He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

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"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
Single by Kelly Gordon
from the album Defunked
B-side"That's Life"
Producer(s)Kelly Gordon
Kelly Gordon singles chronology
"You're A Star Now"
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
"Some Old Funky Blues Thing"

"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 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)
B-side"'Cos You Like to Love Me"
ReleasedSeptember 26, 1969[5]
RecordedJune 25, 1969[5]
StudioEMI, London
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' recorded the song in June 1969 at the EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios), with Allan Clarke on lead vocals. Elton John, who was working as a session musician at the time, played the piano on the song, as well their next single, "I Can't Tell the Bottom from the Top".[8] The song was released on 26 September 1969 and reached No. 3 in the UK,[9] 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.[10]

Neil Diamond version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
Single by Neil Diamond
from the album Tap Root Manuscript
ReleasedNovember 5, 1970
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 November 7, 1970 (UNI Records, 55264, length 4:09).[35] The flip side was "Free Life". The song appears on Diamond's album Tap Root Manuscript, which was released in November 1970.[35] 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[36] 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
ReleasedAugust 1, 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"
"I'm Gonna Be Strong"

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 on the chart the same time as the Hollies' version in 1988. It reached No. 49 on Billboard's AC chart.[37]

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[38] 25
Dutch Top 40[39] 23
Belgian Singles Chart[40] 20

Gotthard version[edit]

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
Cover art for the single with alternate title.
Single by Gotthard
from the album G. (Asian Releases only)
ReleasedSeptember 20, 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 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[41] 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
ReleasedDecember 17, 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 December 17, 2012, by musicians and celebrities going under the name the Justice Collective, for various charities associated with the Hillsborough disaster.[42]

The song went on to take the coveted Christmas number one position for 2012 on the UK Singles Chart.[43]


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.[44]

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 September 17, 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.[44]

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 October 25, 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.[44]


Other versions[edit]

  • In 1971, Donny Hathaway covered the song and released it on his self-titled album. He also published live performances of the song in several live albums.
  • In 1975, Olivia Newton-John covered the song on her album Clearly Love and included it as the B-side on her single from the same album, "Let It Shine", which went to No. 1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. Record World said that "Olivia covers the tune with a wispy vocal and understated instrumentation, making the song all her own."[53]


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