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He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother— Bobby Scott, Bob Russell (Night Shift)

Co-written by veteran songwriters Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother became a worldwide hit for The Hollies in 1969 and is considered one of the anthems of the 1960s, with its message of love, sacrifice, devotion, and service.  Originally recorded by Kelly Gordon earlier that year, the song has since been covered by many artists.  


Scott and Russell had been introduced to each other by lyricist Johnny Mercer (who wrote the lyrics to Moon River) at a nightclub in Los Angeles. Although Russell was dying of leukemia, and the pair met in person only three times, they managed to complete the song.  Russell passed away just 2 months after the version by The Hollies was released.


Scott had co-written A Taste of Honey in the late 1950s, which won a total of 4 Grammy Awards.  A singer, pianist, and producer, he worked for Mercury Records and did session work for Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Bobby Darin, among others.  Russell wrote film scores in addition to adding lyrics to songs by legends such as Duke Ellington and Carl Sigman, including the song Ballerina, which reached the top 20 on the Billboard charts five different times by five different artists.  


Hollies guitarist Tony Hicks said in 2006: "In the 1960s when we were short of songs, I used to root around publishers on Denmark Street” (in London).  One afternoon, as he was about to leave, he came across a demo of the song that “had something about it”.  He recognized the composers so he brought it the group.  “There were frowns (at first) but we sped it up and added an orchestra.  The only things left recognizable were the lyrics.  Elton John - who was still called Reg - played piano on it and got paid 12 pounds. It was a worldwide hit twice."  True.  It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard charts in the U.S. when it was first released and then reached No. 1 in the UK in 1988 after it was used in a Miller Lite Beer commercial.


The title and lyrics to the song undoubtedly came out of Russell's work in the  film industry.  In 1938, Spencer Tracey and a young Mickey Rooney starred in the movie Boys Town.  In 1941, a sequel called Men Of Boys Town was produced, and the phrase "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother" appeared for the first time in a film.

                                                                                                                                                           Boys Town was an actual community formed in 1917 by a Catholic priest named Father Edward Flanagan (portrayed by Spencer Tracy in the first film). Located in Omaha, Nebraska, it was a home for troubled or homeless boys.  In 1918, a boy named Howard Loomis was abandoned by his mother at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys, which had just opened a year earlier. Howard had polio and wore heavy leg braces. Walking was very difficult for him, especially when he had to go up or down steps.  Soon, several of the Home’s older boys were carrying Howard up and down the stairs.  One day, Father Flanagan asked Reuben Granger, one of those older boys, if carrying Howard was hard.  Reuben replied, “He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’ brother”.

As stated, the song  has been covered by many artists.  Both Neil Diamond and Oliva Newton had hits with it but the version by The Hollies remains the most popular and memorable.


He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

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8RoadisLong (1).mp3