A Song For You
At the end of 1971, I heard a song played on the radio, late at night. It was sung by Donny Hathaway, a soul singer that I knew of, and admired. It was a heartbreaking love song, and though I was only nineteen years old, and had never really experienced heartbreak, I immediately decided that this was the definitive song about a lost love. I asked around in record shops, but they couldn’t get a copy for me to buy. That was that. A year later, I heard the instantly recognisable tone of Karen Carpenter, singing the same song on a TV show. Whatever you might think of the cheesy image of The Carpenters, and their string of massive middle of the road, easy listening hits, she was undeniably a marvellous vocalist. She did the song justice, but it lacked the emotion I recalled from the Hathaway version. I tried to find out a bit more about this song, not very easy to do in those far-off days, and I didn’t have much luck. One night, I was at a friend’s house, and they played an album by Helen Reddy. This long-forgotten Australian songstress was massive during the 1970’s, and on this album, I once again heard this song, a version not unlike The Carpenters one. I was able to look at the label, and the credit for writing the song went to Leon Russell.
This was someone I had heard of. Looking at his available records at the time, I soon discovered that this song was a track on his eponymous album, released in 1970. I knew I must have heard this before, it just hadn’t registered, when I heard the version by Donny Hathaway. I also discovered that it had been Andy Williams, of all people, the famous American crooner, who first had a chart hit with his own version, in 1971, in America. That one had slipped past my radar nicely, but I was keen to hear the original. I bought Leon Russell’s album soon after, and found it to be something of a revelation. As well as ‘A Song For You’, there was ‘Delta lady’, later made famous by Joe Cocker, ‘I Put A Spell On You’, a cover version of Screaming Jay Hawkins hit, and collaboration with Eric Clapton too. The last track was ‘Roll Away The Stone’, later covered with much success, by Mott The Hoople. I had found my song, and was happy to have it.
A few years later, in 1976, I heard yet another version played on the radio. This time, it was by Joe Cocker, the gravel-voiced British singer, doing so well in America, and it was a track from his latest album. He did a truly excellent job, and it was on a par with the best versions. Over the years since, there have been many more covers of this wonderful song. Aretha Franklin, Carmen McCrae, Peggy Lee, Ray Charles; just some of the great singers who have been captivated by Leon Russell’s song, as well as many more. But it is the Donny Hathaway vocal that started it all for me, so here it is. Don’t let it break your heart now…