I was 13 going on 14 when I discovered this gorgeous, synth-driven gem, most likely on WIGY, out of Bath, Maine – the favorite station of my youth, and later, on AMERICAN TOP 40 with Casey Kasem. I knew nothing of Steve Winwood, then 32 going on 33, but at the time, it didn’t matter. In 1981, all that mattered when it came to knowing about Steve Winwood is that he put out a song that would be dear to my heart for all time.
Steve Winwood was born in Greater Birmingham, England, and was in the high-profile bands The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith and Ginger Baker’s Air Force before he started his solo career in 1977. His second solo effort, ARC OF A DIVER, which was a hit with fans on both sides of the Atlantic, achieving Silver sales status in the U.K., and was certified Platinum here in America, largely due to the success of “While You See A Chance.”
Though I had never heard of any of the bands Steve was in prior to “While You See A Chance,” it was the minute-long synthesizer introduction that initially caught my ear, which is kinda funny to think about now, after learning the introduction wasn’t intended on being part of the song at all. The introduction was supposed to be a drum track, but it got deleted and Steve had to rework it. And it’s the best thing that could have happened to the song, not to mention Steve’s solo career.
I was also pleased because, at a time I wasn’t buying full albums, Steve included the whole 5-minute-plus album version on the single (or at least the version I had). Most singles then had edited versions of their album counterparts, and for this song, most radio stations (and AT40) used the shorter version that appears in the video.
“While You See A Chance” went on to spend 2 weeks at No. 7 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in April 1981 and more than 4 months on the chart. It also reached No. 3 in Canada, No. 16 in Australia, the Top 30 in Holland and New Zealand, and a surprising peak of No. 45 in Steve’s U.K. homeland.
My love and appreciation for the music of Steve Winwood would only grow with time, including older gems like The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” (The Blues Brothers covered this in 1980; a favorite), Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Traffic’s “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys,” and with solo hits like “Higher Love” (with Chaka Khan), “Freedom Overspill,” “Back In The High Life Again” and “The Finer Things” (all from his biggest album, 1986’s BACK IN THE HIGH LIFE), “Roll With It” (especially the kick-ass 10-minute remix), “One And Only Man,” “Don’t You Know What The Night Can Do?” and both 1982 and 1987 versions of “Talking Back To The Night” and “Valerie.”
On a personal note, today I learned that my dream job I had applied for (for the third time) went to someone else (deserved), and without the courtesy of a interview (also deserved). In 1986, five years after “While You See A Chance” and me fresh out of broadcasting school, I typed up my first radio résumé, all for the dream job in radio I wanted way back then but never got. Though I still don’t have any formal experience with this particular position, it’s a job I could do in my sleep; I feel it with every fiber of my being. And that was my last chance.
When Steve Winwood was struggling to find an audience with his solo career, he found a lyricist in Will Jennings, and they co-wrote “While You See A Chance.” Will Jennings worked with Steve Winwood on several of his other hits, plus big hits for folks like Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, and the Academy Award-winning songs “Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes, and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion.
According to Will Jennings, the lyric “While you see a chance, take it / Find romance, fake it / because it’s all on you” is “about realizing that you are all alone in this life and you have to do with it what you can.” And, he’s right. Though I lost out on my dream job for the third and final time, at least I tried for it. It was a chance I couldn’t NOT take.
If there’s something out there you know is for you, don’t hesitate and take that chance. Even if the answer is no, or it doesn’t work out the way you want, you have to at least try for it and take the chance, while you can still see it…