“Hey There Delilah”

“Hey There Delilah”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Tom Higgenson
“Hey There Delilah”

Written by Tom Higgenson
Recorded by Plain White T’s

The song was actually written in 2004, years before it got big on radio. I was hanging out with my friend Kim in Chicago, where we’re from. She said that her friend Delilah wanted to hang out, which was fine with me. It was the last day before Delilah went back to school in New York. We picked her up and I was instantly smitten. It was like an angel walked into the room. She was gorgeous with a face you could stare at forever.

I was flirting with her all night. We (the Plain White T’s) had just finished our first album, so I played some of our music for her in the car as we were driving. Delilah said she liked the CD so I gave her a copy. I told her I’d write a song for her on the next album and it became a running joke between us. We talked every day online, still flirting, and we joked back and forth when she continued to ask for her song. Eventually I said I really would write a song for her and kiddingly told her that it would be the one that would make us famous — and that she’d be my date for the Grammys. I knew she had a boyfriend so it was innocent flirtation and nothing happened, even though we both knew it would have if it had been up to me.

I was living with my mom in an apartment at the time. I was in my bedroom with an acoustic guitar and came up with the guitar riff that became the opening to “Hey There Delilah.” It had a nice progression and I knew it could make a good song.

Since I didn’t really know Delilah, I was trying to think what I could say to her after I had written the beginning of the lyrics:

Hey there Delilah

What’s it like in New York City?

I’m a thousand miles away

But girl, tonight you look so pretty,

Yes you do,

Times Square can’t shine as bright as you.

I knew I was onto something kind of special when I wrote:

Don’t you worry about the distance

I’m right there if you get lonely

Give this song another listen

Close your eyes

Listen to my voice, it’s my disguise,

I’m by your side.

I’d never gotten too poetic with lyrics before. I took my time over the next few months to make sure that every line was powerful and meant something. Writing about how I planned to pay the bills playing my guitar reflects my dreamy romantic nature.

But just believe me, girl

Someday I’ll pay the bills with this guitar.

We’ll have it good

We’ll have the life we knew we would.

Since Delilah had two more years of school, and I knew she wasn’t at all in love with me, I got a kick out of this:

If every simple song I wrote to you

Would take your breath away,

I’d write it all,

Even more in love with me you’d fall.

When I wrote the chorus, I thought it was a throwaway lyric and that I’d go back and re-do it. The more I played it, and as I was writing the rest of the song, the more I started thinking the chorus was sweet and that it worked. It turns out that it’s the part that everyone sings along with.

Contact between Delilah and myself had become more sporadic. Before I finished the song, and before I’d told Delilah anything about it, the band started to tour and she came to a show in New York. She was wearing a white sweater and a big floppy hat like Audrey Hepburn and looked gorgeous.

I called Delilah when I got the first promo copy of the CD the song was on. We hadn’t spoken in a few months but I wanted to tell her about it and get her a copy. I drove half an hour to her house to deliver it and was kind of nervous. At the house, we sat down in a sitting room surrounded by ceramic dolls. She didn’t want to listen to the song with me there, so we had some small talk for about 20 minutes. It was very awkward. All I could say to her was, “I tried to write a song as beautiful as you are and wanted you to have one of the first copies.” It turned out that she loved the song and came to a few more shows and wore an “I Am Delilah” T-shirt, which became a very popular item.

The CD came out in January on an indie label, Fearless Records. The song became an underground hit first on myspace.com and other places online. With its success, we were signed to Hollywood Records. We weren’t initially sure about re-releasing the song on the new album because it was older, but the record company folks made us realize that it was good exposure to the mass market. As a bonus track, it became an immediate radio success. Delilah called me when she heard it at her gym. She got a real kick out of it.

It was #1 in ten countries including the U.S., for which we have a Billboard plaque, and it was nominated for two Grammys. During that time, I broke up with the girlfriend I had and Delilah and her boyfriend were broken up. Everything I’d foreseen came true — she actually would be my date for the Grammys. I got back with my girlfriend and she with her boyfriend before Awards night, but we still went to the show together and fulfilled the prophecy of the song.

“Hey There Delilah”

Hey there Delilah

What’s it like in New York City?

I’m a thousand miles away

But girl, tonight you look so pretty,

Yes you do.

Times Square can’t shine as bright as you

I swear it’s true.

Hey there Delilah

Don’t you worry about the distance

I’m right there if you get lonely.

Give this song another listen

Close your eyes

Listen to my voice, it’s my disguise.

I’m by your side.

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me,

What you do to me.

Hey there Delilah

I know times are getting hard

But just believe me, girl

Someday I’ll pay the bills with this guitar.

We’ll have it good,

We’ll have the life we knew we would.

My word is good.

Hey there Delilah

I’ve got so much left to say.

If every simple song I wrote to you

Would take your breath away,

I’d write it all

Even more in love with me you’d fall,

We’d have it all.

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

A thousand miles seems pretty far

But they’ve got planes and trains and cars.

I’d walk to you if I had no other way

Our friends would all make fun of us

and we’ll just laugh along because we know

That none of them have felt this way.

Delilah I can promise you

That by the time we get through

The world will never ever be the same

And you’re to blame.

Hey there Delilah

You be good and don’t you miss me

Two more years and you’ll be done with school

And I’ll be making history like I do.

You’ll know it’s all because of you.

We can do whatever we want to.

Hey there Delilah here’s to you

This one’s for you.

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

Oh it’s what you do to me

What you do to me.

Written by Tom Higgenson. © 2004 Warner Chappell

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