Significant Songs (13)

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…


9 thoughts on “Significant Songs (13)

  1. Your enthusiasm over your choice of songs always fascinates me Pete. Do you research the names and the covers for the sake of the blog or do you know it from back then when you first heard them? I’m terrible with names – both of songs and artists. Usually I hear something and from then on it’s known as “that doop de doo song” etc. I even label them as whatever line I think the song should be called on CDs etc which used to annoy the hell out of my friend whenever she tried to find something to listen to from my collection ha ha πŸ™‚


    1. I do actually remember all this stuff from back then. It floats in and out of my memory, for no apparent reason, and I write the draft when it’s there. The only research I do is for the correct dates, as I am usually a year or so out either way. I know that you cannot hear the links at present, but when you can, this is one you will like. I am certain of that.
      As ever,. Pete. XX


      1. ok don’t throw things at me… but…I wasn’t feeling this one *ducks and covers* perhaps the noise from the little man in the next room was distracting…or perhaps I’m in such a good mood that NOTHING can bring me down (ha ha yeah right) I do love his voice though. Parts sounded familiar but then went in another direction which frustrated me a little- I can only assume thats from copycats stealing bits and pieces for their own stuff. I feel if I had heard this first, perhaps I would have favoured this song over a few of those “almost the same but totally different” songs. xx


  2. Pete: What a truly wonderful song. Like you, I have listened to many versions of this song and to me Leon Russell’s original and Joe Cocker’s interpretation are the best two. The BB King style guitar on the Cocker track is an added bonus.Does any man put more of himself into a song than Joe Cocker? I doubt it. Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and Ray Charles do a version of this too. Definitely a fine example of my kind of music. BPC


    1. I was in two minds about the Joe Cocker version Brian, as I prefer both his and most others to the Leon Russell original, to be honest. However, I went with Donny, as that was the first one that I remembered, and still my personal favourite. Glad you liked it old friend. x


  3. Ooooooooh dear Pete, what a treat to visit you! Thank you so much for this heart moving music, goosepimples included. We love to Listen to your great music with history and read your stories. You surely must have a lot of albums at home.
    Gute Nacht aus Bonn from Selma and myself
    Big pat for Ollie!
    We hope to see you all in Cley soonπŸ‘‹πŸ‘‹πŸ‘‹


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