He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

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"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
The Hollies - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.jpg
Single by The Hollies
B-side"'Cos You Like to Love Me"
Released26 September 1969 (1969-09-26)[1]
Recorded25 June and 7 August 1969
Abbey Road Studios[1]
Songwriter(s)Bob Russell and Bobby Scott
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"

"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 again for Neil Diamond in 1970. It has been recorded by many artists in subsequent years. The Hollies' and Rufus Wainwright's versions of the song were featured in the film Zoolander.

Origin of the song[edit]

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.

Origin of the title[edit]

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."[3]

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.'"[4]

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.[5]

Chart performance[edit]

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. It reached No. 3 in the UK[6] and No. 7 in the US. The song, paired with rarity "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.[7]

Neil Diamond's version of the song, recorded for his Tap Root Manuscript album, went to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in late 1970.

The Osmonds covered the song on their 1970 album, Osmonds, as well as on the B-side of their chart-topper "One Bad Apple". The song is a staple at their concerts.

Olivia Newton-John included the song on her 1975 album Clearly Love, and it was released as the B-side of the single "Let It Shine" in January 1976. The single went to number one on the US Easy Listening (adult contemporary) chart and number thirty on the Billboard Hot 100.

Neil Diamond version[edit]

The Neil Diamond version entered at #68 on the Hot 100 on 7 November 1970 [27] (UNI Records, 55264, length 4:09). The flip side was "Free Life".[28] The song appears on the Neil Diamond album Tap Root Manuscript, which was released November 1970.[27] 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.

Bill Medley version[edit]

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 the Billboard's AC chart.[29]

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 (2012-12-17)
RecordedOctober–November 2012
Sleeper Studios, Metropolis Studios, Abbey Road Studios
Parr Street Studios, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
GenrePop rock
LabelMetropolis (5065001566387)
  • Bob Russell
  • Bobby Scott
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.[30]

The song went on to take the coveted Christmas number one position for 2012 on the UK Singles Chart,[31] beating The X Factor winner James Arthur, who was number one the previous 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.[32]

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.[32]

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 Chisholm, 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.[32][33]



Chart (2012) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[35] 4
Norway (VG-lista)[36] 17
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[37] 2
Spain (Airplay Chart)[38] 33
UK Indie (Official Charts Company)[39] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[40] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2012) Rank
UK Singles Chart[41] 49

Other versions[edit]

Another version by an unknown vocalist was used in the early 1990s by the New Zealand Police in a televised public service announcement.[42][43]


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  2. ^ Epic Records 5-10532 45 RPM
  3. ^ The parables of Jesus. Books.google.com. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
  4. ^ Trine, Ralph Waldo (1918). The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit. Project Gutenberg.
  5. ^ "ZipUSA: Boystown, Nebraska @ National Geographic Magazine". Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
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  15. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – The Hollies – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". VG-lista.
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  17. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Hollies, The – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". Swiss Singles Chart.
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  20. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, March 21, 1970
  21. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Hollies, The – He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". GfK Entertainment Charts.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (doc)|format= requires |url= (help). Australian Chart Book, St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". collectionscanada.gc.ca.
  24. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1972". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  25. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1970/Top 100 Songs of 1970". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  26. ^ Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 26, 1970
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "Neil Diamond – He Ain't Heavy ... He's My Brother (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
  29. ^ "Bill Medley Chart History: Adult Contemporary". Billboard.
  30. ^ Michaels, Sean (23 November 2012). "Paul McCartney guests on Hillsborough charity single with Robbie Williams". Guardian UK. London. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  31. ^ "Hillsborough single is Christmas number one". Daily Telegraph UK. 23 November 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  32. ^ a b c "Interview With Keith Mullin | Players | Interviews". Blue Kipper. 8 December 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  33. ^ Gritt, Emma (24 December 2012). "The Justice Collective secure Christmas number one slot, outselling X Factor winner James Arthur by 45,000 copies". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  34. ^ a b c "Listen To ….. & Order 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' By The Justice Collective | great red north (LiverpoolFC.ca)". Greatrednorth.wordpress.com. 22 November 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  35. ^ "Chart Track: Week 51, 2012". Irish Singles Chart.
  36. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – The Justice Collective – He Aint Heavy, He's My Brother". VG-lista.
  37. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  38. ^ "Promusicae (Week: December 26, 2012)" (PDF). Retrieved 26 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  39. ^ "Official Independent Singles Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company.
  40. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  41. ^ "Top 100 Singles of 2012". BBC Radio 1. BBC Online. 31 December 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  42. ^ YouTube - NZ police commercial circa 1991 - 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother'
  43. ^ NZ Police Commercial 1990s (He ain't heavy...)