Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Two names for tearjerker - Johnny Nash changes name, style of Ernie Smith ballad

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Ernie Smith - File

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Ernie Smith recorded I Can't Take It as a ballad at Federal Studios in 1967. Eight years later, Johnny Nash did it over as a lovers' rock track, naming it Tears on My Pillow. It was, for Smith, an unfortunate title change, as that was the name of a Little Anthony and the Imperials hit.

It was, for Smith, an unfortunate coincidence, as there was a mix-up in royalties.

However, there is no taking away the credit that I Can't Take It has been to Smith - the tearjerker ballad is a sure hit with audiences.

At concerts, Smith is wont to put some drama into the song, taking a pause for full effect before the closing lines of the chorus.

Smith was living in Bamboo, St Ann, and working at the Reynolds bauxite outfit when he wrote I Can't Take It, accompanying himself on guitar.

Although the song comes across as intensely personal, Smith said it did not come from a first-hand or even someone else's specific experience.

"It was just music. I was enjoying everything I was doing," he said.

It does, however, seem to mark a new development in his writing.

"I usually tell people it is my birth as a songwriter," Smith said. "Birth is pain."

And so is I Can't Take It:

I can't take it

I'm so lonely

Gee I need you so

I can't take it

Oh I wonder why you had to go

But baby

Every night I wake up crying

Tears on my pillow

Pain in my heart, and you on my mind

I remember all the good times that we had before

I remember, now my heart my very soul cries out for more

But baby, all your love for me is dying

Tears on my pillow

Pain in my heart

And you on my mind

Then comes the talking, which precedes the chorus:

"I will always remember the day you promised to love me 'til the very end. And I'll never forget the day you walked away, you walked on out of my life with my very best friend."

The first persons to hear I Can't Take It were members of the band Smith was in - The Vandals - and the persons who hung around them. He chose the ballad format, Smith said, because "there were songs like that on the radio I was listening to".

There was also the matter of borrowing some lyrics from himself, as Smith said he had the line "but baby, where were you when I needed you" in another song.

And he intended to pass on I Can't Take It to another singer. When he went to Federal, Smith asked if there was a singer who could do it. He was told to stick around - a band was coming in at 2 p.m. and he could record I Can't Take It with them.

Members of that band were Ernie Ranglin (guitar), who was also the arranger; Brian Atkinson (bass), Conroy Cooper (keyboards) and Joe Isaacs (drums). After the recording, Smith said, "I felt real good about it."

However, he said, "I did not feel so comfortable singing it. I felt I could have done a better job singing it."

Smith first heard I Can't Take It over the airwaves some months after it was recorded.

"I waited and waited, hoping to hear it on the radio. One day, I was sitting in my father's car and there it was. My heart was beating like I was on stage," Smith said.

While he performed I Can't Take It with The Vandals, Smith had no problems delivering the song. But when he first did it on television, for the 'Top Ten Tunes' with Barry Johnson, he said, "I was real nervous again."

Then there was the female singer from a popular group who saw Smith and said he could not be the person who sang I Can't Take It. "I looked like a real nerd at the time," Smith said.

The song did not do well on the charts, Smith expressing confusion about the label it came out on and the distribution. He knew about Nash's cover before it was done and, when he visited Germany in 1975, saw the effect of the lover's rock version there.

Now, Smith said, he does the song he wrote under two names.

"I do it both reggae and slow. If I do it reggae I call it Pillow Rock. If I do it like a ballad I call it I Can't Take It," he said.