The song was written in 1973 by Harriet Schock
and first appeared on her Hollywood Town
album. It became a smash for Australian vocalist Helen Reddy, whose other hits include "I Am Woman
," "I Don't Know How To Love Him," "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)," "Angie Baby," and "Delta Dawn." The song resulted in a Grammy nomination (vocal category) for Reddy in 1975. Schock told Songfacts, "I can't speak for why Helen Reddy decided to record the song. I think she may have seen the universality in it and the fact that melodically, the chorus walked the line between pop and classical in a strangely interesting way that would fit her voice wonderfully."
Harriet Schock, who wrote the song, told Songfacts the story behind it: "I started writing the song on an airplane as I was leaving someone for the last time. It was one of the last times I left him for the last time. When I got back home, I finished it at the piano. The music came a bit faster, but the whole song came pretty quickly.
Most of my songs have been inspired by a desire to communicate something to one person. In the case of this song, it was a scolding, a gentle finger wagging, but in the face of only one man. It was not a protest song about how all women were treated. If it became interpreted that way later, it was because it was a hit by the same artist who spoke so widely for all women in 'I Am Woman.' We all remember turning up our car radios to that one and feeling empowered. But in the case of my song, it was very personal, very microcosmic, if you will.
I find that the more personal and specific a song is, the truer it will be and therefore, the more universally it will be received. I was saying as specifically as I could something I had a burning desire to say to one person, and apparently other women wanted to say that to someone. I received a number of calls from women telling me it was just the kick they needed to get that divorce. This was certainly not my intention when I wrote the song, but I can only hope, and in some cases know, that my song served as a catalyst to move my friends out of a bad situation into a new freedom."
The song was Schock's second single as a solo artist ("Hollywood Town" was her first). Its release was fraught with real-life drama, according to Schock. "Before it could become my second single, a group called LAX recorded it," she said. "By the time my single came out, some stations had already played the LAX recording and wouldn't play mine. However, there was one Top 40 station poised to play my record and another station waiting for the first one to play it. A program director at one of the stations requested that we recall the single, speed it up, and re-release it. He wanted it faster, to match his personality. We did this at great expense to the label. We got him the record on a Friday and Monday he was going to start playing it. The other Top 40 station was waiting for him to play it and the rest would be Billboard history. Well, Sunday the program director had a fight with someone at the station and quit. Paul Lovelace, the head of promotion at 20th Century Records still puts his head in his hands when he talks about this.
My version got just enough airplay for Helen Reddy to hear it. She recorded the song and my publishers and I were all very excited. The folks at the record company were still bandaging their wrists over the death of my original version when I got the call in Dallas from Helen Reddy's manager and ex-husband, Jeff Wald, that KHJ, a major Top 40 station had started playing the album cut (it was the title song of Helen's album) and they were forcing it out as a single. Helen had always been one of my favorite singers and it was a thrill to hear her sing such a faithful, inspiring version of the song."
According to Schock, her song provides an answer to a personal relationship dilemma: "The song doesn't just present a problem and complain about it. It seeks a solution and finds one. The solution came in the line 'Maybe it's a way for us to end.'"
Said Schock: "Unlike the songs we all want to write from time to time, it doesn't make the guy totally 'wrong.' In the bridge, I say how happy I am that he won't be able to feel the pain of my leaving. I'm happy because I still love him. He won't feel the pain because he's too clueless to feel anything. Well, maybe I did make him wrong, but in such a nice way, don't you think?"
Schock, who moved to the West Coast from Texas, worked as an advertising copywriter in Los Angeles before joining Colgems-EMI as a staff songwriter in 1973. (Advertising copywriters are those creative types in the ad biz who come up with catchy slogans, headlines, text or "copy," and full-blown campaigns for all kinds of advertisers. The term "copywriting" means to write text for use in print, broadcast, or other media; the term "copyrighting," on the other hand, refers to protecting a creative work - including original songs - from theft, piracy, or unauthorized use or reproduction. Both processes are no doubt well known and fully appreciated by Schock). She said that while working as an advertising copywriter, she learned the benefit of conciseness and the importance of a headline - later to be interpreted, "title."
Said Schock: "I wrote the first verse on the plane, and I also wrote the title. So I wrote this much before I got to a piano:
I guess it was yourself you were involved with
I would've sworn it was me
I might've found out sooner
If you'd only let me close enough to see
That ain't no way to treat a lady
The rest came when I got back to LA and sat down at the piano. That title just came out as something that I would say at that point in the song. I was aware it was an expression but I didn't get an idea for a song called that. The title was exactly what I wanted to say when the chorus came around."
There have been many covers of her song, including one by Letta Mbulu, the singer from Roots who sang the verses in her native language. "It was particularly touching to me to hear a soulful African version of my song," Schock said. "But the version that has become a standard was Helen Reddy's definitive version. It took my songwriting career to a new level but, most important to me, it gave my parents something they could brag about while they were still living. For this I will always be grateful to her."