"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is a popular music ballad written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell. Originally recorded by Kelly Gordon in 1969, the song became a worldwide hit for The Hollies later that year and again for Neil Diamond in 1970. It has been covered by many artists in subsequent years. The Hollies' version of the song has also been featured in the film Zoolander.
Scott and Russell had been introduced to each other by Johnny Mercer, at a California nightclub. Although Russell was dying of lymphoma and the pair met in person only three times, they managed to collaborate on the song.
In 1884, James Wells, Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland, in his book The Parables of Jesus tells the story of a little girl carrying a big baby boy. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she wasn't tired. With surprise she replied, "No, he's not heavy; he's my brother."
In a 1918 publication by Ralph Waldo Trine titled The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit, he relates the following anecdote: "Do you know that incident in connection with the little Scottish girl? She was trudging along, carrying as best she could a boy younger, but it seemed almost as big as she herself, when one remarked to her how heavy he must be for her to carry, when instantly came the reply: 'He's na heavy. He's mi brither.'"
The first editor of Kiwanis magazine, Roe Fulkerson, published a column in September 1924 carrying the title "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", the first use of the phrase exactly as it is rendered in the song title.
In the 1940s, the words, adapted as "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother", were taken as a slogan for Boys Town children's home by founder Father Edward Flanagan.
The statement is a use of paraprosdokian, a figure of speech in which the second half of the statement causes the hearer to reinterpret the first part. Often used for comedic effect, this is a rare use of the form as pathos.
The Hollies' recording, which featured Elton John on piano, was released in the UK on 1 September 1969 and on 1 December 1969 in the US. "He Ain't Heavy" reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 7 in the US. The song, paired with "Carrie", was re-released in late 1988 in the UK following its use in a television advertisement for Miller Lite beer. It reached the No. 1 spot in the UK chart for two weeks in September 1988. In Ireland, the Hollies' version of the song entered the charts twice, on its first entry in October 1969 it peaked at No. 3 and spent 10 weeks in the charts, and on its second entry in September 1988, as a result of its Miller Lite advertisement usage, it peaked at No. 1.
The Neil Diamond version entered at #68 on the Hot 100 on 7 November 1970  (UNI Records, 55264, length 4:09). The flip side was "Free Life". The song appears on the Neil Diamond album Tap Root Manuscript, which was released November 1970. The song was played by KGB-AM radio, San Diego, California, in late 1970, prior to the then-new Walk for Mankind, in dedication to those who would be walking for donations that day.
Initially, the idea was to re-release the 2009 single "The Fields of Anfield Road" by The Liverpool Collective featuring The Kop Choir; however, this idea was rejected by Peter Hooton as only a relatively small number of people would buy it. Inspired by Everton's Hillsborough tribute on 17 September 2012, the song was played at Goodison Park prior to their match against Newcastle United. It was then decided that a re-recording of this song by various artists including The Justice Tonight Band would be released as the charity single.
This song was spoofed by the childrens' show "Sesame Street" with a song called "It Ain't Heavy, It's My Feather", sung by an animated country chicken, voiced by Ivy Austin, who only brings a feather with her if she ever goes out on the road.