Words by Jesse Serwer
Trinidad’s Mighty Sparrow (look out for more on him in this space later today) is probably the most widely celebrated calypsonian across the Caribbean and the diaspora. But in some places— say, Holland— he is known primarily for his cover of this easy-listening ballad, which hit No. 1 on the Dutch charts in 1977. American songwriters Norman Bergen and Shelly Coburn wrote “Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart” for British duo Chad & Jeremy in the mid ’60s but Arthur Prysock would be the first to record it, in 1966. Sparrow’s version, backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, was released the following year though it would take a full decade for his version to reach its zenith. After his version’s success in the European charts in ’77, he capitalized on its success with a new version of the song, released in 1978. This video was likely shot sometime around then.
Sparrow wasn’t the only Caribbean artist to record, and score a major hit, with “Only A Fool.” Though the original version was only a minor success in the U.S., it was a near-instant phenomenon across the West Indies. Other well-known versions were recorded by Jamaicans Tony Gregory, Jackie Edwards and Lascelles Perkins and Pat Kelly (of the Techniques), and the Bahamas’ Ivan Simms. Dion Dimucci, Tom Jones and Nick Lowe have also recorded versions (Wyclef also sampled it in the intro to “All the Girls,” from his Carnival LP as have an inordinate number of singers from Finland. Norman Bergen, one of the songwriters, has a comprehensive history of the song over at his site. It’s a fascinating read.