Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” Lyrics Meaning

One of the first things one may notice about “Higher Love” is that its cover art features a man who is evidently on the verge of smooching a woman down. And this would of course give the impression that the “love” being referred to is of the romantic variety. 

And whereas the lyrics can definitely be interpreted in such a manner, based on his own explanation of the tune that is not what Steve Winwood is referring to.

Rather, the vocalist at hand comes from a family who had been devout Christians for generations. Accordingly Steve himself has revealed that his earliest memories in life are actually church-related. And with “Higher Love”, he wanted to create what he referred to as a “modern hymn”.

In other words, it is not the type of, say confident type of gospel tune that his grandfather’s generation would have come up with. Rather there is a pleading element which, once again under Winwood’s explanation, would be indicative of the spiritual state of the generation in which this song was dropped.

Sentiment of “Higher Love”

For instance, back in the day people perhaps weren’t so caught up on concepts like the world coming to an end. After all, “Higher Love” did come out during the 1980s, one of the decades in which the Cold War was at its peak. And there is definitely that type of, shall we say pessimistic sentiment expressed during the first half of the second verse. 

And in the pre-chorus, the vocalist expresses something like a sense of confusion. But such is also the result of this overall dismal disposition he possesses towards the world at large. And it is this feeling of despair that serves as the sentimental premise of the song.  In other words the vocalist is so desperate for a “higher love” to intervene in his or her life is due to this overarching sensation of gloom.

But that noted, there are only two parts of this song which are explicitly indicative of the vocalist perhaps speaking of a “Higher” love, as in God Himself. First is the term higher is often used to connote spiritual matters, such as a ‘Higher Power’. And second would be the type of terminology utilized in the second bridge, i.e. the vocalist singing about his “soul (being) on fire” and a ‘love coming over him’, which are the types of expressions one may commonly hear in church. 

But the point we’re trying to get at is that in just reading the lyrics, as opposed to actually listening to the song, the actual meaning of this piece may be lost to the recipient.

Why is the above the case?

This is because the fact of the matter is that the wording can by and large be applied to a romantic setting if one decides to take it there. And in that regard, “Higher Love “reads more like your quintessential ‘my life has and will continue to suck until I find true love’ type of song. 

Or stated differently, what comes through most pointedly in the lyrics isn’t the fact that this piece is spiritual in nature. Rather it’s this idea that “there must be someone” out there who can mitigate the vocalist’s depression – a person who will face this harrowing world with him or her side-by-side.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, what we’re dealing with here is a phenomenon we have written about many times in the past. And that is a song with a deeper meaning being put into what can be interpreted as a romantic context, presumably in the name of making it more marketable. For example, if Winwood had indeed gone full gospel, it’s safe to say that “Higher Love” would not have topped the Billboard Hot 100. 

So perhaps that’s really what he meant by a “modern hymn”, i.e. a spiritually-inspired song which can also be interpreted as a more-conventional pop number. But either way, as intended the spiritual element takes precedence over what can be interpreted as the amorous factor.

Lyrics to "Higher Love"

Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood is a singer from England who made a name for himself as part of a number of different groups before going solo in the late 1970s. Most notable amongst them would be a band from Birmingham called Traffic , since he was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 as a member of said crew.

This particular song is from his fourth solo album, “Back in the High Life”, which is a product of Island Records. It is also the most-successful track Winwood ever put out as a soloist. Well, some people actually consider this as a duet with Chaka Khan, whose contribution is noted as making “Higher Love” sound more like a gospel number. But in some cases she is rather credited as an additional vocalist as opposed to an actual feature.

Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”
“Higher Love”

More Facts about “Higher Love”

In terms of its success, “Higher Love” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Canada Top Singles, as well as Billboard’s US Mainstream Rock chart. All nations considered it appeared on over a dozen music lists and went on to be certified silver in the UK.

The music video to this song, which also features Chaka Khan (as well as Nile Rodgers, who plays rhythm guitar on the track), was directed by Paula Greif and Peter Kagan. It actually went on to be nominated for seven MTV VMAs in 1987 but arguably more amazingly did not take home any of them.

However, the song itself was a lot more successful on the awards’ circuit, winning two Grammys Record of the Year on top of Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, in 1987.

This song was covered by the late Whitney Houston (1963-2012) in 1990, being included as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of her album that came out that year, I’m Your Baby Tonight. And in 2019, sometime after her passing, Kygo released a remix of that cover, with said remix proving to be a major international hit.

Steve Winwood wrote “Higher Love” alongside Will Jennings, an accomplished music professional who is a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee. Jennings has over the years written a ton of hits, including Celine Dion’s iconic “My Heart Will Go On“.

Who produced “Higher Love”?

Winwood produced it. And in that regard, he worked alongside another notable figure in the industry, Russ Titelman.

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