Ordinary People (song)

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For other songs by the same name, see Ordinary People (disambiguation).
"Ordinary People"
Single by John Legend
from the album Get Lifted
Released February 7, 2005
Format CD single
Recorded 2004
Genre Neo soul
Length 4:41
Label Sony Music
Writer(s) John Legend, William Adams
Producer(s) John Legend, will.i.am
Certification Gold (RIAA)
John Legend singles chronology
"Used to Love U"
(2004)
"Ordinary People"
(2005)
"Number One"
(2005)

"Ordinary People" is a song by American recording artist John Legend. It was written and produced by Legend and will.i.am for his debut album Get Lifted (2004). It was released as the album's second single and later certified gold by the RIAA. Critics were positive towards the song, praising it for its raw emotion and simplicity. "Ordinary People" won the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

The video for "Ordinary People" features Legend playing a grand piano in an all-white space, while couples and families of varying ethnic backgrounds fight and reconcile around and in front of the piano. For the final minute of the video, Legend is joined by a string section and (audibly) a harmonica. Legend walks to and from the piano with a glass of water, as a short bookending to the video proper.

Composition[edit]

The song's lyrical themes include contrast, contradiction, guilt, doubt and fear. Legend sings about how people make errors of judgment in relationships ("I know I misbehaved/And you've made your mistakes/And we both still got room left to grow."), and that fighting and making up in the end is a regular obstacle: "And though love sometimes hurts/I still put you first/And we'll make this thing work/But I think we should take it slow." The lyrics include parallel structure to address the common ups-and-downs of maintaining a relationship: "Maybe we'll live and learn/Maybe we'll crash and burn/Maybe you'll stay/Maybe you'll leave/Maybe you'll return/Maybe another fight/Maybe we won't survive/Maybe we'll grow, we never know." The song's title itself is taken from its chorus, "We're just ordinary people/We don't know which way to go/'Cause we're ordinary people/Maybe we should take it slow." Legend explained the song's lyrical content in the book Chicken Soup For the Soul: The Story Behind The Song: "The idea for the song is that relationships are difficult and the outcome uncertain. If a relationship is going to work, it will require compromise and, even then, it is not always going to end the way you want it to. No specific experience in my life led me to the lyrics for this song, although my parents were married twice to each other and divorced twice from each other. Their relationship is, of course, one of my reference points, but I didn't write this to be autobiographical or biographical. It is just a statement about relationships and my view on them."[1]

Reception[edit]

Critics were overwhelmingly positive towards "Ordinary People", many of whom complimented the song's juxtaposition of simple stark piano and John Legend's vocal range. Entertainment Weekly noted "Ordinary People" as being both "the simplest" and "perhaps the most perfectly realized song" of the Get Lifted album, describing it as "an exquisite ballad" that is "both immediately familiar and intensely exotic."[2] A review from The Guardian called the song "a real gem", and lauded further: "[I]t's not only sonically arresting but lyrically reflective. Refusing to tie up loose ends, Legend is ambivalent about the relationship described in the song, admitting that there's 'no fairy-tale conclusion'. Good for him."[3] PopMatters was favorable towards the single, stating it "is representative of true talent."[4] Jonathan Forgang, reviewing for Stylus magazine, stated: "'Ordinary People,' the first of the piano and voice ballads, is a bit more derivative than the earlier tracks but expertly performed. Legend's voice has a naked quality to it, warm and full without any of the drawbacks of virtuosity."[5] The Times thought the song was full of "remorseful reflection" and said that "the album as a whole is a stunning advertisement for the less-is-more, from-the-soul approach, and Legend’s extraordinary voice (alternately angelic keen and cracked rasp) and piano-playing are equalled in quality by the depth of his songs."[6]

On 14 April 2012, the song was performed on BBC's The Voice UK, resulting in some members of the UK public buying the track on iTunes. The song re-entered the Official UK Top 40 at number 27 on 15 April,[7] and the following week climbed to number 4.[8]

Track listing[edit]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2005) Peak
position
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[12] 20
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[13] 27
US Billboard Hot 100[14] 24
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[15] 4
Chart (2012) Peak
position
Ireland (IRMA)[16] 19
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[17] 6
UK R&B (Official Charts Company)[18] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[19] 4
UK Official Streaming Chart Top 100[20] 41

Cover versions[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]