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The Living Years by Mike + the Mechanics

Album: Living YearsReleased: 1988Charted:
1
2
  • This song is written from the perspective of a son who has a conflicted relationship with his father. After his father dies, he discovers that he and his dad had a much stronger bond than he ever realized, and the son regrets not saying more while his dad was alive.

    It was written by group founder Mike Rutherford and the Scottish songwriter B.A. Robertson; the pair also co-wrote the first Mike + The Mechanics hit, "Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)." Both Robertson and Rutherford had recently lost their fathers when they wrote this song, making it a very personal endeavor for both of them.
  • The song was written in stages. B.A. Robertson wrote the first verse before his father died in 1986, the same year Rutherford lost his dad. The pair composed the music based on this verse, and then a while later Robertson came up with the second verse. The final verse didn't come to him until shortly before the song was recorded. Robertson was staying at a hotel in Los Angeles and was under pressure to finish the lyric before flying back to Europe. He recalls going outside to a garden at the hotel when the verse came to him.

    Robertson was working with Rutherford when he got the call that his dad had died, which is reflected in the opening lines of this verse:

    I wasn't there that morning
    When my father passed away


    Three months before his father died, Robertson's son was born, which we hear in this line:

    I'm sure I heard his echo
    In my baby's new born tears
  • Mike Rutherford, who was the bass player and later the guitarist for Genesis, formed Mike + the Mechanics as a side project, using Paul Carrack and Paul Young (the one from the band Sad Café, not the solo artist). Carrack, who had a hit in 1987 with "Don't Shed a Tear," sang lead on this song.
  • This garnered a Grammy nomination for Song Of The Year, but lost to "The Wind Beneath My Wings." It did, however, win for Best Song at the Ivor Novello awards.
  • This was the second single released from the Living Years album, following the mid-tempo "Nobody's Perfect," which stalled at #63 US in December 1988 despite a video directed by Jim Yukich, who helmed many popular Genesis videos and also the previous Mike + The Mechanics clips.

    "The Living Years" runs 5:30, which in another era would be considered too long for radio play, but in 1989 listeners had a fair degree of patience: Madonna's "Like A Prayer," Roxette's "Listen To Your Heart" and Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There For You" were also US chart-toppers that exceeded five minutes in length.
  • The children's choir on this song came from the King's House School in London.
  • The video was directed by Tim Broad, who did many of Morrissey's clips. Mike Rutherford appears with his young son in the video in a spectacular coastline setting: the Somerset Levels in England.
  • When Mike Rutherford's father, Crawford Rutherford, died in October 1986 at age 80, Mike was on tour with Genesis in Chicago. Two weeks later, he took the Concorde to England for the funeral and returned to America in time for the next show. Later, this funeral fly-by hit Mike hard: In his 2014 autobiography The Living Years, he opens with this story. After lots of reflection, Mike realized that he was so wrapped up in his own career during this time that he was neglecting his loved ones, especially his dad.

    Crawford Rutherford was a captain in the Royal Navy, but didn't discuss his time fighting in World War II and Korea. In the '80s, he wrote his memoirs, but they were never published. When Mike discovered them, he learned a great deal about the man and once again felt regret over not spending more time with him. Father and son were in completely different lines of work, but their stories were similar in many ways, as both rose to the pinnacle of their professions.
  • The song's vocalist Paul Carrack had a personal connection with this song, as his father died in a mining accident when Paul was young.
  • Many listeners heard their own stories in this song. "People write to me to this day saying how they had lost touch with their fathers, and how they had written to them on the strength of that song," Rutherford told Record Collector in 2014. "Most songs don't have that extra bit that changes your life."
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Comments: 43

I appreciated the intent of this song and if it inspired some to fix burned bridges, that’s fine. But I thought it was overproduced, with the chorus repeating all those lines and it basically ordering the listener to start crying. I half expected them to include a free handkerchief with each copy. A more modest production would have been better.Esskayess - Dallas, Tx
On February 11 of this year, I was shocked to learn that my dearly loving Father, Scott, passed away. I don't know what may have caused it, but what is known is that he died of a heart attack in the middle of the night on February 10, while he was sleeping. It seemed that when I talked to him four days earlier, he was cheerful, happy, and in good spirits. What's even more shocking, he was only 55 years old! I've never felt so lonely in my life. Losing my father has been so painful for me, since we had such a good relationship. Even though yeah, he may have made me mad when he teased me, it was all in good fun! It's such a shame that it took a tragedy for me to realize I'm now feeling the full strength of our bond more than I ever have before. However, I regret not being able to tell him all that I wanted to say. One of the last things we said to each other was, "I love you, I miss you, and I sure am looking forward to seeing you this summer.". I wish I could take him and my Uncle Bruce with me to my dream destination, Australia! My Uncle Bruce passed away on March 19, 2010, 2 weeks and 3 days shy of turning 58. I don't know what may have caused his death either, but what is known is that Uncle Bruce died of a stroke.Annabelle - Eugene, Or
So sad, but a good song. The Glee Cast covered it.Emmy - Bellville, On
The writer of the song must be a believer in reincarnation as evident in the lyrics which stated that he heard his late father's echoes in his newborn son's crying.Adrian - Johor Bahru, Malaysia
One of the best songs of the '80s. One of few songs that can create a genuine connection with listeners.Ken - Pittsburgh, Pa
42 years ago today, my father was killed. I still miss him.Coffeegod - Brandon, Ms
I get this song and it is inspiring and all but I have to change it every time I hear it. It creeps me out. Paul Carrack is like a genius but this song is seriously scary!Kayla - Winnipeg, Mb
This song has increbible meaning for me. My father and I just couldn't seem to agree on anything when I was growing up. He was the reason that, on my 18th birthday, I packed up and moved out of my parents' home.

One morning in early 1989, I was in the basement of my home working out before I showered and went to work. As I always did, I had the radio playing while I lifted weights, but for some reason, my wife had changed the station the day before and it was not the one I typically listened to.

As I lay on the weight bench, this song, which I'd never heard before, came on. I listened to the lyrics and began sobbing uncontrollably. I felt a tremendous sense of loss -- and had no idea why.

Later that morning, my brother, who still lived in the town where we'd grown up, called me at the office and told me my father had passed away right around the time I heard that song. It was spooky.

My father had suffered a stroke several years earlier, and was bedridden, unable to speak since his illness. I moved 1600 miles away shortly after he became ill, perhaps out of the belief that, in his vegetative state, we never would be able to understand one another.

This song perfectly captured the nature of our relationship and the regret that washed over me that morning in 1989. I only hope that somehow, my father knew that I wanted to reach him very badly.
Glenn - Denver, Co
Like others, this helped me get past the passing of my father. Like the lyrics go, we did on occasion "...open up a quarrel between the present and the past...", but they were settled. It is a powerful song with an equally powerful message.Lou - Portsmouth, Nh
This song always kills me. My father passed away 8 years ago and when we I hear this song it reminds me of him. Very powerful and inspirational, I am so close to my mother and always remember that you only have one father and mother, if you can enjoy them, life is too damn short....Jim - Long Beach, Ca
My dad Pierre was diagnosed with cancer in February 2006 and passed away 5 weeks later on 5th April , 4 days after his 71st birthday in paliative care , my dad used to love The living Years song ,when i was a little girl i remember this song was played on the radio when i was in the car with dad and he would say he really loves this song , not to know that this song would mean so much to me when my dad passed away, i received a call early the morning before he passed away i drove as fast as i could to see dad , i walked in and dad had already passed i didnt get to say goodbye, if i only had stayed the night i could have played this song to him, im sure it would have put a smile on his face just one last time .
This song will always remind me of my dearest dad Pierre.
Thankyou to Mike & the Mechanics, listening to this song makes me feel that dad is by my side.
I LOVE U MY DADDY ,always your little girl Mariefrance xxxxx
Marie - Brisbane, Australia
Great song, always brings a lump in my thoat. Nobody seems to have mentioned BA Robertson, a scottish singer/songwriter, who i read Mike credit as being the lyricist. BA was writing about his own relationship with his recently deceased father and though Mike went through a similar expirience around the same time and obviously had an imput i think the big fella from Scotland deserves a shout. Nice work BA and M&M.Kev - Newcaste, United Kingdom
This song will always bring copious tears to my eyes. I literally was not there that morning; I did not make the time to say the things I had to say, (or listen to what he had to tell me) Despite everything I still love my dad dearly. All I can do is encourage all people to make (not take) the time to share your honest feelings with your loved ones now while you still can. The burden of not having done it will weigh heavily - believe me!Clive - Cape Town, South Africa
If you can relate to this song or not, it will still bring a tear to your eye. A beautiful, well written song. Thank You Mike and the Mechanics for this gift.Paul - Detroit, Mi
My situation is slightly different than most. My relationship with my father was very troubled (maybe similar to Mike Rutherford's?).
We never had a deep personal conversation, but often quarreled about things like politics. The typical generation gap stuff I guess - he was 45 years older than me.
The last few years were especially difficult, as his health deteriorated and he became more and more verbally abusive toward my mother. When I defended her, he started shouting at me as well.
Still, I always respected him. I pitied that he hardly ever told any stories about his past. In the last few years, I made him talk more about that, in an effort to get a good conversation going. Sometimes I succeeded a little, sometimes everything just got worse.
And then he died, in the morning of his 92nd birthday. I wasn't there that morning. When I looked this song up and listened to it, I cried.
The lines 'I wish I could have told him in the living years' have maybe a slightly different meaning to me: because, God knows, I TRIED to tell him in the living years, but I couldn't! Then again, maybe I didn't try hard enough.
I sang this song at the funeral. I brought tears to the eyes of many guests.
Max - Utrecht, Netherlands
My father passed away on 11th October 2008.
He was a fantastic man and I'm immensely proud and fortunate that he was my father.
I am one of the lucky ones as we were always close and listening to this song really hits home.
Everyone who has a father, mother, son or daughter should really listen to these lyrics and take them to heart.
If your parents are still alive and you have a conflict with them, I urge you to resolve them before it's too late. When they are gone, they are gone forever. They brought you into this world and raised you.
Show them your love.
Robert - Melbourne, Australia
I don't have the same experience as Angel, but it's those same lyrics that bring me to tears every time I hear this song. I never get tired of listening to this beautiful tune.Nightthorn - Sacramento, Ca
Thank you Mike and the Mechanies for writing Living years my Dad pass away sudden on 11 Oct 2009 with a heart attack. I live 4 hours from perth and just out of northen this song came on and that was nearly the end of me because the words had very much meaning to me ,I never got to say goodbye to my dad,my hero, friend, joker and soul mate I miss him so much.This song was the 1st song at his funeral and I glad. Now everytime here this song it's own song. In memorial of my Dad (Kenneth Roy Newland) his loving daughter Debbie (the apple of his eyes)Debbie - Bodallin, Australia
Very good song... I can actually feel peace in my heart after I lost my Dad... The whole family was there at his bed side when he passed. I was holding his hand and stroking his hair when he took his last breath... Looking back at all those years we were together, sharing memories, and drinking a cup of coffee with him in his yard swing... I would give anything to have one more day with him... Just to hold his hand and say I Love You... Anyone who has a heart can relate to this story... Just remember, you only have one father & mother... Cherish that forever folks... RLCRobin - Vincennes, In
It's a great song! It conveys a message of the important role of a father in the life of a child. It emphasises the way God has instructed us to honour and obey our parents. May you, especcially young people out there, some where, respect and obey your parents in the Lord. God Bless you!Karen - St. John's, Grenada
To all interested; My father served in the war and was a proud man , in his finall year of life he was diagnosed with cancer from aspestos used in the war, he was treated with kemo and radiation to cure his cancer (lung), 3 months post treatment he was given a clean bill of helath but needed to have regular check ups 3 months later he was told his cancer had returned but now he had it in all magor organs and only given 3 mnths to live, on the day of his death I didnt make it to the hospital in time to say good by. At the time I didnt know it but I was pregnat. My son was born that december and one night when my son was ill with a temper and crying I was sitting breastfeeding him in the quiet of my room and in the back ground on the radio "In the living years was playing , I love this song and cry every time I hear it especially when it gets to the point " I think I caught his spirit Later that same year Im sure I heard his echo In my babys new born tears I just wish I could have told him in the living years. God blessd my father and god bless Mike and the Mechanics for this song. Thankyou.Angel - Queensland, Australia
My father passed away from a heart attack just a few months after this song was released (he was 51). It was the day before his birthday. And no, "I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say". I'll never get a secong chance.Bob - Johnstown, Pa
To the guy that thinks this is crap, WTF? Dude, if you have no heart, I understand. If you have a son, I could NOT understand. I never had a father, grew up with a single mom and my sisters. Okay, call me a pussy, no big deal to me. I do have my own children and my son is eldest, 19. I can feel this in our relationship at times. It is hard. Song is great. Screw you!Rick - Everett, Wa
i wish i had a son because my life is ending. he'd remember me each time this plays. it takes me back to the time that my life was still promising and wonderfulStafler - Durban, South Africa
I hate this song.I can see through all the pretentious crap of this load of crap.This is just so awful.Ace and Squeeze, was a better pop group.The lyrics are good but the sound of this song makes me want to throw my radio out of a window because it is so agonizingly BAD.John - Brisbane, United States
Reminds me of my Father - Dad may ur soul rest in peace - I miss you though and I cant stop thinking of you there's a lot I want to tell you but all in time - hopefully you are watching over meMatthews - Pretoria, South Africa
My dad is still alive, but this song brings tears to my eyes.Eric - Beaverton, Or
My father passed away about 3 weeks ago after a long illness. I lost my mother 4 1/2 years ago. This song has always brought me to tears because of the message it sends but today I heard it for the first time since my father passed and was totally broken. Having lost both parents now, this song really hits close to home.Stephanie - Huntington, Wv
After 19 years of searching...I've finally read the lyrics that brought me to tears the first time I heard them (I was a "gung ho soldier!) I was lucky, I was eventually able to talk to my father. Even now, tears form.George - Bangkok, Thailand
Always brings tears to my eyesDavid - Newport, England
I miss you Dad , Hapy Fathers Day!Tim - Paterson, Nj
My Dad has passed away 32 years now , this sonng inspires me me to be a better son and even better father. A perfect song for fathers day.Tim - Paterson, Nj
Paul Young and Paul Carrack were the alternating lead singers in Mike + The Mechanics. Paul Carrack sang the lead on the songs "The Living Years" and "Silent Running" not Paul Young.Don - B G, Ky
Paul Carrack is a huge Sheffield Wednesday Football fan and has recorded many songs to do with the team.Ben - Sheffield, England
It's incredibly poignant. I'm sure it brings a tear to the eye of anyone who "wasn't there that morning when [their] father passed away". Rolf Harris, a well known entertainer in the UK, famously broke down on a children's TV programme when he was asked to review the track, live on air. I can sympathise.Stu - Fife, Scotland
My father passed away at 53 of a massive heart attack on 10/24/1988, I was 23 and Daddy's Little Girl. He was a mechanic and my husband's name was/is Mike. The first time I heard this song was on the drive to Georgia from Memphis to bring him home for burial. This song hit me hard and still to this day, brings tears.Mary - Knoxville, Tn
Even if this song is quite old - The Living Years will always be my favourite song - it has said so much thing that i could not find the words express myself. I have had some conflict with my father as well and this song gives me a chance to reflect on our relationsip. Thanks guys.

so say to hear about Paul. I hope he was told all that he needed to know in his living years.

Jacqui Tannis Riley
Jacqui - London, England
..the song was actually written by bass player Mike Rutherford and relates to his actual relationship with his fatherPete - Nowra, Australia
The song "In the Living Years" has always eluded me to this day, and now that I have located the artists and the lyrics, I can understand why. I totally relate to this song and it has made me realize the importance of making sure we always tell our loved ones what and how we feel no matter how hard it is to say.

Thanks for allowing me to join in to make comments and check out the things you have in here. Donna
Donnalynn - Blaine, Wa
Paul Young who was the 53 year old lead singer with Mike and the Mechanics (and previously Sad CafÃ?) died from a suspected heart attack in July 2000. He collapsed at his home in Altrincham, Cheshire, UK.Danial - Dubai, Other
Paul Carrack was also in the bands Ace and Squeeze. This is one of my favorite 80's bands and I think they were very underated. I still have a videotape of the '89 Grammy performance of this song.Steve - St. Louis, Mo
It's pretty inspirational alright - powerful stuff!!Helen - Dublin, Ireland
Love this song, inspires me to live life in the now not in the past or futureDaniel - Perth, Ak
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