- 2 Chart performance
- 3 Cover versions and answer songs
- 4 Sources
- 5 External links
Reeves recorded what became one of country music's biggest hits ever after listening to a version recorded by singer Billy Brown († January 10, 2009). The song, written by Joe and Audrey Allison, was inspired after the couple was having difficulty communicating by telephone. Audrey had a soft voice and was unable to speak up so her husband could adequately hear her, so Joe would have his wife place the receiver closer to her mouth.
When Brown's version failed to become a hit, Reeves recorded his. It was promptly released to country radio ... as the B-side of the intended hit, "In a Mansion Stands My Love." However, "Mansion" failed to catch on, and disc jockeys began playing the B-side instead. It wasn't long before the song became a huge country and pop hit; several rhythm and blues radio stations played the song, too.
The recording features a small group of musicians: Floyd Cramer on piano, Marvin Hughes on the vibraphone, Bob Moore on bass, Buddy Harman on drums, Hank Garland on guitar and the Anita Kerr Singersproviding the background vocals.
The first verse set the tone: "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone/Let's pretend that we're together all alone/I'll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low/And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go."
Country music historian Bill Malone noted that "He'll Have to Go" in most respects represented a conventional country song, but its arrangement and the vocal chorus "put this recording in the country pop vein." In addition, Malone lauded Reeves' vocal styling - lowered to "its natural resonant level" to project the "caressing style that became famous" - as being why "many people refer to him as the singer with the velvet touch."
"He'll Have to Go" reached #1 on the Hot Country Singles chart on February 8, 1960, where it remained for 14 consecutive weeks. The song was one of just five different titles to occupy the chart's summit during 1960.
In addition, the song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1960 and #13 on the R&B Singles Chart. It also had success abroad, reaching #1 on the Australian Singles Chart and #12 on the UK Singles Chart.
|Australia Singles Chart||1|
|Norwegian Singles Chart||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot C&W Sides||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||2|
|UK Singles Chart||12|
|U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Singles||13|
Cover versions and answer songs
"He'll Have to Go" has been covered by many artists, most notably Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones, Bryan Ferry and Ry Cooder. Presley recorded his version of "He'll Have to Go" on Oct. 31, 1976 at his last known studio recording session; it is believed to be the final song he ever recorded in a studio setting. "He'll Have to Go" is also the sole cover song ever issued by the British group Prefab Sprout, their version appearing on the US pressing of their album Steve McQueen, entitled Two Wheels Good in the US.
The song prompted the answer song "He'll Have To Stay" by Jeanne Black. Her song reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot C&W Sides chart and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 later in 1960. Skeeter Davis made a cover of it in 1961. "He'll Have To Stay" also got an answer song: "I'm Gonna Stay". It was recorded by Johnny Scoggins and released on the single Fraternity 869.
Elton John performed "He'll Have to Go" live on a number of occasions, perhaps most notably in 1979 on his acoustic tour with percussionist Ray Cooper, which included eight historic performances in the Soviet Union, a first for a Western rock artist. Elton had performed the song as part of his regular setlist when he was a pub piano player at the Northwood Hills Hotel in the early 1960s.
According to an account in Philip Norman's official biography, "Elton," in 1967 John chose the song for his Liberty Records audition. Liberty's Ray Williams, who auditioned the young pianist, was bowled over by how "unhip" John was. The song did, however, work well enough to land John a short demo session. Upon the revelation that John could write music well but not lyrics, Williams then suggested John meet with a lyricist who couldn't write music: Bernie Taupin.
The Mekons also covered it at least once in a 1986 concert that can be found on the Live Music Archive.
South African singer Ray Dylan covered the song on his album "Goeie Ou Country vol 2".