Bobby Caldwell – “What You Won’t Do for Love” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“What You Won’t Do For Love” is a straightforward, sincere message of affection from the narrator to an old flame. The lyrics focus on the subjective experience of true love, the hope that accompanies it, and the lengths people are willing to go to in order to have their feelings reciprocated. In addition, this song manages to suggest that it sometimes takes a period of introspection to find out what you’re looking for.

According to Bobby Caldwell, “What You Won’t Do For Love” was a last-minute addition to its album (entitled Bobby Caldwell). The rest of the album had already been completed at the time, but music mogul Henry Stone was unsure of its prospects for a hit. With a bit of desperation, Caldwell frantically took up his pen and began writing what became his most enduring song.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these passionate lyrics to discover their intended meaning. We’ll also take a look at the story behind the song and the human themes that make it accessible to anyone. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“What You Won’t Do For Love” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics start with a now iconic line: “I guess you wonder where I’ve been.” It may be simple, but it says a lot. Caldwell is talking to someone he used to know, and a period of distance has elapsed since then. As we’ll see from the rest of the lyrics, this person is more than just a friend to Caldwell.

Since the two went their separate ways, Caldwell has been trying to “find a love within.” This likely has multiple meanings. Firstly, he’s probably been thinking about the nature of his feelings for the song’s recipient. Secondly, it may mean that he’s had to work on himself before being ready for connection. Either way, the next lines make it clear that this period of withdrawal is over.

He’s come back to “let you [the recipient] know… I [Caldwell] got a thing for you.” I don’t think you need much of a translation; he just came out and said it. His directness indicates confidence and certainty about what he wants.

In verse two, a few things become clearer. The narrator’s friends fault him for wanting to reunite with the song’s recipient, who is almost certainly an ex-girlfriend. It’s a tale as old as time – your friend wants to get back with their ex, and you have to be the voice of reason. However, this doesn’t seem to dissuade Caldwell, who is in too much of a romantic “daze” to care about the naysayers.

The pre-chorus emphasizes how rare true love is. “Some people go around the world” searching for it, but many never find it. Since Caldwell is sure that he’s discovered it, he’s willing to do anything to ensure it survives.

This is, of course, the theme of the chorus. Even when you’ve “tried everything,” you shouldn’t “give up.” For Caldwell, what he “wouldn’t do for love” is a shrinking category of things. His feelings are intense enough to make him “do for love” what he “would not do” ordinarily. Simply put, this person is special.

From this point on, the lyrics are largely repetitive. In summary, “What You Won’t Do For Love” is about having a strong devotion to the one who is made for you. It appeals to the romantic in all of us, which is why this song has made such a visible mark on music history.

The Story Behind “What You Won’t Do For Love”

Whoever said that deadlines stifle art needs to take a look at the story behind this song. According to Bobby Caldwell, what became his longest-lasting hit was actually a last-minute addition to his self-titled album. Let me explain:

All of the other trackswere finished and ready for publication. The label was TK Records, led by massively successful music mogul Henry Stone. When Stone heard the album, he began to doubt that any of its tracks were going to be major hits – a sentiment that put Caldwell and his fellow musicians in survival mode.

Somewhat frantically, they took to the studio. Caldwell penned some quick lyrics, the team worked hard, and they happened to strike gold. As Caldwell later put it, “Sometimes the things that you disregard are the things that come up and rear their head.”

It’s safe to say that the proverb applies in this case. “What You Won’t Do For Love” reached a position of #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has sold millions of copies worldwide. It became Caldwell’s signature song, which he doesn’t seem too unhappy about.

In addition, multiple prominent cover versions have been produced over the years. Artists to take a stab at this soulful tune include Tupac Shakur, Boys II Men, and Victor Wooten, to name a few. This has only helped to increase the song’s popularity and longevity.

The next time you play this top-tier earworm, let these pieces of music history bring it to life!