Back In The High Life Again

Album: Back In The High Life (1986)
Charted: 53 13

Songfacts®:

  • To be "back in the high life" is to be back on top. (High Life is also a popular beer made by Miller.) In this song, Winwood is confident that things are going to turn around - he will soon be back in the high life again.
  • Winwood played on a number of hits in the '60s and '70s as a session musician and as a member of Traffic, The Spencer Davis Group and Blind Faith. In the '80s, he established himself as a solo artist with songs he wrote with Will Jennings, who put lyrics to Winwood's music. The first album they worked on was Arc Of A Diver in 1980, followed by Talking Back To The Night in 1982 and finally Back In The High Life. Jennings told Songfacts: "We wrote those songs in the fall of '84, and it was a long spell before he got in the studio in New York. We had 'Higher Love' and several other songs, including 'The Finer Things.' And then it was toward the end of my stay over there and we still needed some other songs.

    I had 'Back in the High Life Again' in this book that I carry with me of titles. I pulled that out and I suddenly found the rest of the song, and I wrote that in about 30 minutes, and left it with Steve to put a melody to. So this is in '84. And then I went back to California, and it was a year, I guess, before he went in the studio, sometime in '85. I called one day and talked to Russ Titelman who was producing the album. They were doing it in New York. I asked him how it was going, and he said, 'Oh it's going great.' He said 'Higher Love' came out great and 'The Finer Things.' I asked him how 'Back In The High Life' would come out. There was this little pause, and he said, 'Steve hasn't shown me that song.'

    So turns out that Steve had not written the music to it yet, and he at that time was going through a divorce. And because of the divorce, his wife got everything in the house, this big house in England. So he came up from London and went out to this house, which he still lives in and he had for years before he was married, and everything was gone, except there was a mandolin over in the corner of the living room. It was winter and it was dreary. He went over and picked up the mandolin, and he already had the words in his head, and that's when he wrote the melody. He went back and not only cut a big hit which still is played so much today, but it was the title track of the album. And if I hadn't asked about it, it would have just gone by, so that's one that was saved at the last minute."
  • Jennings has written lyrics for Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Peter Wolf, Jimmy Buffett, B.B. King and many others. Says Jennings, "You just need to get the feel of what they want to do, where they're coming from and what their life has been. The soulfulness comes into writing the truth of the singer. If you're writing with or particularly for a singer, you try to get inside them." (Check out our interview with Will Jennings.)
  • When listening closely and carefully, at the end of the song, after Steve Winwood sings, "High life," you can hear singer/songwriter James Taylor sing the line, "Back in the high life." Taylor isn't the only famous singer to appear on the Back In The High Life album: Chaka Khan sang on "Higher Love." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Annabelle - Eugene, OR

Comments: 6

  • Dan from CanadaI didn't know Winwood was going through a divorce at the time. Now the line "you used to be the best to make life be life to me" makes sense to me.
  • Vali from MankatoWarren Zevon's version is used in an episode of Longmire on Netflix.
  • Angie from Sioux Falls Sd, SdActually, James Taylor sings background throughout the whole song, not just at the end.
  • Kenne from Phoenix, AzHis first of 2 No. 1's after 20 plus years in the business.
  • Derek from Cambridge, New ZealandGreat song, great singer.
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThe late Warren Zevon did a low-key, acoustic cover of this song on his 2000 album Life'll Kill Ya.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Annie Haslam of Renaissance

Annie Haslam of RenaissanceSongwriter Interviews

The 5-octave voice of the classical rock band Renaissance, Annie is big on creative expression. In this talk, she covers Roy Wood, the history of the band, and where all the money went in the '70s.

Songs About Movies

Songs About MoviesSong Writing

Iron Maiden, Adele, Toto, Eminem and Earth, Wind & Fire are just some of the artists with songs directly inspired by movies - and not always good ones.

American Hits With Foreign Titles

American Hits With Foreign TitlesSong Writing

What are the biggest US hits with French, Spanish (not "Rico Suave"), Italian, Scottish, Greek, and Japanese titles?

Donald Fagen

Donald FagenSongwriter Interviews

Fagen talks about how the Steely Dan songwriting strategy has changed over the years, and explains why you don't hear many covers of their songs.

Philip Cody

Philip CodySongwriter Interviews

A talented lyricist, Philip helped revive Neil Sedaka's career with the words to "Laughter In The Rain" and "Bad Blood."

Kristian Bush of Sugarland

Kristian Bush of SugarlandSongwriter Interviews

Kristian talks songwriting technique, like how the chorus should redefine the story, and how to write a song backwards.