He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
I’d listened to this song so often when I was a teen thinking that it was a bit of a drag. Now, at a mature age, this song has taken on a special meaning for me because, while listening to it again some time ago, I suddenly realised that it reflects the relationship I’ve been having with my twin brother. I made my brother aware of it and he agreed. Later on, while complaining to me that I was letting the relationship slide again, he referred to this song asking me if a printout of the lyrics would still be on my notice board. Now the song has become a kind of code for the two of us reminding us to be more attentive to each other. It even has the potential of being played at the funeral of who died first.
James Wells, Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland, tells the story of a little girl carrying a big baby boy in his 1884 book The Parables of Jesus. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she wasn’t tired. With surprise she replied: “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.”
In the Guardian newspaper of February 24, 2006, Hollies guitarist Tony Hicks said: “In the 1960s when we were short of songs I used to root around publishers in Denmark Street. One afternoon, I’d been there ages and wanted to get going but this bloke said: ‘Well there’s one more song. It’s probably not for you.’ He played me the demo by the writers [Bobby Scott and Bob Russell]. It sounded like a 45rpm record played at 33rpm, the singer was slurring, like he was drunk. But it had something about it. There were frowns when I took it to the band but we speeded it up and added an orchestra. The only things left recognizable were the lyrics. There’d been this old film called Boys Town about a children’s home in America, and the statue outside showed a child being carried aloft and the motto He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Bob Russell had been dying of cancer while writing. We never got, or asked for, royalties. Elton John - who was still called Reg - played piano on it and got paid 12 pounds. It was a worldwide hit twice.”