He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

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"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is a 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 also a minor hit for Neil Diamond in 1970. It has been recorded by many artists in subsequent years. The Hollies' version was re-released in 1988 and again was a major hit in the UK.

Scott and Russell were introduced to each other by Johnny Mercer, at a California nightclub. Although Russell was dying of lymphoma and the pair met only three times, they managed to collaborate on the song.


James Wells, Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland, tells the story of a little girl carrying a big baby boy in his 1884 book The Parables of Jesus. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she wasn't tired. With surprise she replied: "No, he's not heavy; he's my brother."[1]

In a 1918 publication by Ralph Waldo Trine titled The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit, Trine 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.'"[2]

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.[3] According to the Boys Town website, the phrase as used by Boys Town was said to Fr. Flanagan in 1918 by one of the residents while carrying another up a set of stairs. The boy being carried is said to have had polio and worn leg braces.[4]

The Hollies version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
The Hollies - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.jpg
Single by the Hollies
from the album He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother (US), non-album single (International releases)
B-side"'Cos You Like to Love Me"
Released26 September 1969[5]
Recorded25 June 1969[5]
StudioAbbey Road Studios
Producer(s)Ron Richards
The Hollies singles chronology
"Sorry Suzanne"
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
"I Can't Tell the Bottom from the Top"

The Hollies' recording, sung by Allan Clarke with Elton John on piano, was released on 26 September 1969. It reached No. 3 in the UK[7] and No. 7 in the US.[5] The song was re-released in August 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.[8]

Neil Diamond version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
Single by Neil Diamond
from the album Tap Root Manuscript
Released5 November 1970
LabelUni Records
Songwriter(s)Bob Russell, Bobby Scott
Producer(s)Neil Diamond, Tom Catalano
Neil Diamond singles chronology
"Cracklin' Rosie"
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
"Do It"

The Neil Diamond version entered at No. 68 on the Hot 100 on 7 November 1970 [29] (UNI Records, 55264, length 4:09). The flip side was "Free Life". The song appears on Diamond's album Tap Root Manuscript, which was released in November 1970.[29] 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.

Track listings

7" single

  1. He Ain't Heavy - He's My Brother - 3:59
  2. Free Life - 3:11
Chart (1970-1971) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100[30] 20
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard) 4
Australian Singles Chart 94
New Zealand Singles Chart 18

Bill Medley version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
Single by Bill Medley
from the album Rambo III: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Released1 August 1988
GenreSoul, adult contemporary
LabelScotti Bros
Songwriter(s)Bob Russell, Bobby Scott
Producer(s)Giorgio Moroder
Bill Medley singles chronology
"(I've Had) The Time of My Life"
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"

Bill Medley recorded a version for the soundtrack of the film Rambo III. It was released as a single in the UK and peaked at No. 25, being in the chart the same time as the Hollies' version in 1988. It reached No. 49 on Billboard's AC chart.[31]

Track listings

7" single

  1. He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother - 4:30
  2. Giorgio Moroder – The Bridge (Instrumental) - 4:00
Chart (1988) Peak
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard) 49
UK Singles Chart[32] 25
Dutch Top 40[33] 23
Belgian Singles Chart[34] 20

Gotthard version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
Single by Gotthard
from the album G. (Asian Releases only)
Released20 September 1996
Songwriter(s)Bob Russell, Bobby Scott
Producer(s)Chris von Rohr
Gotthard singles chronology
"One Life One Soul"
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
"Let It Rain"

In 1996, Gotthard released their version of the song, which was more poppier compared to their other songs and the structure was retained as a ballad like the original. In Switzerland, the cover was just as successful as the original. The Asian version of the album G contains the cover. It also appears on the compilation albums One Life One Soul – Best of Ballads and The Greatest Rock Ballads.

Track listings


  1. "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" - 4:37
  2. "All I Care For" - 3:08
  3. "One Life, One Soul" - 3:58
Chart (1996) Peak
Swiss Singles Chart[35] 10

The Justice Collective version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
The Justice Collective - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.jpg
Single by the Justice Collective
Released17 December 2012
RecordedOctober–November 2012
GenrePop rock
  • Bob Russell
  • Bobby Scott
The Justice Collective singles chronology
"The Fields of Anfield Road (as the Liverpool Collective)"
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
"All Together Now (as the Peace Collective)"
Music video
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" on YouTube

In 2012, a version of the song was recorded, and was released on 17 December 2012, by musicians and celebrities going under the name the Justice Collective, for various charities associated with the Hillsborough disaster.[36]

The song went on to take the coveted Christmas number one position for 2012 on the UK Singles Chart,[37] beating The X Factor winner James Arthur, who was number one the previous week and returned to number one the next week.


After the News International phone hacking scandal, members of the Farm along with Pete Wylie, and Mick Jones of the Clash performed at an anti-The Sun concert at the Liverpool Olympia in September 2011. Following this they formed the Justice Tonight Band and toured the United Kingdom and Europe for the next year in order to raise awareness of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.[38]

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.[38]

Keith Mullen of the Farm recruited Guy Chambers to produce the single and with Chambers offering free use of his Sleeper Studios to record the song. On 25 October 2012, Steve Rotheram, Guy Chambers and Kenny Dalglish announced plans of the single to be recorded by various artists such as Robbie Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Paloma Faith, Beverley Knight, Melanie C, Holly Johnson, Mick Jones, Glen Campbell, Peter Hooton, Chris Sharrock, Glenn Tilbrook, Ren Harvieu, Dave McCabe, Paul Heaton, Hollie Cook, Jon McClure, John Power, Gerry Marsden, and two original members of the Hollies, Bobby Elliott and Tony Hicks.[38]


Other versions[edit]


  1. ^ Wells, James (10 September 2010). The parables of Jesus. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
  2. ^ Trine, Ralph Waldo (1918). The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit. Project Gutenberg.
  3. ^ "ZipUSA: Boystown, Nebraska @ National Geographic Magazine". Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  4. ^ "The Story Behind "He Ain't Heavy…"". Boys Town. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  5. ^ a b c The Hollies—Epic Anthology: From the Original Master Tapes Epic Records EGK 46161 liner notes
  6. ^ Epic Records 5-10532 45 rpm
  7. ^ "UK Top 40 Chart Archive, British Singles and Album Charts". EveryHit.com. 16 March 2000. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
  8. ^ "All The Official Singles Chart Number 1s". www.officialcharts.com. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Forum - 1970 (ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts)". Australian-charts.com. Archived from the original on 2 June 2016. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  10. ^ "The Hollies – He Ain't Heavy - He's My Brother" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  11. ^ "RPM 100". RPM. 13 (5). 21 March 1970. Archived from the original (PHP) on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  12. ^ "RPM Adult". RPM. 12 (26). 14 February 1970. Archived from the original (PHP) on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  13. ^ a b "The Irish Charts - All there is to know". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  14. ^ "The Hollies – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  15. ^ Flavour of New Zealand, 19 December 1969
  16. ^ "The Hollies – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". VG-lista.
  17. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  18. ^ "Hollies, The – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". Swiss Singles Chart.
  19. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  20. ^ "The Hollies Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  21. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, March 21, 1970". Archived from the original on 8 June 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  22. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Hollies, The – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". GfK Entertainment Charts. To see peak chart position, click "TITEL VON Hollies, The"
  23. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  24. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  25. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". collectionscanada.gc.ca. 17 July 2013.
  26. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1972". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  27. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1970/Top 100 Songs of 1970". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  28. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 26, 1970". Archived from the original on 22 July 2019. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  29. ^ a b "I Am...I Said, A Fan of Neil Diamond". Iaisnd.com. Archived from the original on 24 January 2012. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
  30. ^ chartsurfer.de
  31. ^ "Bill Medley Chart History: Adult Contemporary". Billboard.
  32. ^ chartsurfer.de
  33. ^ ultratop.be
  34. ^ ultratop.be
  35. ^ hitparade.ch
  36. ^ Michaels, Sean (23 November 2012). "Paul McCartney guests on Hillsborough charity single with Robbie Williams". Guardian UK. London. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  37. ^ "Hillsborough single is Christmas number one". Daily Telegraph UK. 23 November 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  38. ^ a b c "Interview With Keith Mullin | Players | Interviews". Blue Kipper. 8 December 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  39. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
  40. ^ "The Justice Collective – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  41. ^ "The Justice Collective – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". VG-lista.
  42. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  43. ^ "Promusicae (Week: December 26, 2012)" (PDF). Retrieved 26 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  44. ^ "Official Independent Singles Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company.
  45. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  46. ^ "Top 100 Singles of 2012". BBC Radio 1. BBC Online. 31 December 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013.