I Can’t Take It: A ca­reer’s birthday song

Johnny Nash changes name, style of bal­lad

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT - 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.

How­ever, there is no tak­ing away the credit that I Can’t Take It has been to Smith, the tear­jerker bal­lad 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.

It is also the birthday song for his mu­sic ca­reer, as the 50th an­niver­sary of Tears on My Pil­low is the ba­sis for the Solid Gold cel­e­bra­tory con­cert at The Ja­maica Pe­ga­sus ho­tel, New Kingston, on Fri­day, Septem­ber 29.


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 first­hand 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” 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.

He in­tended to pass on I Can’t Take It to an­other singer, be­cause when he went to Fed­eral Smith, he 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 on­stage,” 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.

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.

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 on­stage.

Ernie Smith

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