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Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’: “A modern hymn”

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The lyrics of Winwood’s classic hit read like a dissertation on the divine.

I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be

Steve Winwood released “Higher Love” in 1986, for which he was afforded his first #1 hit. For the better part of four decades, the tune has ridden the radio waves as a prime example of the endurance of a catchy melody, but while the song is celebrated for its music, many overlook how spiritual it is.

“Think about it,” Winwood tells the audience in the opening line, then he proclaims that “there must be higher love.” As love is an expression between two people, a “higher” love must be the love between mankind and a higher power, or God. After establishing that there “must be” a God, Steve then gives two popular allusions to places where God resides “Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above,” with the stars above acting as a poetic reference to heaven.

“Without it,” Steve tells us — “it” referring to the “Higher Love,” i.e. God — “Life is wasted time.” Here Winwood is practically saying that the meaning of life is the pursuit of a close connection with God, and, conversely, that a life lived without faith has little to no meaning at all. “Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine,” Winwood instructs us, noting that the connection with God is intensely personal and must be discovered by each of us through spiritual reflection.

In the pre-chorus Steve turns his eyes toward the earthly matters, describing a bleak and faithless world which has turned from justice as he sings, “Things look so bad everywhere. In this whole world, what is fair?” He then turns to the tried and true metaphor, established by “Amazing Grace,” of the faithless having lost their sight. “We walk blind and we try to see,” Here he is posing that the world has lost its way, but it is still hopeful because we are trying to find it again. Then he notes that we can be truly great through faith with the line, “Falling behind in what could be.”

He then dives into the unforgettable chorus of “Bring me a higher Love,” imploring the world to go back to God with a melody that sounds fresh and new each time it’s played. The song continues to explore the same themes, however the lyrics are sometimes lost behind the rhythm section, around which the song revolves.

While Winwood made the song his own, the lyrics were written by Will Jennings, who also penned the lyrics to “My Heart Will Go On,” from the blockbuster film, Titanic. Jennings, the grandson of a Methodist preacher, gave an interview with Song Facts, in which he discussed his inspiration and the meaning behind “Higher Love”:

“My earliest memories are of the music in church and of my aunts and uncles singing the beautiful old hymns. ‘Higher Love’ is a generation past that, when things were not so much taken for granted, so that one has to plea, ‘Bring me a higher love,’ and the lines are all trying to explain why there must be higher love. A modern hymn, you might call it.”

 

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