Back in the day, I might buy a whole album just for one song. I know I did this for the title track of the 1972 album Why Can’t We Live Together by Timmy Thomas.
The song went to #3 on the US pop charts, #1 on the US soul charts, and #1 on the UK charts. The rest of the album was fine, but there was just something magical about this tune.
The introduction of the 2014 Evangel Pacific Radio interview reads:
“In 1972, Timmy Thomas was watching the evening news hosted by Walter Cronkite. Mr. Cronkite was reporting on the Vietnam war and the thousands of American and Viet Cong soldiers that had died in battle. Timmy thought ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’. This thought became a song that was embraced by millions.”
But it’s not just the message, it’s the instrumentation.
The song is notable for its sparse, stripped-down production, which featured only a Hammond organ, percussion from an early rhythm machine and Thomas’s passionate, soulful vocal. Thomas first sang it as an improvised number on his own nightclub… Timmy recorded a demo…
TK Records staff producer Steve Alaimo listened to the demo of the song and was going to re-cut it with a full band, but then decided the song was already finished the way it was.
The song has been covered by many artists, including… Sade (1984)…, Joan Osborne, Steve Winwood (2003) and Maria Muldaur (2009).
Here’s a bit of music history I did not know:
Mike Anthony, an American DJ/producer based in Belgium at the time, recorded his discofied version of the song in early 1982 but while it had reached the Belgian and Dutch charts, he was sued by the owners of the original Timmy Thomas recording for using elements from the original recording.
A judge ordered a re-recording of the song with all the original parts removed. This ruling marked one of the first court cases in which the use of original samples in new recordings played a role, as a precursor to the many court cases in the 1990s and 2000s.
Still, it has been sampled frequently.
Some info about Timmy Thomas (b. 13 November 1944) from Soulwalking.
Timmy Thomas had a massively UNsuccessful attempt with a Kickstarter campaign, “We Can Live Together” Help Us Save Our Children! in 2014.