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Ordinary People (John Legend song)

"Ordinary People" is a song by American recording artist John Legend. It was written and produced by Legend and for his debut album Get Lifted (2004). It was released as the album's second single and later certified gold by the RIAA. Critics were positive towards the song, praising it for its raw emotion and simplicity. At the 48th Annual Grammy Awards "Ordinary People" received three nominations for Song of the Year, Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, winning the last.

"Ordinary People"
Ordinary People single.jpg
Single by John Legend
from the album Get Lifted
ReleasedApril 7, 2005
FormatCD single
GenreSoul, R&B
  • John Legend
John Legend singles chronology
"Used to Love U"
"Ordinary People"
"Number One"
Audio sample
Music video
"Ordinary People" on YouTube

The video for "Ordinary People" features Legend playing a grand piano in an all-white space, while couples and families fight and reconcile around and in front of the piano. For the final minute of the video, Legend is joined by a string section and (audibly) a harmonica. Legend walks to and from the piano with a glass of water, as a short bookending to the video proper.

"Ordinary People" appears on Now 19.


The song's lyrical themes include contrast, contradiction, guilt, doubt and fear.

Legend sings about how people make errors of judgment in relationships ("I know I misbehaved/And you've made your mistakes/And we both still got room left to grow."), and that fighting and making up in the end is a regular obstacle: "And though love sometimes hurts/I still put you first/And we'll make this thing work/But I think we should take it slow." The lyrics include parallel structure to address the common ups-and-downs of maintaining a relationship: "Maybe we'll live and learn/Maybe we'll crash and burn/Maybe you'll stay/Maybe you'll leave/Maybe you'll return/Maybe another fight/Maybe we won't survive/Maybe we'll grow, we never know." The song's title itself is taken from its chorus, "We're just ordinary people/We don't know which way to go/'Cause we're ordinary people/Maybe we should take it slow."

Legend explained the song's lyrical content in the book Chicken Soup For the Soul: The Story Behind The Song: "The idea for the song is that relationships are difficult and the outcome uncertain. If a relationship is going to work, it will require compromise and, even then, it is not always going to end the way you want it to. No specific experience in my life led me to the lyrics for this song, although my parents were married twice to each other and divorced twice from each other. Their relationship is, of course, one of my reference points, but I didn't write this to be autobiographical or biographical. It is just a statement about relationships and my view on them."[1]


Critics were overwhelmingly positive towards "Ordinary People", many of whom complimented the song's juxtaposition of simple stark piano and John Legend's vocal range. Entertainment Weekly noted "Ordinary People" as being both "the simplest" and "perhaps the most perfectly realized song" of the Get Lifted album, describing it as "an exquisite ballad" that is "both immediately familiar and intensely exotic."[2] A review from The Guardian called the song "a real gem", and lauded further: "[I]t's not only sonically arresting but lyrically reflective. Refusing to tie up loose ends, Legend is ambivalent about the relationship described in the song, admitting that there's 'no fairy-tale conclusion'. Good for him."[3] PopMatters was favorable towards the single, stating it "is representative of true talent."[4] Jonathan Forgang, reviewing for Stylus magazine, stated: "'Ordinary People,' the first of the piano and voice ballads, is a bit more derivative than the earlier tracks but expertly performed. Legend's voice has a naked quality to it, warm and full without any of the drawbacks of virtuosity."[5] The Times thought the song was full of "remorseful reflection" and said that "the album as a whole is a stunning advertisement for the less-is-more, from-the-soul approach, and Legend’s extraordinary voice (alternately angelic keen and cracked rasp) and piano-playing are equalled in quality by the depth of his songs."[6]

On 14 April 2012, the song was performed on BBC's The Voice UK by semi-finalist Jaz Ellington as a second song (requested by Jessie J), resulting in some members of the UK public buying the track on iTunes. The song re-entered the Official UK Top 40 at number 27 on 15 April,[7] and the following week climbed to number 4.[8]

Cover versionsEdit


  • Produced by John Legend
  • Engineered by Anthony Kilhoffer, Andy Manganello and Michael Peters
  • Assistant engineers: Mike Eleopoulos, Pablo Arraya and Val Brathwaite
  • Mixed by Manny Marroquin at Larrabee Studios, LA
  • Assistant mix engineer: Jared Robbins
  • Vocals and piano by John Legend

Recorded at Record Plant, LA and Sony Music Studios

Track listingEdit

Charts and certificationsEdit


  1. ^ "Ordinary People by John Legend Songfacts".
  2. ^ "Get Lifted -".
  3. ^ Caroline Sullivan. "CD: John Legend, Get Lifted". the Guardian.
  4. ^ "Music Reviews, Features, Essays, News, Columns, Blogs, MP3s and Videos - PopMatters". PopMatters.
  5. ^ "John Legend - Get Lifted - Review - Stylus Magazine".
  6. ^ "Login".
  7. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100".
  8. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100".
  9. ^ (6 June 2005). "Ordinary People: John Legend: Music". Amazon. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  10. ^ Juno Records (6 June 2005). "Ordinary People (CD): John Legend: Juno Records". Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  11. ^ Juno Records (6 June 2005). "Ordinary People (12"): John Legend: Juno Records". Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – John Legend" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  13. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  14. ^ "John Legend Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  15. ^ "John Legend Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
  16. ^ "Chart Track: Week 16, 2012". Irish Singles Chart.
  17. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  18. ^ "Official R&B Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company.
  19. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  20. ^ Jones, Alan (April 14, 2014). "Official Charts Analysis: Kaisers enjoy 2nd week at No.1". Music Week. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  21. ^ "British single certifications – John Legend – Ordinary People". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 7, 2015. Select singles in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Ordinary People in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  22. ^ "American single certifications – John Legend – Ordinary People". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 7, 2015. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 

External linksEdit