Is there a more wistful, more tender, more romantic song than “If” by Bread? I can’t think of one.
Written by Bread frontman David Gates in 1971, I didn’t really become aware of it until a few years later when actor Telly Savalas (the lead character in Kojak, a very popular TV detective show in the UK at the time), somewhat surprisingly, you might think, for a largely spoken version of the song, had a UK Number One hit single with “If”.
I can still clearly remember being in a Chemistry lesson at school and a classmate telling me that Kojak had just made it to Number One in the charts. I thought they were pulling my leg as this seemed so unlikely to me. I refused to believe them until I heard the chart countdown on the radio myself.
The Telly Savalas version is by no means a bad one, even if the video is a little cringe-worthy by today’s standards. (Here if you need a reminder - https://youtu.be/J94-_w9ARX0 )
And he brought a different perspective to the song. In Bread, David Gates sang “If” as a young man, full of hope, promise and optimism.
Telly Savalas sang…or rather, spoke… “If” as an older, more knowing man.
Although the words are identical in both cases, I always felt the Bread version was looking to the future and the Telly Savalas version was reflecting on the past and the opportunities there might have been which were never taken…but that might just be my over-active imagination at work…
And in a trans-Atlantic divergence of views, in the UK, Telly Savalas’s version of “If” went to Number One in the charts and Bread’s version failed to chart. Whereas in the US, Bread’s version of “If” made it to Number Four in the Billboard Hot 100, but Telly Savalas’s version was nowhere to be seen.
Whichever version you prefer, “If” is a lovely song.
I always think of two lovers in one another’s arms, whispering to each other about how much in love they are at that very moment in time. How they’ll be together for ever and never leave. How nothing could be more perfect than it already is right there as they hold each other close.
“If” is a song you’d sing early in a relationship, when the practicalities haven’t yet taken hold, and nobody is arguing about whose turn it is to empty the bins.
It’s a song about love at its purest. And it has a very different take on love than most love songs.
There are plenty of love songs about hoping for love and not being able to find it yet. There are plenty more about the memories of a once-great love gone sour, and the hope that whatever they used to have together can be re-kindled so things can go back to being like the used to be once more.
Very few love songs are actually about the very moment when two people realise, at almost the same instant, the love they feel for one another. The very moment when Cupid’s arrow strikes.
But that’s exactly what “If” is about.
It’s an incredibly intimate song and I always feel that I’ve somehow been invited to witness a very special moment when I hear it. We get to witness the event as it happens — we’re not hearing about what it used to be, or what someone hopes it might become. We’re with this couple in real time as the realisation of what they feel for one another dawns on them both.
“If” makes you feel you’re incredibly privileged to share in such a special moment. That’s why it’s such a tender and beautiful song.
And if you yearn for love yourself, imagine what it would mean for someone to love…someone who would hold you close and whisper…
If the world should stop revolving
Spinning slowly down to die
I’d spend the end with you
And when the world was through
Then one by one, the stars would all go out
Then you and I would simply fly away
There is no greater expression of love for another human being than the beautiful words David Gates wrote for “If”.
Here he is on lead vocals for Bread…if this doesn’t make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, I’m not sure what will…
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about another of my favourite songs. I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to spend a few moments in the company of a song that I love.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find this track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/1Fu3gq55GH3P6OF352rEIc