Tell It Like It Is

Album: The Very Best Of The Neville Brothers (1966)
Charted: 2
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Songfacts®:

  • According to Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 Songs issue, Aaron Neville was working as a longshoreman when he recorded this plea for true love. "A lot of people come up to me and say, 'That song got me and my wife together, and others say, 'It broke me and my wife up," he said.
  • "Tell It Like It Is" was written by the New Orleans songwriters George Davis and Lee Diamond. Davis had been friends with Aaron Neville since childhood. They couldn't find a record label to release the song, so David started one himself: Parlo Records, and issued the single.

    The song took off, climbing to #2 behind The Monkees' "I'm A Believer," but the follow-up, "She Took You For A Ride," also written by Lee and Davis and released on Parlo, got no higher than #92. Parlo soon folded and Neville didn't muster another hit until 1989 when he teamed up with Linda Ronstadt to record "Don't Know Much," which again peaked at #2 in the US. This gave Aaron Neville the record for the longest period between the first and second top 40 hits in the US.
  • This song became a civil-rights anthem, and was also very popular with American soldiers fighting overseas. Speaking with Mojo magazine February 2013 about the song, Neville recalled: "I remember guys (who'd served) in Vietnam telling' me that record was burnin' up over there. That time they called it a social song. But to me it was a love song, written for me by Lee Diamond and George Davis. I recorded four songs and I had my eye on another song that I thought would be (a hit) but my brother Art said, 'No, that's the one.'"
  • This was the last hit song recorded at J&M Studios in New Orleans, which was by far the most productive studio in the city during the '50s and '60s. According to the book Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios, the song led to the studio's downfall as its owner, Cosimo Matassa, went into debt so he could press more copies of the record to satisfy demand. The distributors were slow in paying their bills to J&M, which led to frozen credit lines and tax troubles. The studio shut down not long after, and the IRS sold off its assets in a 1969 auction.
  • The rock group Heart brought "Tell It Like It Is" beck to the charts with their 1980 cover. Released as a new song from their Greatest Hits/Live album, it reached #8 in the US.

    Heart's version, sung by their frontwoman Ann Wilson, needed a tweak to reverse the gender. She changed the line, "I'm not a little boy" to "I don't want no little boy."

    Two other cover versions have charted: by Oscar Weathers in 1973 (#113) and by Andy Williams in 1976 (#72).
  • This was used in these movies:

    45 Years (2015)
    Pirate Radio (2009)
    A Bronx Tale (1993)

    And also in these TV series:

    The Heights ("Talk to an Angel" - 1992)
    Beverly Hills, 90210 ("Beach Blanket Brandon" - 1991)
    The Wonder Years ("Swingers" - 1988)
    Miami Vice ("The Prodigal Son" - 1985)

Comments: 8

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1989 {April 16th} Billy Joe Royal's covered version of "Tell It Like It Is" peaked at #2 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Country Singles* chart, for the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "The Church On Cumberland Road" by Shenandoah ...
    "Tell It Like It Is" also reached #2 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart...
    Between 1985 and 1992 the Morehead City, North Carolina native had fifteen records on the Hot Country Singles chart, six made the Top 10 with his two biggest hits both reaching #2, the above "Tell It Like It Is" and "Till I Can't Take It Anymore" for one week in January of 1990...
    One of his fifteen charted records was a duet with Donna Fargo, "Members Only", it peaked at #23 in 1987...
    Billy Joe Royal passed away at the age of 73 on October 6th, 2015...
    May he R.I.P.
    * And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the remainder of Billboard's Hot Country Singles Top 10 on April 16th, 1989:
    At #3. "Hey Bobby" by K.T. Oslin
    #4. "Young Love" by The Judds
    #5. "Fair Shake" by Foster and Lloyd
    #6. "Don't Toss Us Away" by Patty Loveless
    #7. "You Got It" by Roy Orbison
    #8. "Is It Still Over" by Randy Travis
    #9. "Setting Me Up" by Highway 101
    #10. "She Deserves You" by Baillie and The Boys
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1967 {January 22nd} "Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville peaked at #2* {for 1 week} on Billboard's Top 100 chart, the week it was at #2, the #1 record for that week was "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees...
    And on January 1st, 1967 it reached #1 {for 5 weeks} on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1966 and 1995 the New Orleans, Louisiana native had nine records on the Top 100 chart, three made the Top 10 with his two biggest hits both peaking at #2, the above "Tell It Like It Is" and "Don't Know Much" {with Linda Ronstadt} for 1 week in December of 1989...
    Besides "Tell It Like It Is" and "Don't Know Much", his third Top 10 record was "Everybody Plays The Fool", it peaked at #8 {for 1 week} in October of 1991...
    Three of his nine charted records were duets with Linda Ronstadt, the above "Don't Know Much", "All My Life" {#11 in 1990}, and "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" {#78 in 1990}...
    Aaron Joseph Neville will celebrated his 79th birthday in two days on January 24th, 2020...
    * And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, before peaking at #2 "Tell It Like It Is" spent three consecutive weeks at position #3...
    Plus the remainder of the Billboard Top 10 on January 22nd, 1967:
    At #3. "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron" by The Royal Guardsmen
    #4. "Georgy Girl" by the Seekers
    #5. "Words of Love" by The Mamas and the Papas
    #6. "Standing In The Shadows of Love" by the Four Tops
    #7. "Good Thing" by Paul Revere and the Raiders Featuring Mark Lindsay
    #8. "Nashville Cats" by the Lovin’ Spoonful
    #9. "Kind of a Drag" by the Buckinghams
    #10. "(We Ain’t Got) Nothin' Yet" by the Blues Magoos...
  • Janet Aldrich from Estlake, OhioThey make it sound like Aaron Neville never had other hits. "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "Don't Take Away My Heaven" both charted well, and his Christian albums have charted on the Gospel side.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 3rd 1967, Aaron Neville was one the acts* to appear in concert at the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, Tennessee; ticket prices were $2.50, $3.00, and $3.50...
    At the time his "Tell It Like It Is" was at #4 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; just under two weeks earlier on January 22nd, 1966 it had peak at #2 {for 1 week}...
    {See the next post below}
    * Other acts on the bill were Otis Redding, the Marvelettes, the Drifters, and James & Bobby Purify; and they all had a record on the Top 100 at the time.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 4th 1981, "Tell It Like It Is" by Heart peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 16th, 1980 and spent 16 weeks on the top 100...
    It reached #4 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart...
    The original version by Aaron Neville reached #2 (for 1 week) on January 22nd, 1967 (the record that kept it out of the top spot was "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees)...
    His version peaked at #1 (for 5 weeks) on January 1st, 1967 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart (he was born on January 24th, 1941; so he got to celebrate his 26th birthday on the day he was at #1 in R&B chart and #2 on the Top 100).
  • Tony from Vienna, WvWow, what a beautiful voice.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn 1976 crooner Andy Williams covered this song, it peaked at No. 72 and stayed in the Top 100 for six weeks!!!
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnHeart covered this in 1980; their version hit #8 U.S.
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