Registration with

register

lost password recovery

recover my password

sign in

sign in

Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact

Sign up for our newsletter

Get the Newsletter

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother by The Hollies

Album: He Ain't Heavy, He's My BrotherReleased: 1969Charted:
7
1
  • The title came from the motto for Boys Town, a community formed in 1917 by a Catholic priest named Father Edward Flanagan. Located in Omaha, Nebraska, it was a place where troubled or homeless boys could come for help. In 1941, Father Flanagan was looking at a magazine called The Messenger when he came across a drawing of a boy carrying a younger boy on his back, with the caption, "He ain't heavy Mr., he's my brother." Father Flanagan thought the image and phrase captured the spirit of Boys Town, so he got permission and commissioned a statue of the drawing with the inscription, "He ain't heavy Father, he's my brother." The statue and phrase became the logo for Boys Town. In 1979, girls were allowed and the name was eventually changed to Girls And Boys Town. The logo was updated with a drawing of a girl carrying a younger girl added.
  • The Two Brothers concept precedes the magazine illustration that Father Flanagan saw. In 1921, there was a resident at Boys Town who had difficulty walking. He wore leg braces and the other boys would often take turns giving him a ride on their backs. There is a famous photograph of this boy and one of the other youth giving him a ride. Now there are several statues of the Two Brothers on the Home Campus in Omaha; one is the sandstone of the two brothers from the illustration, another is a bronze version by an Italian artist that was commissioned in 1977. There is also a version done directly from the 1921 photograph in the Hall of History. See a photo of the Boys Town statue in Song Images. (thanks, Scott - Tallahassee, FL)
  • In 1938, Spencer Tracey portrayed Father Flanagan in the movie Boys Town, which also starred Mickey Rooney. In 1941, they made a sequel called Men Of Boys Town, where they used the phrase "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother" for the first time in a movie.
  • This was originally released by Kelly Gordon, a producer who has worked with Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, and David Lee Roth.
  • This was the only songwriting collaboration between veteran songwriters Bobby Scott ("A Taste of Honey") and Bob Russell ("Ballerina"). Russell, who wrote the lyrics, made his mark writing for films and contributing words to songs by Duke Ellington and Carl Sigman. Scott was a piano player, singer, and producer. He did a lot of work with Mercury Records on sessions for artists like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Bobby Darin. In 1990, he died of cancer.
  • 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."
  • Joe Cocker was offered this song before The Hollies after it had been played first to his producer Denny Cordell. The General Professional Manager for Cyril Shane Music Ltd & Pedro Music Ltd in England at the time explains: "Tony Hicks was in our office looking for songs for the Hollies (our office was not on Denmark Street, it was in Baker Street). Denny called from New York to say 'Joe didn't see the song.' As Tony said in The Guardian, he liked the song and asked for an exclusive the following day. The version he heard was Kelly Gordon, who apart from being a successful producer, also wrote a little song entitled 'That's Life.' His version was slow and soulful which is why I had thought of Joe Cocker to record it. Bobby Russell wrote this song while dying of cancer in Los Angeles.

    We picked up the British rights to 'He Ain't Heavy' from an American publisher Larry Shayne. The song was on a Kelly Gordon album called Defunked. The version was slow and soulful and had Joe Cocker written all over it. Joe turned it down, to his producer's surprise. We had a hit with The Hollies previously called 'I'm Alive,' so we had a relationship with them. Also, we had a great working relationship with the Air London production team, of which their producer Ron Richards was a partner. We never considered playing the song for The Hollies when Tony Hicks was in the office. We were playing songs like 'Sorry Suzanne.' It was only at the end of the meeting I suggested playing Tony this wonderful song, not because it was for them, but just to share the song. We were surprised when he said 'That's the one.'"
  • This was the second single The Hollies released after Graham Nash left the group to form Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the first was "Sorry Suzanne." Nash was replaced by Terry Sylvester. (thanks, Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for all above)
  • In 1988, this was re-released in the UK after it was used in a Miller Beer commercial. This time, it hit #1.
  • This has been covered by many artists. It was a hit for Neil Diamond later in 1970, and also for Olivia Newton-John in 1976.
  • A version by Bill Medley (one of The Righteous Brothers) was used in the 1988 Sylvester Stallone movie Rambo 3.
  • The Osmonds recorded this and used it as the B-side of their first hit, "One Bad Apple." (thanks, Dianne - Ft. Bening, GA)
  • This was used in an anti-drug commercial in Canada during '90s. The basis was two old friends meeting again in the hospital. There are some old home movie type flash backs, then they hug and the one in hospital garb cries. (thanks, Lisa - Saskatoon, Canada)
  • A various artists charity version recorded under the name of The Justice Collective topped the UK singles charts during Christmas 2012.
or Register to post comments

Comments: 56

On November 1st 1970, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" by Neil Diamond entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #68; and six weeks later on December 13th, 1970 it peaked at #20 {for 2 weeks} and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #4 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
In the calendar year of 1970 Mr. Diamond had six other records make the Top 100; "Shilo {#24}, "Until It's Time for You to Go" {#53}, "Soolaimon" {#30}, "Solitary Man" {#21}, "Cracklin' Rosie" {#1}, and "Do It" {#36}...
Earlier in 1970 on March 15th the Hollies peaked at #7 with their version of the song; in the U.K. it reached #3, but when re-released eighteen years later it peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} on September 24th, 1988.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Bob Russell, a songwriter who died in 1970 and wrote with Quincy Jones wrote the lyrics, not Bobby Russell (married to Vicki Lawrence) who wrote "Little Green Apples". Bobby Scott, who was mostly a jazz pianist wrote the music. Neil Diamond broke down while performing the song on the Johnny Cash Show because he learned that Russell had just died.Coy - Palestine, Tx
A song for all generations....timeless.Jim - West Palm Beach, Fl
The opening line sets the tone for the whole song: "The road is long..." It is meant to imply the road of life, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where. Yet, no matter, the singer is prepared to go the distance with his brother. The singer is knowledgeable about life's ups and downs. He values the relationship and understands the journey. This classic song with its universal theme stands the test of time.Camille - Toronto, Oh
probably the best pop song ever written with a universal message so strong. When a vocal/lyrical delivery sends shivers down the spine & uplifts the soul like this classic ballad does, that is the true strength of music.-jk - N.JJohn - Randolph, Nj
Totally a beautiful song. I connect w/ it by my Father. After my Dad passed in 2001, my Aunts and Uncles put an obituary rememberance. My Aunt used the the title , "He ain't heavy he's my brother". My Dad was the oldest son and his Dad left the family. So my Dad stepped up and became their protector/ provider.Meocyber - Alma, Co
Does anyone know the name of the movie that is about 2 boys running and one of them is hurt and the other carries his brother and they met up with a priest and the priest ask to take the brother and the older says "He's not heavy he's my brother". I dont believe it is "Men of Boys Town". The best I remember the two brothers were orphaned when their parents were killed in an apartment fire. I could really use some help. THANKSMelinda - Blancard, Ok
I remember when this song came out, and listening to some interview on the radio. It was said by one of the song writers that it was inspired by a story from a Vietnam vet who was walking down this road with his troop, heading towards a village that was just bombed. They passed this boy who was carrying his dead brother away from the destroyed village. One of the men asked the child in Vietnamese isn't the body heavy? The little boy responded, "He's not heavy, he's my brother." I never forgot that.Mathew - Yonkers, Ny
As I am reading " A Course in Miracles " a Text ,Workbook for Students and Manual for Teachers ,dictated to Helen Schucman in 1977 from an inner Voice, or a Spirit Guide...by reading it becomes clearer,it it a dictation from Jesus,I recognize the same wording in the Song . " If I'm laden at all,I,m laden with sadness.That everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness,of love for one another." If you read the book, you will surly recognize who inspired the song.Monika Heinz - Rohnert Park, Ca
Truly one of the most uplifting messages ever recorded. Always loved the Hollies vrsion best--such great singing by Alen Clarke. Very interesting to learn that Elton John played piano on that recording!Guy - Woodinville, Wa
The song is great, but I cannot describe the lyrics in a single word. So it is about the lyrics I write here. I once said to my eldest daughter (she agreed) that sometimes a pop song conceals great poetry. This is one such, a song for all seasons, a message for all takers. In only one place the metre and the tune are different: it is the stanza "If I'm laden at all/I'm laden with sadness/That everyone's heart/Isn't filled with the gladness/Of love for one another". This for me is the heart of the lyric. Without this stanza the poem could be just about brothers in one's immediate family. With it, it is clear that the lyric speaks of the family of man, not just the offspring of one's parents. I don't know who Russell is, but here he has a message for all takers.Cary - Otaki, New Zealand
Songs don't get any better than this. My all time favorite. Period.Paul - Detroit, Mi
Dedicated to Tristan.

I am strong enough to carry him. And yes, his welfare is of my concern. No burden is he to bear, we'll get there.

I love you Tristan.
Octoberheart - Nowhere, In
The first time I heard the story of the Boys Town resident who got rides on the backs of of his Boys Town brethren because he wore leg braces, was on an episode of the Donny & Marie variety show from the 70's. The Osmonds have performed this song many times, and this particular time I saw the show, they took a moment to explain the story before they sang it. Suddenly, the song made sense, and became a THOUSAND times more moving.Anna - Torrington, Ct
wow. what sad, sad stories. heartbreaking. and what a beautiful songLisa - Eveleth, Mn
This is one of my favorite songs..it has a lot of meaning to me..my brother and I were abused when we were kids and I protected him against an abusive stepfather with consequences..but we made it to adulthood and survived a troubled young life. I will always protect him..because he is my brother..And he's not heavy and will never be a burden..Robert Reed Fort Worth Texas...Robert - Fort Worth , Tx
My brother graduated Boys Town in 1969. We were the closest of the four boys in our family, even thoe he was ten years older than me.
Our family used to visit him while he was enrolled there in Boys Town. I remember the statue of the two boys, at the bottom there is an inscription "He aint heavy Father, He's my brother". It was me and my brother all the way.
He was murdered in 1982, I love him and I miss him.
I heard this song last night. It's Been a long time since I have.
One day we'll be together again.
Gus - Knoxville, Tn
Wow! I've misunderstood the title all these years -- the fact it was a female singer (Hollies' version, i think?) threw me off & I assumed "heavy" had to mean "serious relationship" and she was saying that the guy she was with so much wasn't a relationship -- it was just her brother -- but I certainly do like the Boys Town origin. . . :) what kind of origin we got in today's lyrics/titles? Memories of gangrapes, drive-by shootings, and incestual molestations? :( I miss the simple good old days of bands like the Hollies!Cyberpope - Richmond, Canada
Last night I heard Barry Manilow sing this song. I never really listened to it before. He sings it so beautifully. I think it has a meaning to everyone. Great song. Thanks Barry.

M.Leonard
Mass.
Marylou - Peabody, Ma
This song moves me every time I hear it. Mt six year old brother died on September 23, 1969. It is a well written song and brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.He was my only brother and I hold this song very dear to my heart.Kathy - Dartmouth,, Canada
This song affects me at my core every time I hear it. I remember it for days after hearing it and I often find myself quietly singing the song as if to bring myself comfort. To me it is such a beautifully written and sung song and I absolutely love it.
-Clarence, San Francisco, CA
Clarence - San Francisco, Ca
In the second verse of He Aint Heavy, He's My Brother, the 6th line is, He would not encumber me at all, not We would not encumber me at all as listed.Wayne - Rugeley, England
Remember seeing the Hollies many times when they toured New Zealand in the 60s and 90s. One time Allan Clarke had left for a solo career and they had a Scandinavian lead singer. But "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" always sent a chill up my spine as it echoed around Western Springs Stadium in Auckland.
Two other songs you might like if you like "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" are:
"He was my brother" by Paul Simon, about one of the freedom fighters in the south of the USA in the 60s.
"The Live Long Years" by Mike and the Mechanics - lump in the throat when they sing "I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away, didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say" for obvious reasons.
Steve - Mt Maunganui, New Zealand
I remember an episode of "Noel's Xmas Presents" on BBC TV in the 90s, and the Hollies made a surprise appearance in the garden of a guy who idolised this song. He drew back the curtains to reveal the Hollies in his back garden, and they sung this song especially for him. Wonderful TV, and a great song.Derek - Cambridge, New Zealand
I remember when this song came out during the Vietnam War. It was repored on TV to be written by a soldier who came upon a little boy carrying his dead brother from a burning village. Someone asked the little boy wasn't the body heavy? The little boy replied, "He's not heavy, He's my brother".Mathew - Yonkers, Ny
This song hits home with me. At 6 years of age my father left me and my younger brother with a drug addicted mother. We were taken away from her at ages 9 and 11, seperated, and put in a series of foster homes in South Carolina. About a year later we were reunited in a boys home in Georgetown, S.C. We were so happy to see each other and became very close. I never would have survived it all without him. Then in 1989 he died of AIDS, just 13 days after his 25th birthday. As I right this tears roll down my face. I'll never forget him. He was my brother.Aj - Las Vegas, Nv
I have always loved this song. I had a brother, my best friend, that was killed in a car accident in 1974. The night of his death, I didn't sleep a wink, and while I was lying in bed, this song came on the radio. I never hear it that I don't have to stop whatever I am doing, and listen. Of course this usually means a tear or two, but the comfort I get from it is unbelievable.Mary - Ames, Ia
I want to point out an error in the Song Facts, but the link to that page did not work so I'm posting it here. The Bobby Russell who cowrote He Ain't Heavy is NOT the same Bob Russell who was married to Vicki Lawrence. Two different songwriters. Great song, though. My grandmother had the drawing of the two boys with the slogan underneath it hanging on her wall as long as I can remember. She grew up in nearby Iowa and was well aware of Boystown from it's inception. It obviously made a huge symbolic impact in the region.Magg - South San Francisco, Ca
The Housemartins do a stellar cover of this song.Meredith - Waterloo, Canada
I grew up in Boys Town and had the priveledge of singing this song at the end of every Boys Town Choir concert we did. I owe my life to this place.Darren - Peoria, Il
When my youngest brother died, we used this song in his video and during his funeral. It's a deeply moving, poignant song. It suit him perfectly considering that he is an adopted brother. Never, not once, did our family regret having gotten him into our family. He was deeply loved and we miss him dearly.Elsie - Manila, Other
And also this ; These Are the Days of Our Lives (Queen)Matthew - Sunderland
Please listen to this song also ; For Lovers : Wolfman feat. Peter DohertyMatthew - Sunderland
I played this song at my brothers funeral. It is a beautiful song and I miss him every day.Matthew - Sunderland, United States
This song has been sung by Neil Diamond.Joel - Columbia, Mo
i love this song coz it may pertain . to a love for a friend ,relative,or any love one of course a brother
very good , very inspirational
Raymond - Manila, Other
Some comments were just poignant. I knew the song released by the Hollies since 1970. It was first released on a vinyl compact disc in my country. I also still have a copy of Neil Diamond´s version on that format. Fantastic song! Its moving made many of us fell in love. Because of the distance of our language - Portuguese / English, I never understtod quite well the meaning of the title. Now, thanks to Internet, though it made us homesick (dá saudades)it´s good to recover such meanings and I appreciated so much the stories of Mary Helen, Patricia, Larry and Cheryl. Lessons of life. God Bless you all.
- Carlos, São Paulo - Brazil
Carlos - São Paulo, Brazil
When I first heard this song back in the early 70's, it reminded me of my older Brother immediately (he is 3 years older than me).

I never heard it or really thought about it again until my Brother was in a Hospice dying of Cancer on April 1st, 2005. The night before he died while he was still semi-alert, I said to him " Johnny, there is one song that always reminded me of you - He ain't heavy, he's my brother". I began to sing the song and my Brother said so lovingly and sweet - " Oh, I love that song".

This song seemed to be written for my Brother. Every word in this song relates to our relationship. I miss him terribly but will always be grateful for this song. It will be in my mind 4-ever.

P.S. I actually listened to it yesterday for the first time since the 70's. It blew my mind - how beautiful.
Mary Ellen - Pottsville, Pa
Patricia...thanks for the tip of Donnie Hathaway's version of this song. You're right, it's soulful and heartfelt!Jim - Los Angeles, Ca
Great song too! It's not you hear that often.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
This is a most beautiful and meaningful song. I first heard it went it was released by the Hollies in 1969. I was a freshman in college and one of the fraternity's song was "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother. I thought then it was such an appropriate song for them. Later in 1972, an African-American singer named Donnie Hathawy released it. If you can get your hands on it, take a a listen. It will bring tears to your eyes. It's the most soulful and heartfelt rendition of this song.Patricia - Washington, Dc
The Neil Diamond cover's pretty good. Lots of emotion.Emily - Abingdon, Va
I don't know if anyone knows this, but Ryan Malcolm covered it on Canadian Idol and I was listening to the orginal version of it today and I was shocked because the lead singer sounded exactly like Ryan! I thought it was Ryan Malcolm singing it :OSarah - Ottawa
My daughters and I used to sing this to my dad who was ill and dying of cancer - except we swapped the word brother for father/poppy.
I was told the origin of the song was about wartime and a soldier was walking down a small country towns main street in France (we think) with his desperately wounded mate on his back, some of the townsfolk came forward to offer the tired soldier a hand in carrying the wounded soldier, but his reply to them all was 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother', meaning my brother/mate/friend etc. By this time his mate had died and still he refused to give him up and kept on carrying him through the town with the folk just watching. No one know what happened to them both, but one does wonder if we would have the same courage and determination to do likewise to our fellow man/woman. Loved this version of the story and re-tell it to my daughters.
Chez, Geraldton, Western Australia
Cheryl - Australia, Australia
this is one of those songs that makes you get down on one knee and thank God that music was invented. Few songs, especially in the modern era, achieve genius; fewer songs represent what we are capable of as human beings. This one does.Steven - Toronto, Canada
What a fantastic song, when you read the background you definatly feel the lyrics. Very deep.Chris - Durban, South Africa
This is a great song that inspires us to help our fellows brothers in times of need.(and of course our sisters) A truely moving song that stirs the soulRon - Bridgenorth, Canada
Wow! what a great vocal!Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
yes it was Allan Clarke...very moving song isn't it....won't find any drug references there......Pete - Nowra, Australia
"strong enough to care" is the motto of the pi kappa phi fraternity.Nate - Birmingham, Al
this song is used in Zoolander!Shana - Detroit Rock City, Canada
When the song He ain't heavy, He's my brother came out I retitled it He is heavy and He is my brother, because my younger brother was pretty good size, then in 1995 he died and my sister unknowing my story had it played at his funeral, so ever since that day the song has had special meaning to me.Larry - Excelsior Springs, Mo
....such a great vocal on this record! Is it Allen Clarke on the lead? And any more information on him?Gary - Maple Shade, Nj
The movie you are thinking of is "Men of Boys Town" made in 1941 which the saying "He ain't heavy, Father. He's m' brother" was introduced during the movie that Spencer Tracy starred in. It then became the slogan for the institution Boys Town.Pj - Melbourne, Australia
I believe this is from the film "Bells of St. Mary's" where Spencer Tracy portrays a priest at Boys Town and he's carrying a man and someone's asks him "Isn't he too heavy for you to carry Father" which Spencer Tracy replies "No son, he's not heavy, he's my brother."Shirley - Ocean, Nj
I love the line "... stong enough to care...ry him...". Strong enough to care, and strong enough to carry him him.. I dunno, I just like it.Chris - Maple Ridge, Canada