The Living Years (song)

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"The Living Years"
Single by Mike + The Mechanics
from the album Living Years
B-side "Too Many Friends"
Released 27 December 1988[1]
Format Cassette Single, 7"
Recorded 1988
Genre Soft rock, pop rock
Length 5:32
Label Atlantic, WEA
Writer(s) Mike Rutherford, B. A. Robertson
Producer(s) Christopher Neil, Mike Rutherford
Certification Platinum (US)
Mike + The Mechanics singles chronology
"Nobody's Perfect"
"The Living Years"
"Seeing Is Believing"

"The Living Years" is a ballad written by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson, and recorded by Rutherford's English rock band Mike + The Mechanics. It was released in December 1988 in the UK and in the US as the second single from their album, Living Years. The song was a chart hit around the world, topping the US Billboard Hot 100 on 25 March 1989,[2] and reaching No.1 in Canada and Australia and No.2 in the UK. It spent four weeks at No. 1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. Paul Carrack sings lead vocals on the track.

The song addresses a son's regret over unresolved conflict with his now-deceased father.[3] It won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically & Lyrically in 1989,[4] and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1990. In 1996, famed composer Burt Bacharach opined: "'The Living Years' is one of the finest lyrics of the last 10 years."[5]

In 2004, "The Living Years" was awarded a 4 Million-Air citation by BMI.[6]


The Mike + The Mechanics version was initially promoted to give the impression about the disagreements between Mike Rutherford and his father, who had recently died. In an interview with Rutherford, he said:

"The lyrics were written by BA [Robertson] and the song is about something he went through. He lost his Dad and it's about the lack of communication between him and his father before he died. There's also the irony of him having a baby just after losing his father."[3]

Music video[edit]

The music video was directed by Tim Broad and premiered in January 1989. It was filmed in October 1988 in West Somerset, England near Porlock Weir and the hamlet of Culbone. The video features Mike Rutherford with his then eight-year-old son, Tom. The chorus was done by a church choir.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1988–1989) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[7] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[8] 18
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[9] 25
Canada (RPM) 1
Germany (Media Control Charts)[10] 13
Ireland (IRMA) 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[11] 20
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[12] 11
Norway (VG-lista)[13] 10
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[14] 18
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company) 2
US Billboard Adult Contemporary 1
US Billboard Hot 100[citation needed] 1
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 5

Chart successions[edit]

Preceded by
"When I'm with You" by Sheriff
Billboard Adult Contemporary (chart) number-one single
25 February 1989 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"You Got It" by Roy Orbison
Preceded by
"Lost in Your Eyes" by Debbie Gibson
Billboard Hot 100 number one single
25 March 1989
Succeeded by
"Eternal Flame" by The Bangles
Preceded by
"Lost in Your Eyes" by Debbie Gibson
Canadian RPM Singles Chart number-one single
8 April 1989 – 15 April 1989
Succeeded by
"She Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals
Preceded by
"She Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals
Australian ARIA Chart number one single
13 May 1989
Succeeded by
"Eternal Flame" by The Bangles


There are dozens of recordings of the song,[15] instrumental as well as vocal, reggae to classical crossover, from artists as diverse as American country music band Alabama, West End theatre star Michael Ball, Marcia Hines, Engelbert Humperdinck, James Last, The LSO, Christian artist Russ Lee, John Tesh, Russell Watson, the London Community Gospel Choir, the Newsboys, The Isaacs and The Katinas.

  • Mike + The Mechanics band member Paul Carrack, who performed the original lead vocal, has made a number of solo interpretations. Carrack's father died in an industrial accident when he was eleven.[16] It is still a mainstay of Carrack's live performances today.[17]
  • There is a comedic interpretation by Big Daddy,[18] where the song gets recast as the death-rock classic "Leader of the Pack", by The Shangri-Las.
  • The song has a number of foreign language covers, including the Tokyo Broadcasting System's (TBS) Drama, "Hotel", where it was performed, half in English, half in Japanese by one of the show's stars.[19]