James Warren tells the story behind the 80s hit single that’s been covered by everyone from Beck to Baby D
Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime is a hit single written by James Warren, the lead singer of 80s pop band The Korgis. The song was released in 1980 from the group’s second album, Dumb Waiters, as a single reached the Top 5 of the UK singles chart and Top 20 across the Atlantic on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also topped the singles charts in France and Spain, reached No 3 in Netherlands and Germany, and became a Top 20 hit in Australia.
Since reaching what turned out to be the peak of The Korgis’ music chart success, Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime has been covered many times, including several versions that reached the UK singles chart, most notably those by Baby D, Yazz, Beck, Erasure, The Dream Academy, Brian Davis, Army of Lovers and Marc et Claude.
Here, James recounts how the song emerged, from the first chords and that striking opening lyric, and was taken to the next level by some big production. It’s another one of those curious moments of inspiration that makes songwriting so mysterious, and crafting a huge commercial hit so unpredictable…
“It was a Sunday morning and I had a piano in the flat that I lived in at the time. Every day I would try and come up with an idea for a song. I couldn’t really play the piano, I can find a note and there were certain chord shapes that I grew to like – I knew what they were from my guitar playing. So with that song, I started with a C#m7 shape and immediately started singing ‘Change your heart…’ and thought that sounded good.
“I was definitely after interesting, complex, jazzy piano chords like minor 9ths and suspended 11ths. I knew what they were, but I wasn’t a pianist by any shape or form. It was all written on the piano and the melodies came out at the same time as the chords – I literally sang the first thing that came into my head. I think even the words came out at the same time as well.
“It only took 10 or 15 minutes. It was one of those magical moments where the song sort of writes itself. I suppose you have to bear in mind that awful lot of background work made that song come out. For years it had been a daily routine – I’d been forcing myself to write songs.
“I’d always been into songwriting, but by that time, after we’d had the success of If I Had You, I thought yeah this is definitely what I want to do – I want to keep writing more and try to write something else that will get on the radio. So that was a definite thing with Everybody’s Got To Learn – with that introductory chord sequence I thought, ‘Yeah, I can hear this on the radio.’ I knew it had to try to make it as concise and commercial as possible.
“At that time I was into new wave philosophies about working on yourself, meditation and that sort of stuff. The whole lyric comes out of that. It wasn’t a romantic song at all. For me it was all about an individual changing and being a different sort of person – trying to find out the root of your inner confusion, dealing with it and becoming a better person. So it was literally a philosophical lyric.
“David Lord was hugely important in the production of it. The original demo was just me on piano, Andy Davis on drums, I think I overdubbed a bass guitar, someone else did a bit of rhythm guitar and that was it. I thought that was how the song would be. We sent it to our managers, Nick and Tim Heath at Rialto Records and they asked David to hammer it into shape. I thought it was a good song for the album, but I didn’t think it was going to have anything wonderful about it. But David added the big arrangement and strings, and it worked. So it was a combination of him thinking it was special, and also hearing from the record company in London that he should work on the song.
“To be honest, I don’t think there is a cover version that captures it better than we did. I think the approach we used was the best approach for the song, personally. A couple of the dance ones I’ve grown to quite like and I do like the Beck one – it’s a completely different and dark rendering of the song, but it’s good.”