When renowned veteran R&B/jazz singer/songwriter Gene-o launched his genre-defying Classic Twist concept in 2023, the vision was twofold – to draw on his lifelong passions for pop and rock and later country to both write empowering anthem-like songs centered on and driven by our collective potential for change and put his own trademark, emotionally soul-searing “Gene-o” vocal spin on classic pop and rock songs from the 70’s and 80’s. His latest track – and the second lead single from Classic Twist’s highly anticipated upcoming debut album – is a stunning re-imagining of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years,” featuring explosive harmonies and a powerhouse solo by Marietta, GA based saxophonist J. Henry, a former winner of Showtime at The Apollo, who in recent years toured with the comedic legend Sinbad.

“Holding Back the Years” continues the momentum Gene-o has following the first two Classic Twist singles – the inspiring call to action song “Time for Change” and a special updated rendition of his earlier warmhearted solo holiday single “Just Like Christmas Before.” 

Penned by Simply Red lead singer Mick Hucknall and Neil Moss, the original version of “Holding Back the Years” – which hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1986 – has become so familiar via years of airplay on Adult Contemporary and urban/smooth jazz stations over the decades that its deeper meaning is easy to overlook. It reflects the troubled upbringing Hucknall had in his youth and the difficulty he had finding support from a stern father and a mother who wasn’t there often enough. The upbringing he had failed to offer him confidence or a sense of value, so he’s afraid to move forward with his life.

Hucknall, whose mother left the family when he was only three years old, once said the song is about the upheaval this event caused in his life: “It’s about that moment where you know you have to leave home and make your mark, but the outside world is scary. So you’re holding back the years.”  

Early in the recording process for Classic Twist, Gene-o wasn’t sure about highlighting “Holding Back the Years” as a potential single because it was one of his jazziest tracks. The other tunes he had recorded – Journey’s “Faithfully,” Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind,” Bread’s “Make It with You” – were from established rock bands and he thought the Simply Red tune was a bit of an outlier. But he now realizes its jazzy qualities along with the deep meaning of the song are facets of Classic Twist he wants people to embrace.

“The reason I gravitated to it in the first place was because it was a great song, very well known by music fans everywhere, and I felt I could do a great job creating a version of it in mystyle,” says Gene-o. “My original recording of it didn’t have the sax. A friend had introduced J. Henry and me but I never heard him perform until he came to San Diego and invited me to sit in with him at his gig at Humphrey’s Backstage Live. Later I let him hear my original version and we looked at each other and thought, ‘Why not try it with the sax?’ J’s brilliant playing on this newly recorded update, takes the song to the next level, and I’m very proud of it – and excited about letting people hear this amazing collaboration.”  

Though Gene-o appreciates the stories Mick Hucknall has toldabout the song’s inspiration, he also feels the lyrics will have a certain universal resonance for audiences today. “For me, the song is about how difficult life can be sometimes for everyone, and all it takes to survive is to just keep holding on, doing all you can to make changes and hope and pray for better days in our individual lives and collectively as humanity. Every song we do, from the originals to the retro pieces, will have a message connected to the concept of change.”  

The final lineup for Classic Twist’s debut album is set to feature an array of exhilarating songs, including the dynamic pop-rock anthem “Sharing the Sky.” This uplifting track encourages listeners to join Classic Twist on a journey to view the world through a lens of renewed vision and grand optimism. Additionally, “Loves Me for Me” brings a vibrant, soul-infused melody with a touch of classic rock essence. This heartfelt ode celebrates the transformative power of love in nurturing our greatest potential.




Photo Credit: Courtesy of Classic Twist