The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” Lyrics Meaning
The lyrics of The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” read just as you expect they would be based on the idiom that serves as its title. The overall concept is based on the brother of the singer being in some type of need, where the vocalist’s assistance is logically needed. And the insinuation is that it is a serious matter indeed. But the singer does not perceive his own brother as a “burden”. Rather he implies that it is his duty – and to some extent even pleasure – to care for his own.
A Religious Theme
The title of this song actually has a religious origin. And along those lines, there is a spiritual element to the track also, specifically the latter half of the tune. Here the singer’s concern extends past the welfare of his brother. In fact he questions why everyone doesn’t have “love for one another”. And the overall implication is that one day we will all transcend the mortal plane and be judged by a pious, Higher Power. And with this in mind, the singer advises that it is better to “share” than not to.
So even though there aren’t any overt-religious references in this song, you can say that “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” is at least founded on moral ideologies. And such dictate that when you come across someone in need, especially an individual as close as a brother/sibling, then all effort should be made to alleviate their suffering. In fact behaving in such a manner is presented as a basic responsibility which ultimately leads to self-edification, which transcends onto the spiritual plane.
Title of the song (“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”)
The title of this song, verbatim, can be traced to a 1924 edition of a magazine published by Kiwanis, an international community-service organization that caters to children.
However others have used the phrase throughout the years, due to its universal applicability towards the concept of selfless love. In fact according to history, the term “he’s not heavy; he’s my brother” can be originally traced by to a book published by a Christian preacher in 1884. Moreover another NGO catering to children, Boys Town, adopted the expression as its slogan in 1943, which is probably how the writers of this song became aware of it, even if indirectly.
Indeed back in the days Boys Town itself as well as its founder, Monsignor Edward J. Flanagan, were quite popular. In fact classic Hollywood actor Spencer Tracy (1900-1967) portrayed Flanagan in a couple of movie entitled “Boys Town” (1938) and “Men of Boys Town” (1941). And the latter is recognized as the film in which the phrase “he ain’t heavy, father, he’s my brother” was first used.
First to Record this Song
The Hollies were the first group to record “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, which was released as a standalone single on 26 September 1969. And since then others have taken up the call to cover this song also. Some of them include Neil Diamond as well as the Osmond Brothers. Olivia Newton-John also recorded this tune in 1976. In 2012, a charity-based supergroup called the Justice Collective covered this song also.
Who are The Hollies?
The Hollies were a British rock band and in fact one of the most-successful of the 1960s. And their rendition of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was published by Parlophone Records and Epic Records.
Who wrote “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”?
“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was written by old-school musicians Bob Russell (1914-1970) and Bobby Scott (1937-1990). In fact Mr. Russell wrote the lyrics while simultaneously suffering from cancer. And it was the last hit he ever wrote, as he died less than six months after its release.
The producer of this song is Ron Richards (1929-2009). Richards is credited as the person who discovered The Hollies.
A hit Song!
The Hollies’ version of this tune was an international hit. It charted in over 10 countries which included peaking at number 7 in the United States and number 3 in Britain. IT even reached the number 1 spot on South Africa’s Springbok chart.
And we know that the United Kingdom has some very-interesting music charts, where songs can re-blow decades after their initial release. And such was the case with this track. For due to it being featured on a Miller Lite TV advert, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” reappeared on the UK Singles Chart in 1988, this time topping the list in addition to peaking at number 2 in Ireland.
Elton John played on “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother”
The Rocketman himself, Elton John, plays piano on this song (as he also did on the 2012 Justice Collective version). Though back then he was still being called by his birth name, “Reg” (short for Reginald).