Tim Hardin is one of those mysterious people who had a violent temper and terrible drug habit yet a mesmerising voice. He died at the age of 39, but his beautiful music lives on mainly through people who have covered his songs.
Tim, who was born James Timothy Hardin in Oregon just before Christmas 1941, was a complex character equalled by people like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake. He often exaggerated stories of himself thus leading to controversy about the enigmatic figure. His closest friends were people like Elvis Costello, Janis Ian, Donovan and John Sebastian, yet none of them could help him kick the drug addiction that eventually killed him in 1980.
His only UK hit as an artist was the beautiful Hang On To a Dream which peaked at a pathetic number 50 in 1967, but thankfully just three months earlier Bobby Darin had brought his name to the fore with a cover of If I Were A Carpenter. This song was inspired by John Judnich, the man who built a small recording studio at Lenny Bruce’s house. Such was the power of the song that exactly 18 months later the song became a top ten hit again when covered by the Four Tops. In 1971, Rod Stewart opened his chart account with another Hardin song, Reason To Believe. The song entered the chart at number 31 then climbed to number 19. At this point radio DJs across the world, all of a sudden, were flipping the record over and playing the B side, which was Maggie May. The following week the song climbed to number 11 and Reason To Believe was no longer listed and so Maggie May went on to become an international best seller and Reason To Believe was soon forgotten about.
Hardin’s 1965 comparatively subdued original has an air of tragedy with the elements of a hurt and wounded person blaming an unfaithful lover. It appears on the album Tim Hardin 1 which mainly contained demo tracks. The lyrics are sad and heartfelt. The line ‘Someone like you, makes it hard to live without somebody else, Someone like you, make it easy to give never think of myself.’ When Tim’s voice cracks while singing, ‘If I gave you time to change my mind, I’d find a way just to leave the past behind, Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried’ is heartbreaking. You really believe his life was tragic.
As much as his studio work is amazing, his live appearances were often not well received. There was a time in San Francisco when he turned up late because he’d been out drinking and sang so poorly that he was booed off stage. This seemingly regular occurrence could well have aided his reliance on drugs and ultimately his downfall.
He released a total of 10 albums in his lifetime and two posthumously but it was his first and third albums, Tim Hardin 1 and Tim Hardin 2 (there was This Is Tim Hardin in between) that reportedly earned him $423m although he didn’t see much of it. Even at the time of his death he had sold his precious catalogue of songs and still owed the taxman hundreds of thousands of dollars. This fourth album, confusingly title Tim Hardin 3, was billed as a live album but it turned out that his managers and record label at the time were so fed up with his lack of new material because of his addiction, that they were actually a set of early demos with added canned applause which explains his well documented surprising change in direction at that time!
Reason To Believe has been covered by a multitude of artists ranging from The Carpenters, Wilson Phillips, Lovin’ Spoonful, Vonda Shepherd, Denny Laine and Ron Sexsmith each one of them managing to keep its sentiment.
The song gained a new audience when it was featured in the 2000 film Wonder Boys which starred Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. The film also featured other classic songs from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Clarence Carter, Junior Walker & The All-Stars, Van Morrison and Neil Young.