One of the most depressing songs ever written, "Alone Again (Naturally)" tells a rather sad tale of a lonely, suicidal man being left at the altar and then telling the listener about the death of his parents. The song connected with listeners on various levels: the downtrodden could commiserate with the singer, and the lucky ones who were not in this position were reminded of their good fortune.
This was Irish singer Gilbert O'Sullivan's only American #1. It sold 2 million copies, spent six weeks at the summit in America and earned him three Grammy Award nominations (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year). It was the second best-selling single of the year in America behind Don McLean's "American Pie
Gilbert O'Sullivan has denied that this song is autobiographical or about the death of his father when he was 11. O'Sullivan said: "Everyone wants to know if it's an autobiographical song, based on my father's early death. Well, the fact of the matter is, I didn't know my father very well, and he wasn't a good father anyway. He didn't treat my mother very well."
In the first half of the '70s O'Sullivan enjoyed a succession of hits in the UK, including two #1s that show his considerable range as a songwriter. The first was "Clair
," inspired by Clair Mills, the 3-year-old daughter of his manager Gordon Mills, whom O'Sullivan baby-sat. The second was "Get Down
," which is a plea to his dog to get down off the furniture. O'Sullivan was the first Irish recording artist with two UK #1 hits.
Gilbert O'Sullivan said in 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh: "'Alone Again (Naturally)' has no comic purpose at all, and it is not a song that people can dismiss like 'Get Down' or 'Clair.' Because it means so much to some people, I will not allow it to be used for karaoke or commercials."
The guitar solo was performed by Big Jim Sullivan, one of the most prolific session guitarists in the UK. He used a guitar with nylon strings to get the distinctive sound.
At the end of the 1980s this was used as the opening theme song and "Get Down" the closing theme song of Masion Ikkoku, a Japanese animated series. They were used without authorization, which caused some controversy at the time. However the net result was that a new Japanese generation discovered Gilbert's music and his popularity grew in Japan. Some of his 1990s albums have only been released in Japan, where he has continued to enjoy some success.
In 1982 O'Sullivan took his former manager Gordon Mills to court over his original contract, ultimately winning back the master tapes to his recordings as well as the copyrights to his songs. Nine years later in 1991, O'Sullivan went to court again to sue the rapper Biz Markie, who used an unauthorized sample from this song in his track "Alone Again," which appeared on Markie's third album, I Need A Haircut. The judge made a landmark ruling in O'Sullivan's favor that the rapper's unauthorized sample was in fact theft. From this point on, artists had to clear samples or be subject to costly lawsuits.
O'Sullivan talked about the case in 2010 at a screening for the movie Out On His Own: Gilbert O'Sullivan. He said Biz Markie's record company approached him about sampling the song, and O'Sullivan asked to hear it before granting permission. "Then we discovered that he was a comic rapper," said Gilbert. "And the one thing I am very guarded about is protecting songs and in particular I'll go to my grave in defending the song to make sure it is never used in the comic scenario which is offensive to those people who bought it for the right reasons. And so therefore we refused. But being the kind of people that they were, they decided to use it anyway so we had to go to court."
This was featured in the 1999 film The Virgin Suicides.
O'Sullivan had an unusual image in the early '70s, performing in an outfit of pants and a flat cap. With his pudding-bowl haircut, he resembled a Depression-era street urchin. Around the time of the release of "Alone Again (Naturally)," he switched his outfit in favor of an endless series of collegiate-styled sweaters embossed with the letter "G."
Sugar Ray borrowed the line "my mother, god rest her soul" for their 1997 hit "Fly