Which Way You Goin' Billy?

Album: Which Way You Goin' Billy? (1969)
Charted: 7 2

Songfacts®:

  • The Poppy Family were the Canadian duo of Terry and Susan Jacks, who were husband and wife at the time. Terry Jacks, who four years later would release the ubiquitous "Seasons in the Sun," wrote the song whilst Susan sang lead.

    Terry was a big Buddy Holly fan, and started writing the song in his pre-Poppy days with the working title "Which Way You Goin' Buddy?" He had the melody, but couldn't come up with a lyrical theme. A few years later, after he formed The Poppy Family, he hit on the idea. In our interview with Terry Jacks, he explained: "It was in 1969 and I had been reading about all these guys going to Vietnam and leaving their women behind in Seattle, and I knew somebody down there that was doing that. I thought, 'Wow, that must be awful.' These guys go and their wives or girlfriends wouldn't know whether they were coming back. That's quite a deal, going to war over there, and it was such a stupid war. So I said, 'That's what I'm going to write about: this woman that's left behind. Which way you going, Billy? Can I go, too?'"
  • Terry Jacks decided to name the lead character in this song "Billy" after hearing a song "Billy, Billy Went A Walkin'" by one of his favorite acts, a Montreal group called The Beau Marks. Jacks thought the name was a good fit. He told us: "I used the name Billy, because you've got to use a name that isn't going to stick out like a sore thumb. You can't do, 'Which way you goin', Lawrence.' Lots of people are called Billy, and it's a name that doesn't rub you wrong or anything."
  • Romantic couples who make music together rarely stay romantic for long, especially when the producer husband tries to coax a better vocal out of the singer wife. When Susan did her vocal for this song, Terry thought it was perfect... too perfect. The couple, who were married from 1967-1973, argued over whether or not she should redo her vocal, and Terry convinced her to give it another try. "The next day we went in and she did it first take," he said. "She was so tired and she was so worn out, she captured the feel. It fit the song. The other performance was too happy."
  • This was the first song The Poppy Family released outside of Canada. In 1968, they had minor hits in Canada with "Beyond The Clouds" and "What Can The Matter Be." This led to a deal with London Records, which released the song internationally. It went to #1 in Canada and was also the group's biggest hit in both the US and UK.
  • This won the 1970 Juno award (Canada's version of the Grammys) for Best Produced Single.

Comments: 3

  • David from Fort WorthWhat a beautifully sung song. Yeah, the song itself is a pretty sad deal but no one could believe that seeing her sing it. We often make our singers the protagonists in their songs, just natural. I can listen to this and hear her voice and not the sad lyrics. I’m glad I looked it up.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 22nd 1970, "Which Way You Goin', Billy?" by the Poppy Family featuring Susan Jacks entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #100; ten weeks later on June 1st, 1970 it would peaked at #2* {for 2 weeks} and spent 17 weeks on the Top 100...
    Between March 1970 and December 1971 the Canadian group had five Top 100 records; after "Which Way You Goin', Billy?" their next biggest hit was "That's Where I Went Wrong", it reached #29, also in 1970...
    * The first week it was at #2, the #1 record was "Everything is Beautiful" by Ray Stevens and for its second week it was "The Long and Winding Road" by the Beatles.
  • Susan Jacks from VancouverInteresting, but very inaccurate. Terry Jacks didn't form the Poppy Family. I initially asked him to play rhythm guitar for me at a live performance and the Poppy Family evolved as we asked Craig McCaw to join us a few months later. Craig later introduced Satwant Singh to the group.

    "Which Way You Goin' Billy?" was originally called "Which Way You Goin' Buddy?" and the demo was sung by a well-known Vancouver singer by the name of Mike Campbell, a friend of mine. Mike remembers singing the demo. The original song was written before the Poppy Family, including the lyrics. It was the same "story" as the Poppy Family version of "Billy" but was written from a male point of view. When Terry played Mike's version for me, I felt it would be stronger coming from a female point of view and suggested it be adjusted for a girl to sing. Terry and I chose my brother Billy's name to replace "Buddy". Anyone listening to the lyrics will realize the whole song is written about a woman whose husband doesn't want her anymore and in no way remotely resembles anyone going to Vietnam. I only ask that you listen to the lyrics. Why the ridiculous stories about "Billy, Billy Went a Walkin" and Vietnam, I have no idea.

    Regarding the so-called "fight" to get me to sing the song again...really? I had been a professional singer appearing on a multitude of national television for a number of years before even meeting Terry Jacks. I took my singing seriously and would never settle for anything less than my best performance. I was indeed tired after a day of recording but there was no fight between Terry Jacks and myself. I wanted to come back the next day because I had a very strong feeling the song was going to be a hit and I wanted to give it my best possible performance. We both agreed it would be best to come in the next day when I wasn't so exhausted. And I didn't nail it the first take the next day...SOUNDS good though. The "embellishments" are somewhat humorous but not the way it was.

    I've had my history rewritten a number of times and I try to straighten it out when I can.

    Susan Jacks
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