Written by 54-40 members Neil Osborne, Philip Comparelli, Brad Merritt, and Darryl Neudorf, I Go Blind was included on their 1986 self-titled independent album, recorded in the middle of the night since the band members had day jobs. The U.S. label Warner/Reprise Records then signed them, but disappointingly chose to distribute the single in Canada only.
54-40 eventually moved on to other projects, steadily increasing their fan base and album sales over the ensuing decade. Then, I Go Blind took a new lease on life when in 1994 Hootie and the Blowfish recorded a faithful cover as the B side to the single Hold My Hand. After this version was featured on the hit television comedy “Friends” and that show’s soundtrack album, it skyrocketed to the top of the charts.
Brad Merritt proudly explains, “When the Hootie version of I Go Blind came out it was a bit of vindication for us. Here’s a song that Warner Brothers said we’re not going to release [in the U.S.] as a single.… Radio started playing it on their own. Without any kind of radio promotion it got to No. 2 in the country with zero push. That tells you something. That’s a really strong song.”
The song that 54.40’s label had deemed unworthy of support was by February 1997 charting on not just one but several Billboard charts: It peaked at No. 2 Adult Top 40 and hit No. 13 (Hot 100), No. 17 (Mainstream Top 40 Airplay) and No. 22 (Adult Contemporary), and on Canada’s RPM chart reached No. 13. The royalties enabled 54.40 to build their own Vancouver recording studio.
I Go Blind is essentially folk-roots with an edge; Neil Osborne describes its riffs and unconventional structure as an “organic mash-up.” There’s a hypnotic feel in the insistent guitar riff and the repetition of the words “I go blind.”
The meaning of I Go Blind is revealed in the music video, which contains images of war and Third World poverty. We see and hear these issues in news reports hourly, to the point that we become blind to their significance.
I Go Blind continues to enjoy success, with a delightful rootsy redo appearing on 54-40’s 2016 unplugged album “La Difference.” As Osborne told a Vancouver website, “It’s a great feeling when you can present a song in a different light and it still translates.”
It also appeared on Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Scattered, Smothered and Covered” album in 2000.
Merritt’s advice to aspiring musicians is frank. He told the CBC: “My advice is give up and don't do it…. And if I haven't talked you out of it then good for you, because you're doing it for the right reasons…. Making music in and of itself is great.”
Formed in 1981 in Vancouver, 54-40 has had a string of gold and platinum albums, a B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame star, and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. The band has won two West Coast Music Awards and several Juno nominations.