Change Your Heart (Calmed By The Korgis)

By Ira Kantor

Photos courtesy of James Warren

In the summer of 1980, a quirky UK pop outfit scored the biggest hit of their career in a seemingly total about face from the musical style and nuances that first garnered them exposure.

Peaking at Number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” by The Korgis has become a de facto song of solace for me during this pandemic. It’s lyrics are somber and direct (“Change your heart — look around you;” “I need your loving like the sunshine”) complemented by emphatic synthesizer and violin melodies that seem to strike at the heart and mind, as if imploring listeners to stop for a moment, consider the circumstance(s) around them, and then simply breathe and move on.

Despite being somewhat eerie in its execution — in many ways a worthy follow-up to 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” – I find the song quite soothing and impactful. And in an era when disco still reigned supreme and new wave helped keep the beat going, this song, when compared to its chart contemporaries, is a wonderful anomaly — simply because it’s not about typical pop song cliches.

Subsequently covered by multifaceted artists like Beck and Italian singer-songwriter Zucchero, “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” is the brainchild of Korgis singer and bassist James Warren. Wanting to learn where the genesis for the song came from and its impact all these decades later (and if it takes on new meaning per the pandemic’s continued existence), I reached out to Warren, who shared insights via email.

“The real-life inspiration for the lyric was the Buddhist philosophy I was very much into at that time,” Warren told me. “The essence of it was we need to see ourselves and our relationships with new eyes; to understand we’re all inter-connected and that happiness and fulfillment can only be found beyond the narrow confines of self-centered attitudes. Hence: “Change your heart – look around you.””

The song would be the defining track on the group’s second album Dumb Waiters, standing out as a more personalized piece compared to cheeky tracks like “Dirty Postcards,” “It’s No Good Unless You Love Me,” and Beatle-inspired tunes like “Perfect Hostess” and “Drawn and Quartered.” The Korgis was originally composed of Warren and guitarist-keyboardist Andy Davis, both previously members of the UK band Stackridge. The group’s humor would be front and center apparently from the get-go (their first single was entitled “Young ‘n’ Russian”).

“In my lyrics, I think I tended to be either absurd or philosophical. So “EGTLS” was an example of the latter,” Warren told me. “During my Stackridge days I wrote ‘Humiliation’ and ‘There Is No Refuge,’ which were very much precursors to ‘EGTLS.’”

While Dumb Waiters is an underrated effort that deserves a fresh listen, the album almost reached a point of not happening, per Warren: “Yes, there was definitely more pressure making Dumb Waiters but it was exciting too, having had the success of “If I Had You” from the first album (1979’s The Korgis). The most anxiety was caused by Andy … deciding to quit halfway through recording the album, leaving me to replace all his vocals in keys that didn’t suit my voice (e.g., as in ‘Perfect Hostess’ and ‘Intimate’).”

Peaking at Number One in France and Spain, and hitting the Top 5 in the UK, “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” would be the band’s only hit in America.

“Musically, I was trying to write a kind of ‘transatlantic’ rock ballad. Something that might get on the

radio in the US as well as the UK,” Warren said. “On my first demo of the song, I even sang it with a rather exaggerated American accent!

“Yes, we were all amazed at the success of the song,” he adds. “I thought we’d come up with something pretty good but never dreamt it could be a sort of modern-day classic.”

I also asked Warren if the success of the song presented greater live opportunities for The Korgis, either as a supporting act or a standalone group playing for the masses on a global scale.

“Foolishly we decided to be a ‘mysterious’ studio band and didn’t play live gigs. Big mistake!” he told me. “But the sales were fantastic, and it was incredible to realize that people all over the world knew the song.”

Good news for worldwide fans of the group — a new Korgis album will be coming out in March 2021, according to Warren. Four decades later, he remains touched by the impact the song has had on peoples’ lives.

“The song has had — and indeed continues to have — a life of its own these 40 years. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my name will always be attached to it because it feels more like the song wrote itself and I was just lucky enough to be the medium through which it appeared,” he says. “Great to realize that it can have resonance in today’s pandemic scenario.”

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