He'll Have to Go

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"He'll Have to Go"
Single by Jim Reeves
from the album He'll Have to Go and Other Favorites
B-side "In a Mansion Stands My Love"
Released November 1959 (U.S.)
Format 7"
Recorded October 15, 1959
Genre Country, pop
Length 2:20
Label RCA Victor
Songwriter(s) Joe Allison, Audrey Allison
Producer(s) Chet Atkins[1]
Jim Reeves singles chronology
"He'll Have to Go"
"I'm Gettin' Better"
"He'll Have to Go"
"I'm Gettin' Better"

"He'll Have to Go" is an American country and pop hit recorded on October 15, 1959, by Jim Reeves. The song, released in the fall of 1959, went on to become a massive hit in both genres early in 1960.


Reeves recorded what became one of country music's biggest hits ever after listening to a version recorded by singer Billy Brown. The song, written by Joe and Audrey Allison, was inspired after the couple were having difficulty communicating by telephone. Audrey had a soft voice and was unable to speak up so her husband could adequately hear her, so Joe would have his wife place the receiver closer to her mouth.[2]

When Brown's version failed to become a hit, Reeves recorded his. It was promptly released to country radio as the B-side of the intended hit, "In a Mansion Stands My Love." However, "Mansion" failed to catch on, and disc jockeys began playing the B-side instead.[3] It was not long before the song became a huge country and pop hit; several rhythm and blues radio stations played the song, too.

The recording features a small group of musicians: Floyd Cramer on piano, Marvin Hughes on the vibraphone, Bob Moore on bass, Buddy Harman on drums, Hank Garland on guitar, and the Anita Kerr Singers providing the background vocals.[4]

The first verse set the tone: "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone/Let's pretend that we're together all alone/I'll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low/And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go."[1]

Country music historian Bill Malone noted that "He'll Have to Go" in most respects represented a conventional country song, but its arrangement and the vocal chorus "put this recording in the country pop vein." In addition, Malone lauded Reeves' vocal styling - lowered to "its natural resonant level" to project the "caressing style that became famous" - as being why "many people refer to him as the singer with the velvet touch."[5]

Chart performance[edit]

"He'll Have to Go" reached #1 on the Hot Country Singles chart on February 8, 1960, where it remained for 14 consecutive weeks.[6] The song was one of just five different titles to occupy the chart's summit during 1960.

In addition, the song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1960 and #13 on the R&B Singles Chart.[7] Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song of the year for 1960.[8] It also had success abroad, reaching #1 on the Australian Singles Chart and #12 on the UK Singles Chart.

Chart (1960) Peak
Australia Singles Chart 1
Norwegian Singles Chart 1
U.S. Billboard Hot C&W Sides 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 2
UK Singles Chart 12
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Singles 13

Cover versions and answer songs[edit]

"He'll Have to Go" has been covered by many artists. Elvis Presley recorded his version of "He'll Have to Go" on October 31, 1976, at his last known studio recording session; it is believed to be the final song he ever recorded in a studio setting.[9]

The song prompted the answer song "He'll Have to Stay" by Jeanne Black. Her song reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot C&W Sides chart and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 later in 1960. Skeeter Davis made a cover of it in 1961. "He'll Have to Stay" also got an answer song: "I'm Gonna Stay". It was recorded by Johnny Scoggins and released on the single Fraternity Records 869.

This song was also done by Solomon Burke in 1965/66(c) on the Soul chart. It was one of his biggest hits.

Harry James recorded a version on the 1966 album Harry James & His Western Friends (Dot DLP 3735 and DLP 25735).

Ry Cooder covered the song on his 1976 album Chicken Skin Music.

Anne Murray, Connie Francis, Mary Ford, Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat King Cole and Tom Jones have recorded versions of the song.

Gunnar Wicklund released a Swedish version in 1965.



  1. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 10 - Tennessee Firebird: American country music before and after Elvis. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries. 
  2. ^ Gilbert, Bob and Gary Theroux, "The Top Ten: 1956-Present," Pop Record Research, Fireside Books, Simon & Schuster, New York. 1982 (ISBN 0-671-43215-X).
  3. ^ Gilbert and Theroux, "The Top Ten."
  4. ^ 3 Chords A Day: October 15, 2009 -- the 50th Anniversary of the recording. http://3chordsaday.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/hell-have-to-go-jim-reeves/
  5. ^ Malone, Bill, "Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection" ((booklet included with Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection 4-disc set). Smithsonian Institution, 1990), p. 51.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 285. 
  7. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 488. 
  8. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1960
  9. ^ Ernst Jorgensen, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music (St; Martin's Press, 1998), p. 400.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"El Paso"
by Marty Robbins
Billboard Hot C&W Sides
number-one single by Jim Reeves

February 8 - May 9, 1960
Succeeded by
"Please Help Me, I'm Falling"
by Hank Locklin
Preceded by
"Beatnik Fly" by Johnny and the Hurricanes
Australian Singles Chart number-one single
23 April – 14 May
Succeeded by
"Stuck on You" by Elvis Presley
Preceded by
"Blue Hawaii"
by Billy Vaughn Orchestra
Norway VG-Lista
number-one single by Jim Reeves

Week 29 to 33, 1960
Succeeded by
"Please Don't Tease"
by Cliff Richard