‘If I Were A Carpenter’ is a wonderful example of the all-too-undervalued songwriting talent of the late Tim Hardin. But it’s a testament to the song’s great versatility that it’s also closely associated with artists as diverse as the Four Tops, Johnny Cash & June Carter, Leon Russell, Robert Plant and the man who charted with it first, exactly 49 years ago, Bobby Darin.
The song was a prime example of Darin’s bold move from his established vocal style to a more contemporary sound. Publishers Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin encouraged the great performer to take a closer look at some modern material, and when he recorded the Hardin song, the results were spectacular.
Darin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter,’ on Atlantic, entered the Billboard Hot 100 for September 24, 1966 at No. 81, and went on to climb all the way to No. 8. It was Darin’s biggest American hit since ‘You’re The Reason I’m Living’ reached No. 3, some three and a half years earlier.
Tim Hardin’s own, yearning version of the song appeared in the spring of 1967, on his ‘Tim Hardin 2’ album. Another folk-inflected cover was provided by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, on his 1968 album ‘Young Brigham.’ That same year, the next artists to make the US charts with an interpretation were Motown’s mighty Four Tops, who took their excellent version to No. 20 in the pop list, and No. 17 R&B.
Johnny & June’s country reading made the top 40 of the pop chart in 1970, but went right up to No. 2 on the country survey. Remarkably, every two years in this era, the song bounced back: Bob Seger had a minor entry with it in 1972, and Leon Russell in 1974. Our playlist also includes the reggae version by John Holt. More recently, ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ has been reinvestigated by Dolly Parton, Robert Plant, and in a live Cash tribute by Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, as a great copyright continues to renew itself.
Listen to uDiscover’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ Playlist on Spotify