar -- sing it kid
Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did
Inexperience -- it once had cursed me

But your youth is no handicap -- it's what makes you thirsty
Hey, kid you know you can hear your footsteps as you're kicking up the dust
And the rustling in the shadows tells you secrets you can trust
The capturing of whispers is the way to write a song

It's when you get to microphones the music can go wrong
You can't see the audience with spotlights in your eyes
Your feet can't feel the highway from where the Lear jet flies
When you glide in silent splendor in your padded limousines

Only you are crying there behind the silver screen
Now you battle dragons -- but they'll all turn into frogs
When you grab the wheel of fortune -- you get caught up in the cogs
First your art turns into craft -- then the yahoos start to laugh

Then you'll hear the jackals howl 'cause they love to watch the fall
They're the lost ones out there feeding on the wounded and the bleeding
They always are the first to see the cracks upon the walls
When I started this song I was still thirty-three

The age that Mozart died and sweet Jesus was set free
Keats and Shelley too soon finished, Charley Parker would be
And I fantasized some tragedy'd be soon curtailing me
Well just today I had my birthday -- I made it thirty-four

Mere mortal, not immortal, not star-crossed anymore
I've got this problem with my aging I no longer can ignore
A tame and toothless tabby can't produce a lion's roar
And I can't help being frightened on these midnight afternoons

When I ask the loaded questions -- Why does winter come so soon?
And where are all the golden girls that I was singing for
The daybreak chorus of my dreams serenades no more
Yeah the minute man is going soft -- the mirror's on the shelf

Only when the truth's up there -- can you fool yourself
I am the aged jester -- who won't gracefully retire
A clumsy clown without a net caught staggering on the high wire
Yesterday's a collar that has settled round my waist

Today keeps slipping by me, it leaves no aftertaste
Tomorrow is a daydream, the future's never true
Am I just a fading fire or a breeze passing through?
Hello my Country

I once came to tell everyone your story
Your passion was my poetry
And your past my most potent glory
Your promise was my prayer

Your hypocrisy my nightmare
And your problems fill my present
Are we both going somewhere?
Step right up young lady -- Your two hundred birthdays make you old if not

Senile
And we see the symptoms there in your rigor mortis smile
With your old folks eating dog food and your children eating paint
While the pirates own the flag and sell us sermons on restraint

And while blood's the only language that your deaf old ears can hear
And still you will not answer with that message coming clear
Does it mean there's no more ripples in your tired old glory stream
And the buzzards own the carcass of your dream?

B*U*Y Centennial
Sell 'em pre-canned laughter
American Perennial
Sing happy ever after

There's a Dance Band on the Titanic
Singing Nearer My God to Thee
And the iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me

Yes I read it in the New York Times
That was on the stands today
It said that dreams were out of fashion
We'll hear no more empty promises

There'll be no more wasted passions
To clutter up our play
It really was a good sign
The words went on to say

It shows that we are growing up
In oh so many healthy ways
And I told myself this is
Exactly where I'm at

But I don't much like thinking about that
Harry -- are you really so naive
You can honestly believe
That the country's getting better

When all you do is let her alone
Harry -- Can you really be surprised
When it's there before your eyes
When you hold the knife that carves her

You live the life that starves her to the bone
Good dreams don't come cheap
You've got to pay for them
If you just dream when you're asleep

There is no way for them
To come alive
To survive
It's not enough to listen -- it's not enough to see

When the hurricane is coming on it's not enough to flee
It's not enough to be in love -- we hide behind that word
It's not enough to be alive when your future's been deferred
What I've run through my body, what I've run through my mind

My breath's the only rhythm -- and the tempo is my time
My enemy is hopelessness -- my ally honest doubt
The answer is a question that I never will find out
Is music propaganda -- should I boogie, Rock and Roll

Or just an early warning system hitched up to my soul
Am I observer or participant or huckster of belief
Making too much of a life so mercifully brief?
So I stride down sunny streets and the band plays back my song

They're applauding at my shadow long after I am gone
Should I hold this wistful notion that the journey is worthwhile
Or tiptoe cross the chasm with a song and a smile
Well I got up this morning -- I don't need to know no more

It evaporated nightmares that had boiled the night before
With every new day's dawning my kid climbs in my bed
And tells the cynics of the board room your language is dead
And as I wander with my music through the jungles of despair

My kid will learn guitar and find his street corner somewhere
There he'll make the silence listen to the dream behind the voice
And show his minstrel Hamlet daddy that there only was one choice
Strum your guitar -- sing it kid

Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did
Inexperience -- it once had cursed me
But your youth is no handicap -- it's what makes you thirsty, hey kid
Strum your guitar -- sing it kid

Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did
Dance Band...


Lyrics submitted by kevin

"There Only Was One Choice" as written by Harry F. Chapin

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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There Only Was One Choice song meanings
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6 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentOne of the many things I love about this song is the comparison of America to the sinking Titanic. America, the most powerful country in the world - unsinkable - is slowly capsizing while Harry feels he is nothing more than a fiddler, singing as the ship goes down.

    Good dreams don't come cheap
    You've got to pay for them
    If you just dream when you're asleep
    There is no way for them
    to come alive
    to survive
    - this is my all-time favorite quote, it's very inspirational. You have to work hard to achieve your dreams, or else they'll stay just that- a dream.
    Acephalouson February 05, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentTo my knowledge HC never did specify what this song is about in any interviews I ever saw or read, just a quick reference to it's epic length while appearing on "Tonight Show" (he didn't sing it).

    As best I can tell, this is HC dealing with aging and questioning whether his charity work and activism or worth the trouble and making a positive difference while contemplating the politics of the music Industry, which he never liked.

    It seems as if HC is looking a younger version of himself in the song's beginning, the "There's a kid out on my corner, hear him strumming like a fool
    Shivering in his dungerees, but still he's going to school
    His cheeks are made of peach fuzz -- his hopes may be the same
    But he's signed up as a soldier out to play the music game " intro seems like a reference to himself early in his career, with HC as the older, wiser guy attempting to give the younger him advice on whether he should get into music and if so what he can expect, good & bad.

    Then the song veers into HC looking back on why he got into music in the 1st place, his passion for "telling" America's story, which leads to his critique of country's politics and state of being heading into the Bi Centenial Celebraton, which could have been looked at as hypocritical given the problems facing the country, people largely ignoring them in favor of the "Feel Good" moment of the celebration.

    This leads into HC pondering whether his career and later his activism are worth it as he deals with getting older and seemingly not having accomplished what he wanted.

    Finally, in the song's finale, HC decides that in fact the activism and the music, for all of the trouble, are in fact worth it, thanks in part to his son, who's youthfull innocence seems to reinvigorate him ...

    " ...evaporated nightmares that had boiled the night before
    With every new day's dawning my kid climbs in my bed
    And tells the cynics of the board room your language is dead
    And as I wander with my music through the jungles of despair

    My kid will learn guitar and find his street corner somewhere
    There he'll make the silence listen to the dream behind the voice
    And show his minstrel Hamlet daddy that there only was one choice "

    In this vein the song returns to the original form where it's the vet HC looking at the young kid or younger version of himself and tells to go for it....

    "Strum your guitar -- sing it kid

    Just write about your feelings -- not the things you never did
    Inexperience -- it once had cursed me
    But your youth is no handicap -- it's what makes you thirsty, hey kid
    Strum your guitar -- sing it kid "

    If anybody out there knows different please correct me, as I stated Ive never seen a HC interview where he discussed the song's origins or meaning so this is the best I can interpret.
    FlairFan01on January 07, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's an incredible song. Not sure what it means, sad that not as many people have posted.
    thompson926on December 13, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is easily the best song ever written, I love it more than I can say. It's amazing how long ago it was written, but we're still in the same place.
    FrostyThe8on August 28, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's a shame that 16 minute songs never get airplay...a great epic song...and can be seen as prophetic:

    *****
    So I stride down sunny streets and the band plays back my song
    They're applauding at my shadow long after I am gone
    Should I hold this wistful notion that the journey is worthwhile
    Or tiptoe cross the chasm with a song and a smile
    *****

    Truly a man dealing with his own self image and mortality.
    ltienkeon November 13, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commenthe wrote this song for the american centennial the woman he refers to being America whos children eat ceiling paint and old folks eat dog food. Its about the failings of America, but then goes on to himself, where he realizes that he isn't as young as he was, and can't do what he used to. He realizes that any day he could die from any number of things and brings his morality into plain view. He finally lets on that he isn't scared of this realization, as he tip-toes over the chasm with a song and a smile, and he thinks that there will be a new singer to take his place, a new folk kid.
    sjceon October 28, 2011   Link

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