The More Divine Meaning Behind “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood

After a nearly decade run of releasing solo albums, Steve Winwood landed on one of his biggest hits in 1986. “Higher Love,” released on Winwood’s fourth album, Back in the High Life, was the British artist’s breakthrough hit as a solo artist after releasing music since 1977, following his earlier days with the Spencer Davis Group and as a singer of Traffic and Blind Faith.

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“Higher Love” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaked at No. 4 on the Album Rock Tracks chart and picked up two Grammys for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year.

The Meaning of “Higher Love”

Even though he’s seen surrounded by dancers and frolicking with models in the music video for “Higher Love,” the meaning of the song is something more spiritually rooted for Winwood.

Lyrically, there’s a love elevated beyond mere mortal unions. This higher love can be interpreted as God, who resides in the heart and in the stars (i.e. heaven).

Think about it, there must be a higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, and I’ll look inside mine

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk the line and try to see
Fallin’ behind in what could be, oh

Chaka Khan

Adding a little more gospel feel to the song, Chaka Khan sings backing vocals on the song and also appeared in the “Higher Love” music video, along with Nile Rodgers, who is playing guitar in the band and also plays on the recorded version.

My Lord

Further into the song, Winwood seeks something more divine — oh my Lord — in a chaotic world.

Worlds are turnin’, and we’re just hanging on
Facing our fear, and standin’ out there alone
A yearning, yeah, and it’s real to me
There must be someone who’s feeling for me

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk the line and try to see
Fallin’ behind in what could be, oh

Bring me a higher love (oh my Lord)
Bring me a higher love, oh (oh)
Bring me a higher love (my Lord)
It’s that higher love I keep thinking of

Will Jennings

Though Winwood made “Higher Love” his own, the song was co-written with Will Jennings, who also helped write a majority of the tracks on Back in the High Life.

Jennings also co-wrote the heartbreaking ballad, “Tears in Heaven” for Winwood’s former Blind Faith bandmate Eric Clapton, and Celine Dion’s Titanic hit “My Heart Will Go On,” along with a number of other hits for Dionne Warwick, Barry Manilow, Rodney Crowell, Tim McGraw, and others.

“My earliest memories are of the music in church and of my aunts and uncles singing the beautiful old hymns,” said Jennings. “‘Higher Love’ is a generation past that, when things were not so much taken for granted that one has to plea, ‘Bring me a higher love,’ and the lines are all trying to explain why there must be higher love. A modern hymn, you might call it.”

Hershey and Prince Charles III

The song continues to follow Winwood well into the 2010s. In 2016, Winwood appeared in a Hershey commercial with his daughter Lilly, and the two performed a duet of “Higher Love.” On Sunday, May 7, 2023, Winwood also performed “Higher Love” at the Coronation Concert for King Charles III at Windsor Castle.

Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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