The Story of... 'The Living Years' by Mike + the Mechanics

28 April 2021, 16:40

Mike and the Mechanics' The Living Years
Mike and the Mechanics' The Living Years. Picture: Atlantic/YouTube

By Tom Eames

'The Living Years' remains one of the greatest and most moving power ballads ever made.

The song was a massive success in 1989 for Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford's side project Mike + the Mechanics. And it still makes us tear up when listening to the powerful lyrics.

But did you know about its backstory and inspiration? Here's all you need to know about the song...

  1. Who wrote 'The Living Years'

    Mike Rutherford in 1993
    Mike Rutherford in 1993. Picture: Getty

    Genesis member and Mike + the Mechanics leader Mike Rutherford co-wrote the song with Scottish musician BA Robertson, who was most famous for his 1979 top five hit 'Bang Bang'.

  2. What is 'The Living Years' about?

    Co-writer BA Robertson
    Co-writer BA Robertson. Picture: Getty

    The song is written from the perspective of a son who has a conflicted relationship with his dad.

    After his father dies, he discovers that he and his dad had a much stronger connection than he realized, and he regrets not saying more while he was still alive.

    The song was written by Rutherford and Robertson after both of their fathers had recently died, but the lyrics were written by Robertson, and centered on the unresolved issues between him and his father.

    Rutherford later told The Sun: "The lyrics were written by BA and the song is about something he went through. 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. Who sang 'The Living Years'?

    Paul Carrack in 1987
    Paul Carrack in 1987. Picture: Getty

    Former Ace and Squeeze singer Paul Carrack took on the lead vocals for the song.

    Adding another layer to the moving song's lyrics, Carrack had lost his own father when he was only 11 years old.

  4. How was the song written?

    BA Robertson wrote the first verse before his father died in 1986, the same year Rutherford lost his dad. The pair composed the music based on the verse, and Robertson later came up with the second verse.

    The final verse didn't come to him until shortly before the song was recorded. Robertson was staying at a hotel in Los Angeles, he has recalled going outside to a garden when the verse came to him.

    Read more: The 15 greatest and emotional songs about dads

    He was working with Rutherford when he got a phone call saying that his dad had died, which is reflected in the opening lines of this verse: "I wasn't there that morning. When my father passed away."

    Three months before his father died, Robertson's son was born, which we hear in the line: "I'm sure I heard his echo. In my baby's new born tears."

  5. Where was the video filmed?

    Mike & The Mechanics - The living Years

    The music video was filmed in October 1988 in West Somerset near Porlock Weir, and the hamlet of Culbone.

    It features Mike Rutherford with his then eight-year-old son, Tom.

    It also includes a cameo appearance by actress Maggie Jones, best known for playing Blanche Hunt in Coronation Street.

    The choir was from the King's House School in London.

  6. How did it perform in the charts?

    The song reached number one in America, and number two in the UK, where it was held off the top by Marc Almond and Gene Pitney's 'Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart' for three weeks.

    It also won Best Song at the Ivor Novello Awards, but lost out on Song of the Year at the Grammys to 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' by Bette Midler.

    Rutherford later said: "People write to me to this day saying how they had lost touch with their fathers, and how they had written to them on the strength of that song.

    "Most songs don't have that extra bit that changes your life."