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Album: Living YearsReleased: 1988Charted:
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."