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Someone recently posted a list of Tom Petty’s favorite songs as enumerated in an appendix to his biography. I checked it out and was surprised by one of his selections – “I Can Help” by Billy Swan. Just last week he included the song in the playlist for his SiriusXM radio show, Buried Treasures. Clearly he’s fond of this song.
For me, the 1974 hit is a reminder of my high school days, driving around town, listening to AM radio, which is pretty much all most cars had back then.
It’s a slight song, both lyrically and musically, but it’s also very catchy — especially its use of those distinctive, alternating Farfisa organ chords over the rockabilly shuffle. Many articles claim the organ Swan used was a wedding gift to him from Kris Kristofferson and (then wife) Rita Coolidge. But in a 2007 article I found, Swan told interviewer Richard Buskin that the gift organ was used to write the song and produce a demo, but was not the one he used on the commercially released recording.
Although “I Can Help” was Swan’s only hit as a performer, he had earlier success in the music business. He wrote “Lover Please” that was a top 10 recording in 1962 for Clyde McPhatter, who had left the Drifters in 1954 after serving a stint in the Army.
As a producer, he hit in 1969 with Tony Joe White’s Southern cult classic “Polk Salad Annie.” As an instrumentalist, he was a touring musician in bands for Kristofferson, Kinky Friedman and Billy Joe Shaver.
Swan says he wrote “I Can Help” in just 20 minutes. More than 40 years later, that 20 minutes of inspiration is still satisfying listeners.
Enjoy… until next week.