Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again (Naturally)

I thought I would continue the theme that many of us are going through. Hopefully, we have our family around to be alone with…or if you are by yourself do something that makes you happy….but don’t linger on this song long…it is damn depressing.

I remember this mostly in the eighties when I worked at a printing place and listened to the oldies channel…99.6 in Nashville.

This song peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, #2 in New Zealand, and #3 in the UK in 1972.

I do respect Gilbert for this quote: ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ has no comic purpose at all, and it is not a song that people can dismiss like ‘Get Down’ or ‘Clair.’ Because it means so much to some people, I will not allow it to be used for karaoke or commercials.”

Again thanks to Roger of Musical Musings of a Mangled Mind for recommending this one.

From Songfacts

One of the most depressing songs ever written, “Alone Again (Naturally)” tells a rather sad tale of a lonely, suicidal man being left at the altar and then telling the listener about the death of his parents. The song connected with listeners on various levels: the downtrodden could commiserate with the singer, and the lucky ones who were not in this position were reminded of their good fortune.

This was Irish-born singer Gilbert O’Sullivan’s only American #1. It sold 2 million copies, spent six weeks at the summit in America and earned him three Grammy Award nominations (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year). It was the second best-selling single of the year in America behind Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Gilbert O’Sullivan has denied that this song is autobiographical or about the death of his father when he was 11. O’Sullivan said: “Everyone wants to know if it’s an autobiographical song, based on my father’s early death. Well, the fact of the matter is, I didn’t know my father very well, and he wasn’t a good father anyway. He didn’t treat my mother very well.”

O’Sullivan charted in UK with “Nothing Rhymed” from his first album, but didn’t make in impact in America until “Alone Again (Naturally)” was released as the first single from his second album. In the first half of the ’70s, O’Sullivan enjoyed a succession of hits in the UK, including two #1s that show his considerable range as a songwriter. The first was “Clair,” inspired by Clair Mills, the 3-year-old daughter of his manager Gordon Mills, whom O’Sullivan baby-sat. The second was “Get Down,” which shows off his soulful side. O’Sullivan was the first Irish-born recording artist with two UK #1 hits.

In a Songfacts interview with O’Sullivan, he explained how this song came together. “‘Alone Again’ was written with two other songs in a writing period when I was 22 years of age. I had been a postal clerk in London, so I was only able to write after work in the evening. When Gordon Mills managed me – he managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck – when he took me on, he allowed me to quit my job and move into a bungalow that he owned where I could write every day. So, therefore, I was in a writing mode, and ‘Alone Again’ was just one of the songs I’d written. I was really pleased with it, happy with it, but I didn’t see it as being any more special than other songs. Suffice it to say, I was happy.”

The guitar solo was performed by Big Jim Sullivan, one of the most prolific session guitarists in the UK. He used a guitar with nylon strings to get the distinctive sound.

At the end of the 1980s this was used as the opening theme song and “Get Down” the closing theme song of Masion Ikkoku, a Japanese animated series. They were used without authorization, which caused some controversy at the time. However the net result was that a new Japanese generation discovered Gilbert’s music and his popularity grew in Japan. Some of his 1990s albums have only been released in Japan, where he has continued to enjoy some success.

In 1982 O’Sullivan took his former manager Gordon Mills to court over his original contract, ultimately winning back the master tapes to his recordings as well as the copyrights to his songs. Nine years later in 1991, O’Sullivan went to court again to sue the rapper Biz Markie, who used an unauthorized sample from this song in his track “Alone Again,” which appeared on Markie’s third album, I Need A Haircut. The judge made a landmark ruling in O’Sullivan’s favor that the rapper’s unauthorized sample was in fact theft. From this point on, artists had to clear samples or be subject to costly lawsuits.

O’Sullivan talked about the case in 2010 at a screening for the movie Out On His Own: Gilbert O’Sullivan. He said Biz Markie’s record company approached him about sampling the song, and O’Sullivan asked to hear it before granting permission. “Then we discovered that he was a comic rapper,” said Gilbert. “And the one thing I am very guarded about is protecting songs and in particular I’ll go to my grave in defending the song to make sure it is never used in the comic scenario which is offensive to those people who bought it for the right reasons. And so therefore we refused. But being the kind of people that they were, they decided to use it anyway so we had to go to court.”

O’Sullivan won’t let this song be used in commercials, but he often authorizes it for movies and TV shows, which typically use it for comic effect. Movies to use it include:

Gloria Bell (2018)
Napoleon Dynamite (2012)
Skylab (2011)
Megamind (2010)
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
Stuart Little 2 (2002)
Osmosis Jones (2001)
The Virgin Suicides (1999)

And in these TV shows:

The Simpsons (“The Wettest Stories Ever Told” – 2006)
Ally McBeal (“Alone Again” – 1998)

O’Sullivan had an unusual image in the early ’70s, performing in an outfit of pants and a flat cap. With his pudding-bowl haircut, he resembled a Depression-era street urchin. Around the time of the release of “Alone Again (Naturally),” he switched his outfit in favor of an endless series of collegiate-styled sweaters embossed with the letter “G.”

Sugar Ray borrowed the line “my mother, god rest her soul” for their 1997 hit “Fly.”

At least 100 artists have covered this song, including Anita Bryant, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Bassey and Neil Diamond. Pet Shop Boys did a version with Elton John, and Diana Krall and Michael Bublé recorded it together for Krall’s 2015 album Wallflower.

Alone Again (Naturally)

In a little while from now
If I’m not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top
Will throw myself off
In an effort to
Make it clear to whoever
Wants to know what it’s like When you’re shattered

Left standing in the lurch at a church
Were people saying, My God, that’s tough
She stood him up
No point in us remaining
We may as well go home
As I did on my own
Alone again, naturally
To think that only yesterday

I was cheerful, bright and gay
Looking forward to who wouldn’t do
The role I was about to play
But as if to knock me down
Reality came around
And without so much as a mere touch
Cut me into little pieces
Leaving me to doubt
Talk about, God in His mercy

Oh, if he really does exist
Why did he desert me
In my hour of need
I truly am indeed
Alone again, naturally
It seems to me that
There are more hearts broken in the world
That can’t be mended

Left unattended
What do we do
What do we do
Alone again, naturally
Looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears
I remember I cried when my father died
Never wishing to hide the tears

And at sixty-five years old
My mother, God rest her soul
Couldn’t understand why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken
Leaving her to start
With a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me

No words were ever
And when she passed away
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

12 thoughts on “Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again (Naturally)”

  1. I was five or six when it came out. I liked his voice and the song, though the topic was lost on my child brain. Listening to it as an adult, it is depressing as hell. It’s pretty tune. The subject matter is heavy, tho…

    Interesting about the lawsuits. Some of these managers need to have knots jerked in their asses. And, the rapper…not surprised that those folks would steal s***.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea the more I listen the more depressing it is but I still like it. He sounds the part so well.

      Yep….I can’t stand when they out right steal…and I’m happy when they are caught.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve loved Gilbert O’Sullivan since he first hit the airwaves. I used to have the album this was on. A few years back a friend of mine made me a CD with a bunch of his stuff on it, not sure if it’s a discography or not (I should check) but he has written a LOT of good songs. It’s a pity they haven’t reached enough people in the US. I am pleasantly surprised to hear Japan appreciates his music.

    Liked by 1 person

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