Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were a hugely successful American husband-and-wife songwriting team. I've invoked their names hundreds of times over the years when asked about songwriting and songwriting royalties.
Felice & Boudleaux Bryant
They wrote 6000 songs and sold over 200 million records. Their list of hits includes “Bye Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Love Hurts” and “Rocky Top.” The one I wave around while giving my songwriting speech is "Love Hurts”, a song I first heard in 1961.
I would never have imagined at the time - I was 11 - that those words and that melody came from anywhere other than Roy Orbison’s own tortured heart. He sang every word with conviction and sincerity and delivered every note of the melody as though it was occurring to him as he sang, there in front of the microphone in that mysterious non-place where I imagined hit records were created back then.
I suppose I believed, in an unquestioning and not very thorough way, that all the songs I heard on the radio were emotional communiques that originated with the singers performing them. It wasn’t till I started writing songs myself that I began to learn more, and think more seriously, about the song writer’s art.
By 1975, I’d co-written the eight songs on the first Trooper album. Two of those songs, “Baby Woncha Please Come Home” and “Good Ol’ General Hand Grenade” shared the Canadian charts that summer with another version of “Love Hurts” – this one recorded by a Scottish group called Nazareth.
Dan McCafferty sang the song with a ferocity not present in Orbison’s version. Roy’s “Love Hurts” was sad but resigned. Dan’s added anger (especially in the soaring middle eight) and a lick of righteous self pity. The “hurt” is overall more searing than Roy’s. I continue to love both, to this day.*
Most people are familiar with the Nazareth version and some will remember the earlier Orbison track, but fewer will have heard the very first recording of the song, by the Everly Brothers in 1960, or Jim Capaldi’s hit UK version, from 1975. For many, Jacob Lusk’s recent American Idol performance may be their only exposure to the song.†
Regardless, while all five of these strikingly different performances showcase the unique singers and musicians that created them, one important thread remains consistent throughout: the lyrics and melody wedded together by Felice and Boudleaux over fifty years ago.
The songwriting royalties generated by the record sales and airplay of all the versions of “Love Hurts” went to the Bryants and, now, to their heirs. This will be the case with the iTunes track released last week by Jacob Lusk and will continue to be the case if another talented artist or group chooses to record the song in the future.
I'll return to another Nazareth hit, "This Flight Tonight" in part two - once I write it.
*I was honoured to have the opportunity to sing a verse of “Love Hurts” onstage with Dan McCafferty and Nazareth on my birthday in 2004.
† These are not the only covers of the song. To see a full list, containing over 40 versions (!), click here.