He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Album: He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother (1969)
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  • After Graham Nash left The Hollies to join up with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, many thought that The Hollies would soon fade into oblivion. Nash's departure due to artistic differences and other things wouldn't be considered acrimonious, yet soon after this, Allan Clarke, the group's vocalist and spokesperson, was quoted as saying, "All of Graham's songs are very slow and very boring. He wants to go all soppy, artistic, and beautiful." Clarke's very next release with the Hollies was "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." Go figure.

Comments: 74

  • Nancy from PaGreat info! Was listening to Barry Manilow (my favorite singer) singing it on Apple Music and husband wanted to know who sang it first...he thought it was the Hollies...so now we know...the whole story.
  • Mike Salyer from ArizonaThis was posted on Quora by Anderson Dourado

    I don't know if there is a connection between the story from Japan and this song, but the line "He's not heavy, he's my brother." caused me to search for the history of this great song... (I could not include the photo, but it's heartbreaking)

    What is an example of honor that surprises people to this day?

    During World War II (1945), a Japanese boy stood in front of a funeral pyre and waited his turn to cremate his dead younger brother.

    The person who took the photo said in an interview that the boy was biting his lip so hard to keep from crying that blood was dripping from the corner of his mouth.

    It was then that the guard asked for the body and said, "Give me the load you are carrying on your back." And the boy replied, "He's not heavy, he's my brother."

    He handed over the body, turned around and left... In Japan, even today, this image is used as a symbol of strength.
  • Oliver Brownlow from UsaMelinda from Blancard, OK: You're thinking of the 1995 tv movie THE ROAD HOME, aka BROTHERS' DESTINY. It features Mickey Rooney (the teenage star of BOYS TOWN and MEN OF BOYS TOWN) in the adult role of Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town.
  • Ben G from Swedesboro Nj U.s.A timeless classic and fav of mine. The intro harmonica just takes you in. Cher covered this one well....
  • Jose Air from Chicago I just found this site and I’m loving it! So much things about our favorites songs, bands, etc that I can’t stop reading!
    Great jobs guys!
    The first time I heard this song was in Rambo III. My little brother cries when he listen to this song, since we haven’t see each other for almost 20 years, but I had to leave my country looking for a better shot at life, and even it has worked, it’s painful!
    Thanks America, truly!
  • Bebe from Los Osos, CaMy husband took his life on November 17, 2020. This song is seeing me through it. I share the Hollies version when friends ask.
    I couldn't thank the folks who made this song my heart so I'll just use it as a prayer.
  • Mark Bryant from Inverness, FlCo-writer Bob Russell died in 1970. Sadly, he never got to see or hear the impact the tune has had on generations.
  • Coy from Palestine, TexasBobby Scott, who co-wrote this song with Bobby Russell, was a genius, a child prodigy who studied classical music at age 8. He was playing with bands at age 11 and he toured with Louis Prima, Gene Krupa and others by the time he was 16. He was a jazz artist, but in 1960 he wrote "A Taste of Honey" for a play. It became a hit for Martin Denny and Scott won a Grammy. Later it was a hit again for Herb Alpert and Alpert won 3 Grammys for the song. Scott worked for Bobby Darin and met Russell through Johnny Mercer--who was doing a LP with Darin. Russell was an old time music man, worked for Duke Ellington for years. He was dying of cancer and wanted to leave a legacy. He met with Scott only three times and they wrote the song. Russell died three months after writing the song. Scott gave the song to Kelly Gordon to record (he worked for Darin also). It's strange how it got to the Hollies. Neil Diamond who knew Bobby Russell from the Brill Building planned on recording it first--but the Hollies released their version ahead of him. The Hollies had the major hit (#7) 1969 and Diamond a minor hit in 1970 (#20). Bobby Scott learned about fine whiskey from Johnny Mercer and he was a chain smoker. He died in 1990 from lung cancer at age 53. It's one of the best songs ever written--and two men wrote it in three brief meetings! Scott did a version similar to his demo--very slow and painful. He had a husky, smoky type voice.
  • Warner Hall from Brea, Ca.would have loved to hear the BEATLES cover it
  • Onerawkngranny from Louisville KyI saw the Osmond brother's sing this at the Fairgrounds in the early 70's
  • Chrys Jones from HuddersfieldThe Beatles loved The Hollies and Brother was a big influence on Long & Winding Road (along with Green Grass of Home). She's So Heavy/Carry That Weight seem to reflect the same spirit also.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 5, 1974, Bobby Hatfield performed "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" on the NBC-TV late-night musical variety program, 'The Midnight Special'...
    Fourteen years later in June of 1988, Scotti Brothers Records released Bill Medley's covered version of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", the song was featured in the movie, 'Rambo III', and reached #25 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    Between 1968 and 1987 Bill Medley had six records on Billboard's Top 100 chart, one made the Top 10, and it reached #1, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"*, a duet with Jennifer Warnes, it held the top spot for one week on November 22nd, 1987...
    William Thomas Medley will celebrate his 78th birthday this coming September 19th {2018}...
    * "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" won the 1987 Academy Award for 'Best Original Song', it was from the movie 'Dirty Dancing'.
  • Mike from ScituateDamn was I sobbing tonite...my older brother (im youngest of 6 boys), who crashed his motorcycle in '05 and became quadriplegic died this past March. So much of this song resonates bc he needed 24/7 care (PCA) and I did a lot of his care. Taking care of someone who is quad...well, let's just say you become extremely close and have to do things you never thought...you get my point. Regardless of the difficult work and the often bossy and bitchy brother, I was so fortunate to spend all that time with him.
    He was thin before the crash, being immobile he gained 225lbs. For 12 years I did what I had to do for him bc he was my brother...no matter how many impossible days we had or tough times we faced...and even having times of weakness and wanting to say screw it and walk out, I was with him thru it all. We miss him terribly and would give just one more minute to crack smart-ass jokes w him.
  • Thomas from Danmark Love this song .. and makes my cry remembering my Brother who died at age 50 og cancer .. Remembering that a brother never is to heavy to carry
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaGreat lyrics, but if you look up the song title on Wici, you will see a story about a little girl in Scotland and her brother. So I'm really guessing it came from there first before it came to Boys Town. This song really gets a lot of hits from guys who served in Nam.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaIf anyone goes back further (google the song or wiki it) you will find the original story comes from Scotland before it became part of the Boys Town legend. The piano is soooo pretty. I have heard this song by other artist but Allan just nails it.
  • Javaman from Irvine, CaliforniaIt was late summer 1971, my older brother had been inducted into the military service and was being processed the next day. So, the night before he was to leave, between myself, a few close friends and cousins set off into the night to celebrate, as expected, we tied on a really good one! The next morning, hung over as all heck, we assembled and were determined to take him to his drop off point boarding bus and making him property of the US military. We were successful. But once I was back home, this song came on the radio and really me in the face like a ton of bricks with this terrible and frighting feeling that I may lose my brother to the war. This song will always stay with me and the memories that arise each and every time I hear this song. It was truly a profound moment, making me realize what an impact of brotherly love and closeness I had taken for granted. My bother survived the Vietnam Era, But I wish to reach out to our brothers and sisters that "carried" the rest of us and made the ultimate sacrifice to their nation. Peace and God Bless...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 14th 1969, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" by the Hollies entered Billboard’s Hot Top 100 chart at position #100; and thirteen weeks later on March 15th, 1970 it peaked at #7 {for 2 weeks} and spent 18 weeks on the Top 100...
    As stated above it reached #1 in the UK and almost made the top spot in New Zealand, were it peaked at #2...
    Between 1964 and 1975 the group had twenty-two Top 100 records; six made the Top 10 with "Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress), it peaked at #2* {for 2 weeks} in 1972...
    * The two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was " Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O’Sullivan.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 1st 1970, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" by Neil Diamond entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #68; and six weeks later on December 13th, 1970 it peaked at #20 {for 2 weeks} and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #4 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    In the calendar year of 1970 Mr. Diamond had six other records make the Top 100; "Shilo {#24}, "Until It's Time for You to Go" {#53}, "Soolaimon" {#30}, "Solitary Man" {#21}, "Cracklin' Rosie" {#1}, and "Do It" {#36}...
    Earlier in 1970 on March 15th the Hollies peaked at #7 with their version of the song; in the U.K. it reached #3, but when re-released eighteen years later it peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} on September 24th, 1988.
  • Coy from Palestine, TxBob Russell, a songwriter who died in 1970 and wrote with Quincy Jones wrote the lyrics, not Bobby Russell (married to Vicki Lawrence) who wrote "Little Green Apples". Bobby Scott, who was mostly a jazz pianist wrote the music. Neil Diamond broke down while performing the song on the Johnny Cash Show because he learned that Russell had just died.
  • Jim from West Palm Beach, FlA song for all generations....timeless.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThe opening line sets the tone for the whole song: "The road is long..." It is meant to imply the road of life, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where. Yet, no matter, the singer is prepared to go the distance with his brother. The singer is knowledgeable about life's ups and downs. He values the relationship and understands the journey. This classic song with its universal theme stands the test of time.
  • John from Randolph, Njprobably the best pop song ever written with a universal message so strong. When a vocal/lyrical delivery sends shivers down the spine & uplifts the soul like this classic ballad does, that is the true strength of music.-jk - N.J
  • Meocyber from Alma, Co Totally a beautiful song. I connect w/ it by my Father. After my Dad passed in 2001, my Aunts and Uncles put an obituary rememberance. My Aunt used the the title , "He ain't heavy he's my brother". My Dad was the oldest son and his Dad left the family. So my Dad stepped up and became their protector/ provider.
  • Melinda from Blancard, OkDoes anyone know the name of the movie that is about 2 boys running and one of them is hurt and the other carries his brother and they met up with a priest and the priest ask to take the brother and the older says "He's not heavy he's my brother". I dont believe it is "Men of Boys Town". The best I remember the two brothers were orphaned when their parents were killed in an apartment fire. I could really use some help. THANKS
  • Mathew from Yonkers, NyI remember when this song came out, and listening to some interview on the radio. It was said by one of the song writers that it was inspired by a story from a Vietnam vet who was walking down this road with his troop, heading towards a village that was just bombed. They passed this boy who was carrying his dead brother away from the destroyed village. One of the men asked the child in Vietnamese isn't the body heavy? The little boy responded, "He's not heavy, he's my brother." I never forgot that.
  • Monika Heinz from Rohnert Park, CaAs I am reading " A Course in Miracles " a Text ,Workbook for Students and Manual for Teachers ,dictated to Helen Schucman in 1977 from an inner Voice, or a Spirit Guide...by reading it becomes clearer,it it a dictation from Jesus,I recognize the same wording in the Song . " If I'm laden at all,I,m laden with sadness.That everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness,of love for one another." If you read the book, you will surly recognize who inspired the song.
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaTruly one of the most uplifting messages ever recorded. Always loved the Hollies vrsion best--such great singing by Alen Clarke. Very interesting to learn that Elton John played piano on that recording!
  • Cary from Otaki, New ZealandThe song is great, but I cannot describe the lyrics in a single word. So it is about the lyrics I write here. I once said to my eldest daughter (she agreed) that sometimes a pop song conceals great poetry. This is one such, a song for all seasons, a message for all takers. In only one place the metre and the tune are different: it is the stanza "If I'm laden at all/I'm laden with sadness/That everyone's heart/Isn't filled with the gladness/Of love for one another". This for me is the heart of the lyric. Without this stanza the poem could be just about brothers in one's immediate family. With it, it is clear that the lyric speaks of the family of man, not just the offspring of one's parents. I don't know who Russell is, but here he has a message for all takers.
  • Paul from Detroit, MiSongs don't get any better than this. My all time favorite. Period.
  • Octoberheart from Nowhere, InDedicated to Tristan.

    I am strong enough to carry him. And yes, his welfare is of my concern. No burden is he to bear, we'll get there.

    I love you Tristan.
  • Anna from Torrington, CtThe first time I heard the story of the Boys Town resident who got rides on the backs of of his Boys Town brethren because he wore leg braces, was on an episode of the Donny & Marie variety show from the 70's. The Osmonds have performed this song many times, and this particular time I saw the show, they took a moment to explain the story before they sang it. Suddenly, the song made sense, and became a THOUSAND times more moving.
  • Lisa from Eveleth, Mnwow. what sad, sad stories. heartbreaking. and what a beautiful song
  • Robert from Fort Worth , TxThis is one of my favorite songs..it has a lot of meaning to me..my brother and I were abused when we were kids and I protected him against an abusive stepfather with consequences..but we made it to adulthood and survived a troubled young life. I will always protect him..because he is my brother..And he's not heavy and will never be a burden..Robert Reed Fort Worth Texas...
  • Gus from Knoxville, TnMy brother graduated Boys Town in 1969. We were the closest of the four boys in our family, even thoe he was ten years older than me.
    Our family used to visit him while he was enrolled there in Boys Town. I remember the statue of the two boys, at the bottom there is an inscription "He aint heavy Father, He's my brother". It was me and my brother all the way.
    He was murdered in 1982, I love him and I miss him.
    I heard this song last night. It's Been a long time since I have.
    One day we'll be together again.
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaWow! I've misunderstood the title all these years -- the fact it was a female singer (Hollies' version, i think?) threw me off & I assumed "heavy" had to mean "serious relationship" and she was saying that the guy she was with so much wasn't a relationship -- it was just her brother -- but I certainly do like the Boys Town origin. . . :) what kind of origin we got in today's lyrics/titles? Memories of gangrapes, drive-by shootings, and incestual molestations? :( I miss the simple good old days of bands like the Hollies!
  • Marylou from Peabody, MaLast night I heard Barry Manilow sing this song. I never really listened to it before. He sings it so beautifully. I think it has a meaning to everyone. Great song. Thanks Barry.

  • Kathy from Dartmouth,, CanadaThis song moves me every time I hear it. Mt six year old brother died on September 23, 1969. It is a well written song and brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.He was my only brother and I hold this song very dear to my heart.
  • Clarence from San Francisco, CaThis song affects me at my core every time I hear it. I remember it for days after hearing it and I often find myself quietly singing the song as if to bring myself comfort. To me it is such a beautifully written and sung song and I absolutely love it.
    -Clarence, San Francisco, CA
  • Wayne from Rugeley, EnglandIn the second verse of He Aint Heavy, He's My Brother, the 6th line is, He would not encumber me at all, not We would not encumber me at all as listed.
  • Steve from Mt Maunganui, New ZealandRemember seeing the Hollies many times when they toured New Zealand in the 60s and 90s. One time Allan Clarke had left for a solo career and they had a Scandinavian lead singer. But "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" always sent a chill up my spine as it echoed around Western Springs Stadium in Auckland.
    Two other songs you might like if you like "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" are:
    "He was my brother" by Paul Simon, about one of the freedom fighters in the south of the USA in the 60s.
    "The Live Long Years" by Mike and the Mechanics - lump in the throat when they sing "I wasn't there that morning when my father passed away, didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say" for obvious reasons.
  • Derek from Cambridge, New ZealandI remember an episode of "Noel's Xmas Presents" on BBC TV in the 90s, and the Hollies made a surprise appearance in the garden of a guy who idolised this song. He drew back the curtains to reveal the Hollies in his back garden, and they sung this song especially for him. Wonderful TV, and a great song.
  • Mathew from Yonkers, NyI remember when this song came out during the Vietnam War. It was repored on TV to be written by a soldier who came upon a little boy carrying his dead brother from a burning village. Someone asked the little boy wasn't the body heavy? The little boy replied, "He's not heavy, He's my brother".
  • Aj from Las Vegas, NvThis song hits home with me. At 6 years of age my father left me and my younger brother with a drug addicted mother. We were taken away from her at ages 9 and 11, seperated, and put in a series of foster homes in South Carolina. About a year later we were reunited in a boys home in Georgetown, S.C. We were so happy to see each other and became very close. I never would have survived it all without him. Then in 1989 he died of AIDS, just 13 days after his 25th birthday. As I right this tears roll down my face. I'll never forget him. He was my brother.
  • Mary from Ames, IaI have always loved this song. I had a brother, my best friend, that was killed in a car accident in 1974. The night of his death, I didn't sleep a wink, and while I was lying in bed, this song came on the radio. I never hear it that I don't have to stop whatever I am doing, and listen. Of course this usually means a tear or two, but the comfort I get from it is unbelievable.
  • Magg from South San Francisco, CaI want to point out an error in the Song Facts, but the link to that page did not work so I'm posting it here. The Bobby Russell who cowrote He Ain't Heavy is NOT the same Bob Russell who was married to Vicki Lawrence. Two different songwriters. Great song, though. My grandmother had the drawing of the two boys with the slogan underneath it hanging on her wall as long as I can remember. She grew up in nearby Iowa and was well aware of Boystown from it's inception. It obviously made a huge symbolic impact in the region.
  • Meredith from Waterloo, CanadaThe Housemartins do a stellar cover of this song.
  • Darren from Peoria, IlI grew up in Boys Town and had the priveledge of singing this song at the end of every Boys Town Choir concert we did. I owe my life to this place.
  • Elsie from Manila, OtherWhen my youngest brother died, we used this song in his video and during his funeral. It's a deeply moving, poignant song. It suit him perfectly considering that he is an adopted brother. Never, not once, did our family regret having gotten him into our family. He was deeply loved and we miss him dearly.
  • Matthew from SunderlandAnd also this ; These Are the Days of Our Lives (Queen)
  • Matthew from SunderlandPlease listen to this song also ; For Lovers : Wolfman feat. Peter Doherty
  • Matthew from Sunderland, United StatesI played this song at my brothers funeral. It is a beautiful song and I miss him every day.
  • Joel from Columbia, MoThis song has been sung by Neil Diamond.
  • Raymond from Manila, Otheri love this song coz it may pertain . to a love for a friend ,relative,or any love one of course a brother
    very good , very inspirational
  • Carlos from São Paulo, BrazilSome comments were just poignant. I knew the song released by the Hollies since 1970. It was first released on a vinyl compact disc in my country. I also still have a copy of Neil Diamond´s version on that format. Fantastic song! Its moving made many of us fell in love. Because of the distance of our language - Portuguese / English, I never understtod quite well the meaning of the title. Now, thanks to Internet, though it made us homesick (dá saudades)it´s good to recover such meanings and I appreciated so much the stories of Mary Helen, Patricia, Larry and Cheryl. Lessons of life. God Bless you all.
    - Carlos, São Paulo - Brazil
  • Mary Ellen from Pottsville, PaWhen I first heard this song back in the early 70's, it reminded me of my older Brother immediately (he is 3 years older than me).

    I never heard it or really thought about it again until my Brother was in a Hospice dying of Cancer on April 1st, 2005. The night before he died while he was still semi-alert, I said to him " Johnny, there is one song that always reminded me of you - He ain't heavy, he's my brother". I began to sing the song and my Brother said so lovingly and sweet - " Oh, I love that song".

    This song seemed to be written for my Brother. Every word in this song relates to our relationship. I miss him terribly but will always be grateful for this song. It will be in my mind 4-ever.

    P.S. I actually listened to it yesterday for the first time since the 70's. It blew my mind - how beautiful.

  • Jim from Los Angeles, CaPatricia...thanks for the tip of Donnie Hathaway's version of this song. You're right, it's soulful and heartfelt!
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScGreat song too! It's not you hear that often.
  • Patricia from Washington, DcThis is a most beautiful and meaningful song. I first heard it went it was released by the Hollies in 1969. I was a freshman in college and one of the fraternity's song was "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother. I thought then it was such an appropriate song for them. Later in 1972, an African-American singer named Donnie Hathawy released it. If you can get your hands on it, take a a listen. It will bring tears to your eyes. It's the most soulful and heartfelt rendition of this song.
  • Emily from Abingdon, VaThe Neil Diamond cover's pretty good. Lots of emotion.
  • Sarah from OttawaI don't know if anyone knows this, but Ryan Malcolm covered it on Canadian Idol and I was listening to the orginal version of it today and I was shocked because the lead singer sounded exactly like Ryan! I thought it was Ryan Malcolm singing it :O
  • Cheryl from Australia, AustraliaMy daughters and I used to sing this to my dad who was ill and dying of cancer - except we swapped the word brother for father/poppy.
    I was told the origin of the song was about wartime and a soldier was walking down a small country towns main street in France (we think) with his desperately wounded mate on his back, some of the townsfolk came forward to offer the tired soldier a hand in carrying the wounded soldier, but his reply to them all was 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother', meaning my brother/mate/friend etc. By this time his mate had died and still he refused to give him up and kept on carrying him through the town with the folk just watching. No one know what happened to them both, but one does wonder if we would have the same courage and determination to do likewise to our fellow man/woman. Loved this version of the story and re-tell it to my daughters.
    Chez, Geraldton, Western Australia
  • Steven from Toronto, Canadathis is one of those songs that makes you get down on one knee and thank God that music was invented. Few songs, especially in the modern era, achieve genius; fewer songs represent what we are capable of as human beings. This one does.
  • Chris from Durban, South AfricaWhat a fantastic song, when you read the background you definatly feel the lyrics. Very deep.
  • Ron from Bridgenorth, CanadaThis is a great song that inspires us to help our fellows brothers in times of need.(and of course our sisters) A truely moving song that stirs the soul
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScWow! what a great vocal!
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiayes it was Allan Clarke...very moving song isn't it....won't find any drug references there......
  • Nate from Birmingham, Al"strong enough to care" is the motto of the pi kappa phi fraternity.
  • Shana from Detroit Rock City, Canadathis song is used in Zoolander!
  • Larry from Excelsior Springs, MoWhen the song He ain't heavy, He's my brother came out I retitled it He is heavy and He is my brother, because my younger brother was pretty good size, then in 1995 he died and my sister unknowing my story had it played at his funeral, so ever since that day the song has had special meaning to me.
  • Gary from Maple Shade, Nj....such a great vocal on this record! Is it Allen Clarke on the lead? And any more information on him?
  • Pj from Melbourne, AustraliaThe movie you are thinking of is "Men of Boys Town" made in 1941 which the saying "He ain't heavy, Father. He's m' brother" was introduced during the movie that Spencer Tracy starred in. It then became the slogan for the institution Boys Town.
  • Shirley from Ocean, NjI believe this is from the film "Bells of St. Mary's" where Spencer Tracy portrays a priest at Boys Town and he's carrying a man and someone's asks him "Isn't he too heavy for you to carry Father" which Spencer Tracy replies "No son, he's not heavy, he's my brother."
  • Chris from Maple Ridge, CanadaI love the line "... stong enough to care...ry him...". Strong enough to care, and strong enough to carry him him.. I dunno, I just like it.
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