To Be a Lover

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"I Forgot to Be Your Lover"
Single by William Bell
B-side "Bring the Curtain Down"
ReleasedNovember 1968
Genre Southern soul [1]
Label Stax
Producer(s) Booker T. Jones
William Bell singles chronology
"Private Number"
"I Forgot to Be Your Lover"
"My Baby Specializes"

"To Be a Lover" is a song written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones originally as "I Forgot to Be Your Lover", but best known as a cover by Billy Idol on his third studio album Whiplash Smile (1986). As the album's lead single, it became Idol's second top ten hit in the US, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 [2] and No. 22 on the UK Singles Chart. [3]


William Bell recording

The song was written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones, and originally performed by Bell as a soul ballad titled "I Forgot to Be Your Lover". It was released in late 1968 and hitting No. 45 on the Hot 100 and No. 10 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart in early 1969. This version has since been sampled by Ludacris on his song "Growing Pains" from Word of Mouf (2001), by Jaheim on "Put That Woman First" from Still Ghetto (2002) and by Dilated Peoples on the song "Worst Comes to Worst".

Other soul interpretations

The Mad Lads released a lush orchestral soul version of the song on their 1973 album A New Beginning, also released by Stax/Volt.

Reggae versions

In 1971, Lee "Scratch" Perry produced an early reggae version of the song, performed in an uptempo style by Shenley Duffus with Perry's studio band the Upsetters, with the title shortened to "To Be a Lover". In 1977, Perry again produced the song, this time for George Faith. [4] [lower-alpha 1] This version, also called simply "To Be a Lover", [lower-alpha 2] was heavily shaped by Perry's Black Ark sound and effects and featured backing vocals from the Meditations and Mighty Diamonds. [4] It appeared on Faith's album Super Eight, which was released as To Be a Lover in the UK. [4]

Billy Idol version

"To Be a Lover"
Billy idol - to be a lover - album cover.jpeg
Single by Billy Idol
from the album Whiplash Smile
B-side "All Summer Single"
Released22 September 1986 (1986-09-22)
Genre New wave
Label Chrysalis
Producer(s) Keith Forsey
Billy Idol singles chronology
"Catch My Fall"
"To Be a Lover"
"Don't Need a Gun"
Music video
"To Be a Lover" on YouTube

In 1986, the track was reworked and became the second high-profile cover version Billy Idol released as a single, after 1981's "Mony Mony". Billy Idol was introduced to the song by the George Faith reggae version—he initially was unaware of the original William Bell release, [5] and so retained the truncated title "To Be a Lover". He more radically transformed the song, adding a more rockabilly feel and danceable beat to its soulful underpinnings. [5]

The single was backed by Whiplash Smile album track "All Summer Single". Two different 12" singles were also released worldwide (one in the UK and one in Australia), featuring the aforementioned track and two extended remixes of "To Be a Lover (Mother of Mercy Mix)" (6:45) and "Rock 'n' Roll Mix" (Australia and New Zealand only). The "Mother of Mercy Mix" differs quite significantly from the single version; it is a harder sounding song, with a prominent heavy guitar riff by Steve Stevens dominating most of the track and an interlude with distorted female groans. It is this version that is featured on the 1987 US and 1988 Japan editions of the remix compilation album Vital Idol (1985). The UK 12" was also released as a limited-edition picture disc. [6]

Critical reception

Billboard called it a "foot-twitching disco/rockabilly fusion." [7] Cash Box said it's "full of...bad boy sexiness." [8]

Formats and track listings

7": Chrysalis – IDOL 8 (UK)

  1. "To Be a Lover" – 3:50
  2. "All Summer Single" – 4:33

12": Chrysalis – IDOLX 8 (UK)

  1. "To Be a Lover (Mother of Mercy Mix)" – 6:45
  2. "To Be a Lover" – 3:50
  3. "All Summer Single" – 4:33
  • Also available as a picture disc (IDOLP 8)

12": Festival Records – X 14449 (Australia and New Zealand)

  1. "To Be a Lover (Rock 'n' Roll Mix)" – 7:11
  2. "To Be a Lover (Mother of Mercy Mix)" – 6:45
  3. "All Summer Single" – 4:33


Weekly charts

Weekly chart performance for "To Be a Lover"
Chart (1986-1987)Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) [9] 3
Canadian RPM Top Singles [10] 7
Italy ( Musica e Dischi ) [11] 18
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ) [12] 2
US Billboard Hot 100 [2] 6

Year-end charts

1986 year-end chart performance for "To Be a Lover"
Chart (1986)Position
Australia (Kent Music Report) [13] 79
1987 year-end chart performance for "To Be a Lover"
Chart (1987)Position
Australia (Kent Music Report) [14] 34
US Top Pop Singles (Billboard) [15] 64


Certifications for "To Be a Lover"
RegionCertification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada) [16] Gold50,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Bruce Springsteen version

Bruce Springsteen recorded the song for his twenty-first studio album, Only the Strong Survive (2022).


  1. Perry had recorded the sing earlier in the decade for the singer when he was known as Earl George and this version also appears on the 2003 CD re-release of the album To Be a Lover.
  2. The song was titled "To Be a Lover (Have Mercy)" on its album release.

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  2. 1 2 "Billy Idol | Awards". AllMusic. 30 November 1955. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  3. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 266. ISBN   1-904994-10-5.
  4. 1 2 3 Teacher. "George Faith – To Be A Lover." Reggae Vibes. 11 January 2021. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  5. 1 2 "When Billy Idol met Steve Cropper: 'A long-haired chap came up to me'." Something Else! 30 September 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  6. " To Be A Lover " at Discogs
  7. "Reviews". Billboard. 4 October 1986. p. 79. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  8. "Single Releases" (PDF). Cash Box. 4 October 1986. p. 9. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  9. Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 . St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN   0-646-11917-6.
  10. Peaked on RPM 100 Singles Chart on 6 December 1986
  11. "Classifiche". Musica e dischi (in Italian). Retrieved 31 May 2022. Set "Tipo" on "Singoli". Then, in the "Artista" field, search "Billy Idol".
  12. " Billy Idol "To Be A Lover"" (ASP). Hung Medien. Recording Industry Association of New Zealand . Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  13. "National Top 100 Singles for 1986". Kent Music Report . No. 650. December 1986. Retrieved 24 January 2023 via Imgur.
  14. "Australian Music Report No 701 – 28 December 1987 > National Top 100 Singles for 1987". Australian Music Report . Retrieved 11 December 2019 via Imgur.
  15. "1987 The Year in Music & Video: Top Pop Singles". Billboard. Vol. 99, no. 52. 26 December 1987.
  16. "Canadian single certifications – Billy Idol – To Be a Lover". Music Canada . Retrieved 9 August 2023.